Schedule: Texas A&M opens spring practice on Saturday and will play its Maroon & White spring game on April 28 at 2 p.m. ET. The Aggies will give fans a couple of chance to see open scrimmages prior to the spring game. Fans are invited to the April 14 scrimmage at 11 a.m. and the April 20 scrimmage at 8 p.m.
What’s new: Really, just about everything. The Aggies will begin play in the SEC in 2012, and Kevin Sumlin takes over as head coach after spending the last four seasons as Houston’s head coach. Sumlin worked under R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M in 2001 and 2002 and called the Aggies’ plays for most of the 2002 season. Sumlin’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach will be Kliff Kingsbury, a record-setting quarterback during his time at Texas Tech. Clarence McKinney will coach the running backs and serve as recruiting coordinator, and B.J. Anderson will coach the offensive line. Kingsbury, McKinney and Anderson were all with Sumlin last season at Houston. David Beaty will coach receivers after serving as Kansas’ co-offensive coordinator last season. Brian Polian, who was previously at Stanford, will coach tight ends and oversee special teams. Former Marshall head coach Mark Snyder will be the Aggies’ defensive coordinator. Snyder was the defensive coordinator at South Florida the past two seasons and also served under Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Marcel Yates will be the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach after spending the last nine seasons coaching defensive backs at Boise State. Former Texas A&M player Terry Price will coach the defensive line. He was previously on the Ole Miss staff. Matt Wallerstedt will coach the Texas A&M linebackers after serving as associate head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Air Force the past two seasons.
On the mend: Senior running back Christine Michael, who tore his left ACL toward the end of last season, is ahead of schedule in his recovery, but the Aggies won’t chance it with any contact this spring.
On the move: Junior Damontre Moore, who had 17.5 tackles for loss as the “joker” linebacker in the Aggies’ 3-4 scheme last season, is moving to defensive end in their new 4-3 defense. Also, the Aggies won’t have running back Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma. Williams is a former five-star recruit, but his appeal to the NCAA to be eligible in 2012 was denied, and he’ll have to sit out the season.
Key battle: With Ryan Tannehill taking his talents to the NFL, the Aggies hope to settle on a new quarterback this spring. It could take longer, as nobody has any real experience. Third-year sophomore Jameill Showers played in four games last season and threw all of five passes in mop-up duty. He’s the “veteran” of the group. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel might be the most dynamic athlete of the bunch, and Kingsbury also likes the way midterm enrollee Matt Davis can move around and make plays. Sophomore Matt Joeckel is more of a pocket passer. Kingsbury said all four have their strengths and do different things well, which should make for a close race.
New faces: Being on campus early and going through spring practice will give Davis a legitimate chance to win the starting quarterback job as a freshman. Defensive back Kenneth Marshall of South Houston, Texas, also graduated high school early and will go through the spring. Derel Walker of Trinity Valley Community College was rated among the top junior-college receivers nationally. Cornerback Tremaine Jacobs is another junior-college newcomer who’s enrolled and will go through the spring. Jacobs is from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Breaking out: Even with Moore moving to defensive end, the Aggies have a chance to make a big splash at linebacker. There’s already a buzz surrounding senior Jonathan Stewart and his move to middle linebacker. He led the Aggies with 98 total tackles last season, including 55 solo stops. He’s had a terrific offseason, and by all accounts, is poised for a big senior season. It only helps that he’ll have fellow senior Sean Porter playing alongside him at outside linebacker. Porter led the Aggies with 9.5 sacks last season and racked up 17 tackles for loss.
Don’t forget about: One of Sumlin’s biggest coups this offseason was convincing star receiver Ryan Swope to return for his senior season. Sumlin got a big assist from Kingsbury, who painted an enticing picture of what Swope’s role would be in this new offense. Swope was third in the Big 12 last season in both receptions (89) and receiving yards (1,207). He also caught 11 touchdown passes and will be key player in keeping opposing defenses from loading up against the Aggies’ running game.
All eyes on: What will the offense look like? Chances are that it won’t be quite as much of an “Air Raid” attack it was in Houston. Sumlin is always going to utilize the passing game, but the strength of this team will be the offensive line. Tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are future pros, and senior Patrick Lewis also proved to be a devastating blocker at center after moving over from right guard. The Aggies will lean heavily on their offensive line, which has a chance to be one of the top units in the SEC.