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Texas A&M Football

20 Questions: Texas A&M Football's biggest concerns entering 2017

August 2, 2017
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Players officially report on Thursday, and practice starts on Friday for the most uncertain Texas A&M football season in the coach Kevin Sumlin era.

True, every year comes with a certain amount of intrigue even for the most experienced teams. But A&M's preparation for this season is like a game of 20 questions.

If the Aggies can come close to 20 positive answers, they could have a strong season. But if too many remain unanswered, this could be a difficult year.

Which one will it be? List that as the first question.

The others:

No. 2: Who will emerge as the Aggies' starting quarterback?


The competition between senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond will be intense and close. Starkel seems to have an edge based on the amount of snaps taken during the spring game, but Jameill Showers appeared to have the edge over Johnny Manziel going into August camp in 2012. Look for Sumlin to name a starter between August 19-21. That’s two weeks before the season-opener against UCLA.

Alex Parker, TexAgs Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has a good track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks. The Aggies hope that continues this season.
3. Can the Aggies win big with any of them as the starter?

That’s a tough one.

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has a history of developing productive quarterbacks with various talents.

Whomever emerges as the starter will likely have at least a solid year.

If the quarterback can consistently get the football to the playmakers at the right time, he could lead A&M to a successful season. That is provided some other upcoming questions are answered positively.

4. Who are the playmakers?

Everybody knows that. Receiver Christian Kirk is as dangerous as any player in the nation. Sophomore running back Trayveon Williams rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman. He had at least one run that covered 33 yards or more in seven games. He also carried more than 15 times in just two games. Get the ball to them.

5. Can the quarterbacks get the football to Kirk?

Hubenak certainly can. He connected with Kirk seven times for 144 yards and a touchdown against Mississippi State last season. He hit him three times for 69 yards against Ole Miss and five times for 76 yards against UTSA. Hubenak also completed 10 passes to Kirk for 84 yards and a touchdown against Louisville in the 2015 Music City Bowl.

6.  Who will surface as a productive alternate receiver?

The best guess would be true freshman Jhamon Ausbon, who was quite impressive in spring football. True freshmen receivers frequently struggle against press coverage, but at 6-2 and 220-pounds, Ausbon appears physically ready to fight off cornerbacks trying to jam him.

Christina DeRuyter, TexAgs With more touches, running back Trayveon Williams figures to improve on last season's numbers.
7. Will Williams match or improve on last year’s rushing totals?

Probably. Williams averaged 6.8 yards per rush as a freshman behind a rather inexperienced offensive line. He only had 156 carries, which averages out to 12 per game. That’s three carries per quarter. Look for Williams to get much more work, which will result in more yardage.

8. Will the offensive line be improved?

Even though the Aggies must replace an All-SEC tackle (Avery Gennessy) and a fifth-round draft choice (Jermaine Eleumunor), the line very well could be better than a year ago. That’s because junior Connor Lanfear and sophomores Erik McCoy and Colton Prater will be in their second years as starters, albeit at different positions.

McCoy is moving to guard where he appears better suited than center. Prater, who was sometimes physically overmatched as a true freshman, is a year older, presumably stronger and moving to center. Junior Koda Martin appears ready to step in for Gennessy at left tackle. He’s definitely big enough. That leaves coach Jim Turner looking for a dependable starter to replace Eleumunor at right tackle. There is no shortage of possibilities. The Aggies may not have to start a freshman offensive lineman for the first time since 2014.

9. Who will fill that right tackle spot?

It could be junior Keaton Sutherland, who’s been in and out of the starting lineup since his freshman year. If not Sutherland, then OU transfer Christian Daimler could get the call. A freshman could be an option, too.

10. What else is a concern on the offensive line?

Depth is always a concern. However, the biggest worry may be whether Lanfear returns to form from an injury that prematurely ended his season in 2016 and prevented him from participating in spring drills.

Of course, we’ve heard before that tight ends would play a bigger role, and it didn't happen. So, skepticism is understandable.
11. Will tight end play a significant role in the offense?

The bet here is: Yeah. The Aggies supposedly want to run more. The running game would be enhanced by a tight end. Also, young quarterbacks tend to frequently look for tight ends. Last season, it didn’t make sense to take out slot receiver Ricky Seals-Jones for a tight end. He was as big as a tight end, anyway. The Aggies don’t have the same size in the slot this year. Besides, Kalvin Cline has shown good hands, and Aaron Hansford is big and athletic. Of course, we’ve heard before that tight ends would play a bigger role, and it didn't happen. So, skepticism is understandable.

12. Will the Aggie defense finally stop the run?

A&M’s run defense has been soft since 2013. In each of those four seasons, the Aggies have allowed at least an average of 191.7 yards per game. There are signs that A&M could make noticeable improvement. Many coaches feel the key to effective run defense is being strong up the middle. A&M is talented and deep at defensive tackle, and the safeties are very good. That leaves the linebackers, which leads to the next question …

13. Will A&M upgrade its linebacker play?

Well, the bar is set rather low, so the easy answer is, 'Yes.' Whether the upgrade is enough to make a significant difference is the real question. That may not be learned until October, but there is reason for optimism. The trio of Otara Alaka, Tyrel Dodson and Anthony Hines represents the most talented group of A&M linebackers in years. All were recruited by big-name programs as linebackers. The issues are that Alaka has had injury issues, Dodson is a sophomore and Hines is a true freshman. If they’re ready to play at a competitive level, the Aggie run defense could be much better.

14. How often will A&M use a 3-4 alignment?

From all indications, the Aggies' base defense will remain 4-3, but Sumlin spoke at SEC Media Days about the goal to be multiple. A&M’s apparent lack of depth at linebacker raises some questions as to how conducive the roster is to playing a lot of 3-4. However, if Qualen Cunningham can make an adjustment from defensive end or Justin Dunning makes a successful transition from safety (and stays healthy), a 3-4 scheme could prove very effective.

15. Who is going to replace Myles Garrett?

Nobody.

Kirby Clarke, TexAgs Senior defensive end Jarrett Johnson figures to be a key component of Texas A&M's pass rush this season, along with JUCO product Micheal Clemons.
16. OK, from where will A&M generate its pass rush?

Senior defensive end Jarrett Johnson posted 4.5 sacks as Garrett’s backup. That total figures to rise with more playing time. Also, junior college transfer Micheal “Cyclops” Clemons is viewed as a guy who can provide pressure. Overall, though, the Aggies will likely have to get creative with safety, corner and linebacker blitzes.

17. Is the A&M pass defense cause for concern?

Absolutely. The Aggies gave up an average of 250 passing yards per game last season. That ranked 91st in the nation. Even LSU’s Danny Etling carved up the A&M secondary. Those problems in pass defense came despite Garrett leading a pass rush that produced 39 sacks (17th in the nation). At least part of that can be explained away by injuries to starting cornerbacks Priest Willis and Nick Harvey. Willis is healthy again and projects to be the Aggies’ top corner. However, Harvey is likely out for the season.

18. Who will replace Harvey?

The most likely candidate is sophomore Chuck Oliver. He started one game and played reasonably well as a backup. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he’s bigger than Harvey, who had an up-and-down year in 2016.

19. Is there a new or seldom-used defensive player who could make an impact?

Personally, I’m intrigued by redshirt freshman safety Ikenna Okeke, who has reportedly grown to 6-3 and 220 pounds. He’s obviously big and athletic. There is some speculation he could used at linebacker.

20. Will the Aggies break out of their 8-5 rut?

If enough of those question marks become exclamation points, A&M could make a run at nine wins. Many of A&M’s 2017 opponents have just as many — if not more — questions, although UCLA, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss know who their quarterback is. If A&M gets adequate quarterback play and finally plays consistent run defense, the Aggies could surprise. But quite frankly, eight wins could be viewed as a successful year because A&M has so many questions.
Discussion from...

20 Questions: Texas A&M Football's biggest concerns entering 2017

18,216 Views | 11 Replies | Last: 6 yr ago by aggieclay
Pjones2
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AG
If they do not get linebackers that can move east/west, stop the run and pressure the QB.... Then at best this is the same 8-5 team and Sumlin will be gone. The Chief made his career with linebackers at Tennessee and LSU, and last year the focus was on Myles Garrett instead of linebacker play... This year the strength and focus needs to be on the Chief and those linebackers "Doing their JOB!". More of a 3-4 scheme will help the "Wrecking Crew" re-emerge and make Kyle Field a legitimate tough place to play.
C4D
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AG
Its funny how QC isnt getting much love.
Bet he posts more than a few sacks.
beerad12man
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AG
Thanks for the article.

I get what you mean, but 8 wins should never be viewed as a successful year. That's a waste of a year any way you look at it.
FriendlyAg
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What the hell is all the talk about 3-4
zooguy96
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Sorry, another 8-4 is not successful. It's mediocre.
cheeky
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AG
Stank didn't even make the picture. Fair to say he's already made the bench?
hunter2012
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AG
FriendlyAg said:

What the hell is all the talk about 3-4

Just some old ags 'batin to the RC days.

There's no realistic way we'd set 3-4 as base. Chief's defenses have always been 1 gap 4-3. That's been his MO since his Tennessee days.
Meximan
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#21: Has Connor Blumrick already been written off as a backup?
Geriatric Punk
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AG
Didn't Blumrick redshirt?
Jarrin' Jay
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AG
We are under no obligation to name a starting QB and we should not do so.
aggieclay
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Are we gonna use the TE as in on the line, blocking, releasing and running routes? Or more out wide crap or as a fullback? If the latter then no thanks.
On another note, praying for Dunning to stay healthy. God bless him.
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