Texas A&M Football: The State of the Program After the 2013 Season

Michael Taglienti@@miketag98Featured ColumnistDecember 8, 2013

Texas A&M Football: The State of the Program After the 2013 Season

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    The Texas A&M football team ended the regular season with an 8-4 regular season and ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll.

    It was a disappointing season for a team that entered the year with national title aspirations, but the future for the program is very bright. 

    The Aggies' season started ominously when they had multiple players suspended before their first game. The loss of these defensive starters created a domino effect from which the defense never recovered.

    The suspensions, coupled with multiple starters not playing to the coaches expectations, resulted in the Aggies putting their worst defense on the field in quite some time.

    The defense's inability to come up with a timely stop, or a stop of any kind, forced the offense to have to score on almost every possession in order to win games. 

    Towards the end of the season, key injuries on offense and questionable play-calling caused the offense to bog down. The result was a season that did not live up to the expectations of pundits and Aggie fans alike. 

    When veteran players like sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha and junior linebacker Donnie Baggs failed to produce on the field, the defense struggled to stop anyone. The coaches were forced to play freshmen before they were ready to be on the field. 

    This force-feeding of playing time to the youth in the program will benefit the Aggies down the road. Freshman starters like Isaiah Golden and Darian Claiborne will be better prepared to be difference makers in 2014. 

    The Aggies' sacrifices will pay off in 2014 and going forward with a much improved defense.

    You win in the Southeastern Conference by winning the battle in the trenches. The Aggies will be a much stronger team at the point of attack in 2014. 

    This is a look at the status of the program after the 2013 regular season. 

Returning Players

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    The Aggies will lose six starters to graduation from the offense and defense.

    The Aggies only lose 10 total players from their two-deep to graduation. That means that in theory, the Aggies will return 46 of the 56 players atop their depth chart from 2013. 

    The 2013 squad was a very young team, and the Aggies will benefit from all the experience gained by those young players in 2014. Both sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel and sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans are expected to declare early for the NFL Draft. 

    Texas A&M junior offensive linemen Cedric Ogbuehi and Jarvis Harrison may also weigh their NFL options. If they both leave early for the NFL, then it will be a huge blow to the Aggies' offense in 2014. 

    If Ogbuehi and Harrison return, then the Aggies will return four of their starting five offensive linemen. Manziel will be gone from under center and will likely be replaced by Kenny Hill at quarterback. 

    If Ogbuehi returns, he will flip over to the left tackle spot vacated by All-American Jake Matthews. The right tackle spot will likely be filled by incoming junior college recruit Jermaine Eluemanor.  

    The Aggie will lose running back Ben Malena to graduation. He will likely be replaced by Trey Williams or Tra Carson as the starter.

    The wide receiver position will lose Travis Labhart and Derel Walker to graduation. They will also likely lose Evans to the NFL.

    LaQuvionte Gonzalez will step in at the slot for Labhart. Edward Pope and Ricky Seals-Jones will replace Walker and Evans on the outside.

    If Hill is named the starter at quarterback, do not be surprised to see his former high school teammate Sabian Holmes step up at slot receiver. 

    On defense, the Aggies will lose outside linebacker Steven Jenkins to graduation. Tommy Sanders is listed as the backup on the depth chart, but he will need to gain some weight if he wants to start in 2014.

    Tony Hurd Jr. is a senior and the current starter at the nickelback. Noel Ellis started in place of Hurd for a few games in 2013, and should take over that role full-time in 2014.

    The Aggies will return all four starters on the defensive line in 2014. Aggie fans should expect to see a lot of changes at the position.

    Isaiah Golden will return as the starter at nose guard. Ivan Robinson and Alonzo Williams both spent time as the starter at defensive tackle, but do not be surprised if neither start there in 2014.

    Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning and Jay Arnold will compete for playing time at the defensive tackle spot. Williams will likely move back to strong-side defensive end where he spent his freshman season in 2012.

    If Williams moves back to end, do not be surprised to see Gavin Stansbury move from the strong-side defensive end over to weak-side defensive end in 2014. He showed some pass-rushing ability when lined up on the weak side in 2013 and led the team with three sacks.

    Stansbury may be a placeholder on the weak side while incoming recruits Myles Garrett and Qualen Cunningham find their legs. The Aggies did not have an effective pass rush in 2013, so expect the coaches to move some players around in an attempt to create pressure in 2014.

    At linebacker, the entire lineup is in flux.

    A lot will depend on where the coaches decide to play Claiborne. He started at middle linebacker for much of the season and tied for the team lead with 89 tackles on the year.

    Claiborne is an instinctive player who should be an All-SEC caliber linebacker once he adds some weight to his frame. There is the possibility that the coaches will move him from the middle to the weak side in 2014.

    If that happens, then expect to see Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Reggie Chevis fight it out for the starting spot in the middle. Chevis may also factor into the competition at weak-side defensive end.

    The strong-side outside linebacker position will be manned by Shaan Washington. Brett Wade redshirted during the 2013 season, and should factor in the competition with Sanders for the starting spot on the weak side. 

    If 2014 recruit Hoza Scott is in Aggieland in the fall, then do not be surprised to see him starting on the weak side by season's end. 

    The Aggie secondary returns intact.

    Do not be surprised to see changes at safety where Kameron Miles, Victor Davis and Jonathan Wiggins will compete with returning starters Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven for playing time. Incoming recruit Dylan Sumner-Gardner may factor into the safety rotation. 




2014 Recruiting

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    The 2014 Texas A&M recruiting class is currently ranked No. 4 overall by 247sports.com.

    Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done an excellent job of addressing the immediate needs of the team in this class. 

    The Aggies had a very poor pass rush in 2013 with only 20 sacks in 12 games.

    The starting defensive line combined for a total of five sacks in 12 games. The Aggies had to address this in their recruiting class, and they did by securing verbal commitments from three top defensive end prospects

    They addressed the issue of possibly early departures on the offensive line by gaining pledges from junior college linemen. The coaches are continuing to build the program in the SEC model by adding difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. 


    DE Myles Garrett

    The one player that the Aggies had to land was Arlington (TX) Martin defensive end Myles Garrett.

    He is ranked as the top pass-rushing defensive end in the country by 247sports.com. Garrett is a national top-10 ranked recruit who happens to play a position of huge need for the Aggies. 

    In gaining a verbal pledge from Garrett, the Aggies not only helped their 2014 pass rush, they also sent a message to the other programs in the SEC that they are serious about building an elite defense. Garrett once had 8.5 sacks in a single game

    He should step on the field in the fall for the Aggies and make an immediate impact. If Garrett had been on the roster in 2013, he probably would have started at weak-side defensive end. 


    QB Kyle Allen

    When the Aggies landed a verbal pledge from Kyle Allen, it made two very large statements. First, his pledges signaled that the Aggies would be a major player on the national level when it came to recruiting.

    It also quieted some of the naysayers who claimed that A&M would fall into the abyss when Johnny Manziel moved on to the NFL. Allen is the top-rated pro-style quarterback in the country according to 247sports.com.  

    Like Garrett, he is a nationally ranked player whom other top recruits want to play with. Allen has shown a plus arm and is elusive in the pocket. He will not be the running threat that Manziel is, but he should be able to create time in the pocket much like former Sumlin pupil Case Keenum did at Houston. 

    Allen will arrive on campus in January and will compete with Kenny Hill for the starting quarterback spot on the 2014 team. 


    WR Frank Iheanacho

    A high school basketball star is not receiving the scholarship offers he wants on the hard court, so he gives football a try and becomes a star at wide receiver. 

    Aggie fans know that story describes the recruiting of current star receiver Mike Evans. Houston Westside wide receiver Frank Iheanacho is following in Evans' footsteps.

    The 6'7", 220-pound wide receiver did not like the scholarship offers he was getting from basketball. He decided to play wide receiver and has developed into one of the most sought-after wide receiver recruits in college football. 

    The Aggies are currently battling it out with LSU, Oregon, Ole Miss and a bevy of others for Iheanacho's signature. With Evans likely to move on to the NFL, it is imperative that the Aggies land Iheanacho.

    If you paired Iheanacho with Ricky Seals-Jones, Edward Pope and JaQuay Williams, the Aggies will have the tallest wide receiver corps in the country.  


Stars of the Future

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    The negative about the Aggies playing so much youth in 2013 is that it prevented them from winning some games on the field.

    The positive is that the Aggies got a glimpse at multiple players who should be stars for the program in the near future. 

    Aggie running back Trey Williams averaged 7.1 yards per rush and scored six touchdowns in 2013. With the graduation of Ben Malena, Williams will get more touches in 2014 and will become a major weapon in the Aggies' offense. 

    Williams has the speed and elusiveness to score a touchdown on every carry. Because of the depth at running back on the Aggies' roster, do not expect Williams to get enough carries to rush for 1,000 yards. 

    He will still be a big part of the Aggies' offense and a major weapon during his junior season in 2014. 

    Darian Claiborne started the last nine games of the regular season at middle linebacker.

    He has amazing instincts and tied for the team lead in total tackles with 89. If he has a good bowl game, Claiborne could be the first freshman to lead the team in tackles since Dat Nguyen did it in 1995 as a redshirt freshman. 

    The only factors currently holding Claiborne back right now are size and experience. He is learning more about what to expect from SEC offenses with each passing game. 

    Claiborne will be able to spend the offseason in the weight room with strength coach Larry Jackson in order to add some weight on his 6'0", 225-pound frame. Once Claiborne is better able to hold up physically against the bigger backs in the SEC, he will become a dominant defensive player. 

    True freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall is the best pure pass-rusher on the Aggies' defense, even though he ended the regular season with no sacks. The 6'6", 243-pound athlete is only scratching the surface of what he will accomplish on the football field. 

    Hall should be up to 260 pounds by the time August rolls around and more capable of holding his own against SEC offensive tackles. Once he adds some size and strength, Hall will be a difference maker off the edge for the Aggies. 

Coaching Staff

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    The offensive play-calling at Texas A&M in 2013 was highly suspect.

    Johnny Manziel's ability covered up a lot of weaknesses in that area. When Manziel's injuries mounted towards the end of the season, Clarence McKinney's suspect play calls were exposed, and the offense struggled. 

    This was the first season that McKinney has called the plays for A&M. Depending on what Kevin Sumlin decides in the offseason, it may be his last. 

    McKinney refused to run the ball against LSU despite Manziel's thumb injury limiting the effectiveness of the passing game. Aggie running backs Ben Malena and Trey Williams combined for six carries against LSU. Tra Carson did not have a single carry against the Tigers. 

    When injuries limited Manziel to mortal status for the last two games of the season, the offense averaged 339 yards and 15.5 points per game. That is unacceptable by anyone's standards, but especially an offense under Sumlin's watch.

    Sumlin may decide to give McKinney another chance to right the ship in 2014.

    However, he would be justified if he replaced him before the start of the season. The SEC is no place to get on-the-job training.

    The Aggies' defense was one of the worst in the country in 2013.

    With a bigger and more experienced defense returning in 2014, the Aggies will make a quantum leap up the standings for total defense. If they do not, then expect Sumlin to waste no time in replacing defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.  

2014 Outlook

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    There are currently too many unknowns to make a viable prediction on the Aggies' 2014 record.

    If Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans declare early for the NFL draft, then the offense will not be quite as prolific in 2014. 

    If Manziel is gone, then the offense will lean more on the running backs. That is a good thing because Trey Williams and Tra Carson are very capable backs. If they stay healthy, then they will both rush for over 500 yards in 2014. 

    The defense will be much improved in 2014.

    The defensive line will be much stronger against the run. A defensive tackle rotation of Isaiah Golden, Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Jay Arnold and DeShawn Washington will make the Aggies much tougher on the interior. 

    The physical maturation of Daeshon Hall, coupled with incoming talent like Myles Garrett and Qualen Cunningham will give the Aggies a viable pass rush from their front four. 

    With more pressure up front, the Aggies' secondary should improve on the eight passes they picked off in 2013. More turnovers caused means more scoring opportunities for the offense. 

    If none of the offensive linemen declare early for the draft, then the Aggies' offensive line should be one of the top lines in the country. Cedric Ogbuehi, Mike Matthews, Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi are all future Sunday players. 

    The Aggies will be able to lean on the offensive line and running game while they get their new quarterback comfortable in the offense. Expect Kenny Hill to win the quarterback battle in the Spring and line up under center when the Aggies face South Carolina to start the season. 

    It is impossible to predict how the Aggies will do in the SEC in 2014 because no one knows what juniors are leaving early for the NFL from each SEC team. Auburn would have to be considered the prohibitive favorite going into the 2014 season. 

    The Tigers only lose five seniors from their starting lineup, and all of them are on defense. In theory, they could return all 11 starters from an offense that led the SEC in rushing in 2013. 

    Nothing is for sure, but it is realistic to expect the Aggies to take a step back on offense in 2014 while taking a step forward on defense. Assuming the Aggies can hold serve at home, a 9-3 record with losses at South Carolina, Auburn and Alabama looks realistic.