The Texas A&M Football team concluded their spring practice with the Maroon & White game where the offense beat the defense 48-44 using Kevin Sumlin's modified scoring system. The first spring practice of the Sumlin era featured multiple players who surprised and a few who disappointed.
Sumlin and the rest of the Aggie coaches are trying to get an idea of who is going to step up and help them during their first season in the Southeastern Conference. There were questions going into spring practice about the depth at running back, the secondary, the interior defensive line and wide receiver. The Aggies were able to get answers to most of these questions during the 15 practices.
The most pleasant surprise of spring had to be the play of rising junior running back Ben Malena. After being forced into a starting role at the end of the 2011 season, most Aggies thought of Malena as a solid running back who could be counted on as a backup.
Malena had a very strong response to Larry Jackson's conditioning program and reported to spring practice leaner and faster than he was during his first two years on campus. Malena showed great burst in and out of the hole, to go along with the solid blocking and pass catching fans have come to expect from him.
Malena showed the coaches that he is a legitimate starting running back in the SEC.
Brandon Williams transferred to A&M after spending the Fall semester at Oklahoma. The heralded recruit struggled at OU to hold onto the ball and had limited carries as a freshman. Williams quickly showed his coaches and teammates why he was thought of so highly coming out of high school. The 6'0", 190-lb running back showed off his power and 4.3 speed throughout spring practice with multiple long touchdown runs.
A&M will wait until July 1 to apply to the NCAA for a waiver for Williams' transfer year.
Even if he is not granted the waiver, Williams will still have three years of eligibility left to play football at A&M. Depth at running back was a question mark entering spring practice, but thanks to the outstanding performances by Malena and Williams, that question mark has been changed to an exclamation point.
The 2011 A&M defense featured a lot of pressure on the quarterback with with turnovers to show for it. It was routine to see the defense get a sack on first or second down, only to allow a long completion on 3rd-and-long. Three seniors graduated from the secondary leaving a lot of open holes.
Rising sophomores Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven stepped up and took over at the two corner positions. The coaches had so much confidence in Everett's play at corner that they moved him to safety the last week of practice to see how he handled the position.
At 6'0" and 6'2" respectively, Everett and Raven both have the size required to play the run in the SEC. The two sophomores from Louisiana are both more physical than their senior predecessors. They should excel in the SEC where the officials are more lenient on contact with the receivers downfield.
Junior college transfer Otis Jacobs started the spring slow but finished very strongly. If he continues his solid play in the fall, the coaches will likely leave Everett at safety. Between Jacobs, Raven, Everett and returning senior Dustin Harris, the Ags appear to have developed some solid depth at cornerback.
One of the bigger disappointments of the spring has to be the inability of redshirt freshman Shayvion Hatten to force his way into a more important role on the team. Hatten has the size, at 6'4" and 298 lbs, to play on the interior of the defensive line in the SEC.
With Jonathan Mathis recovering from injury, the Aggie coaches really wanted to see Hatten step up and seize a position on the interior.
Unfortunately, it did not happen.
Hatten is listed as the third string defensive tackle behind Ivan Robinson. That is a major issue because Robinson is only 260 pounds and he is one play away from starting in the SEC.
At nose tackle, Kirby Ennis is the starter and is backed up by walk-on Tyler Godwin. The Aggies will obviously need some of their incoming freshmen to come in ready to play right away on the defensive line.
Hatten had a chance to earn major playing time at either defensive tackle or nose tackle, but he was not able to take advantage of it. He still has a chance to impress the coaches during practices in the fall, but he will have six other freshmen defensive linemen to compete against.
A&M returns two starters at the wide receiver spots in Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Sumlin's offense will often feature four wide receiver sets, so the coaches need to find two more wide receivers.
Rising senior Kenric McNeal had a strong spring as did rising sophomore Malcome Kennedy. Both should see time in the slot in 2012. LeKendrick Williams played well in practice, but he could not hold onto the ball during the scrimmages. He needs to be more consistent or he will be passed by incoming freshmen Thomas Johnson and Sabian Holmes.
The real disappointment at wide receiver was on the outside where Nate Askew is still not catching the ball consistently enough. Askew has NFL size at 6'4" and 220 pounds. He has run a 10.5 in the 100 meter dash so he has NFL speed.
What he lacks is consistency.
Askew struggled to put good practices together and is in danger of being passed on the depth chart by redshirt freshman Mike Evans.
Evans only played one season of high school football but has shown the Aggie coaches that he can be counted on every day. He is 6'4" tall and possesses great leaping ability. He should be a force for A&M in the redzone.
Unless the freshmen defensive linemen show up on campus ready to play, the interior defensive line is going to be a weakness all year long. Do not expect the Aggies to be able to consistently stop the run in 2012.
The wide receivers will get better due to sheer force of will. They will learn to catch the ball all the time due to the incredible number of repetitions they will receive during practice and games.
The Aggies look very good at the skill positions. Running back and wide receiver should be a team strength. A&M should be able to move the ball on offense and score some points—the question is whether they will be able to consistently stop good teams from scoring.
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