COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M wrapped up its spring Saturday with the Maroon and White game, and there was plenty to take away. Here are five observations from the action and other goings-on during the spring:
Trevor Knight is the Aggies' best QB.
In fairness, Saturday wasn't the best day to make a judgment because Knight's competitor, Jake Hubenak, showed up with flu-like symptoms and had to leave the game early, finishing 5-of-11 passing for 46 yards (Knight went 25-of-36 for 282 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, and also had a rushing touchdown). But even leaving Saturday out of the equation, Knight has been the better of the two quarterbacks this spring. He had a better showing in the Aggies' "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage, and he physically looks like the better quarterback, from his arm strength to his mobility. Kevin Sumlin hasn't publicly set a timetable on when he'll determine who starts, but it seems likely that Knight, the graduate transfer from Oklahoma, will be the guy.
The breakout sophomore defensive tackle in 2016 might be someone other than Daylon Mack.
Mack arrived with much fanfare, a five-star recruit whom the Aggies needed at a key position – defensive tackle. As a true freshman, Mack showed flashes of what he could be, but his coaches made it clear he had to become more consistent. This spring, it's been Kingsley Keke – who also saw time at defensive tackle as a true freshman in 2015 but was much less heralded a recruit than Mack was – who has really impressed new position coach David Turner and defensive coordinator John Chavis. Keke ran with the first-team defense for the vast majority of the spring game (Mack ran mostly with the second team) and was effective as a run-stopper and in pass defense, where he got a hand on a Knight pass early on. With his size (6-foot-3, 320 pounds), strength and athleticism, it could be Keke who opens eyes in the SEC this fall.
The offensive talent is there, but will production match potential?
In the Aggies' last two full-on scrimmages of the spring, the defense consistently held the upper hand on the offense. On Saturday, the first-team offense scored only one touchdown against the first-team defense, and that score was a trick play: an end-around pass from Christian Kirk to Speedy Noil. The Aggies have an impressive collection of talent at the skill positions, from running back, where they're five players deep (James White, Keith Ford, Trayveon Williams, Kwame Etwi and Kendall Bussey), to receiver, where the starting group should be as good as any in the SEC and one of the best in the nation (Kirk, Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones). The development and improvement of the offensive line, which replaces three 2015 starters, is of utmost importance if the Aggies are going to reverse course from last season, in which they were inept against the SEC's best teams.
The offensive tempo was consistently faster.
I mentioned last week that the Aggies' tempo was varied and slower early on in their "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage than I anticipated, but on Saturday the unit was consistently fast in what is to be expected from a Noel Mazzone-led offense (and that was without Mazzone calling plays since he allowed the other offensive assistants to do so for the spring game). Even though it was better, Sumlin said he would like it to be a little faster but also said the Aggies intend to change speeds at will, which is when he feels they'll be most effective. But from what was seen Saturday, the Aggies will be able to return to their up-tempo ways that were successful in 2012 and 2013.
The defense could be the best it has been in the Sumlin era.
Saturday the Aggies' defensive line was consistently good, and that shouldn't come as a surprise as they return starting defensive end tandem Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The depth and talent up front is the best it's been in years, with Garrett and Hall backed up by capable ends (Qualen Cunningham, James Lockhart and Jarrett Johnson) and a solid interior rotation of defensive tackles led by Keke, Zaycoven Henderson and Mack. The secondary also looks good, with safeties Armani Watts and Justin Evans playing well Saturday and the Aggies feeling comfortable with their top options at the outside corners, Nick Harvey, Priest Willis and Deshawn Capers-Smith (safety/nickel Donovan Wilson, a standout performer and potential All-SEC pick in 2016, was out this spring with an injury). The linebackers remain a question, but if A&M is talented enough with Otaro Alaka, Shaan Washington, Claude George and Richard Moore (who was also injured) to make some real strides at the position, which has been their weakness the last few years. All that said, with a group that can cover and consistently harass opposing passers, the Aggies might just have a defense that is top-25 caliber, something not close to being seen in Aggieland since they joined the SEC.