Returning starters: Nine on offense, six on defense and the punter and top return man on special teams.
Star power: Junior Luke Joeckel returns at left tackle and anchors an offensive line that should be the strength of Texas A&M’s team in 2012. Joeckel was a first-team, All-Big 12 selection last season.
New faces: Sophomore running back Brandon Williams, a transfer from Oklahoma, was lights out this spring and will definitely be a factor this fall if he wins his appeal with the NCAA to be eligible right away. Staying in the offensive backfield, true freshman Trey Williams was one of the most heralded running backs in the country last season, and the Aggies are eager to get him on the practice field. Texas A&M can use all the help it can get in the secondary, and true freshman defensive back De’Vante Harris will be thrown into the fire early. Also, true freshman Thomas Johnson could provide some help at receiver.
Don’t forget about: Christine Michael was motoring toward a 1,200-yard rushing season a year ago until he tore up his knee. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior still finished with 899 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. He’s healthy again and ready to prove that he’s one of the best running backs in a league full of great running backs.
Big shoes to fill: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill rolled up more than 4,000 yards of total offense last season and accounted for 33 touchdowns. Those kinds of numbers are always hard to replace, but it gets even trickier when the next guys in line have little or no experience. Sophomore Jameill Showers came out of the spring as the favorite to win the job. He’s thrown five career passes. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who got into some off-the-field trouble this summer, and true freshman Matt Davis, who went through spring practice, are also in the mix, along with sophomore Matt Joeckel. Whoever emerges, Kevin Sumlin has shown in the past that he can whip a quarterback into shape pretty quickly with his up-tempo spread offense.
Key battle: Solidifying the secondary will be critical this preseason. The Aggies ranked 109th nationally against the pass last season, and that wasn’t all on shoddy play in the secondary, but there’s no question that they have to improve on the back end. Sophomore cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven made big strides this spring. Everett even got a look at safety. There’s not much depth at safety. Junior college transfer Otis Jacobs, who closed the spring on a high note, could help pave the way for somebody like Everett to remain at safety.
Rising star: Junior Damontre Moore led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss last season from his hybrid “Joker” position in the Aggies’ old 3-4 scheme. He’s moving to defensive end this season as they shift to a 4-3. There are a lot of quality ends in this league, but the 6-4, 250-pound Moore is a playmaking machine and will rate up there with the best of them by season’s end.
Bottom line: Texas A&M takes its plunge into the SEC with a new head coach, a new spread offense, a new 4-3 defensive scheme and a new starter at quarterback. Obviously, there’s a lot that's new in College Station, but the Aggies do have talent. It just might take a while to work out the kinks and get accustomed to life in the SEC. Fixing their second-half woes will be at the top of Sumlin’s to-do list. Texas A&M gagged away four double-digit leads in the second half last season, and not being able to close the deal in a league that prides itself on depth is even more of a problem. The good news for Showers is that he’s surrounded by some proven playmakers in Ryan Swope at receiver, Michael at running, back and an offensive line that should be one of the best units in the league. There are still some question marks in the secondary on defense, and it remains to be seen how the Aggies hold up against some of the power running games they’re going to face in the SEC. If they get to eight wins this first season, that would be a huge success.
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