The Texas A&M football team will be transitioning in 2012 from Mike Sherman's West Coast offense to Kevin Sumlin's version of the spread offense. With different personnel required to excel in each offense, this brings up the question of how the players on the current roster will fit into Sumin's offense.
In order to answer that question, you need to have a basic understanding of what each offense is. Sherman ran the West Coast offense which is basically a timing offense made popular by Bill Walsh with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL. The basic formation of the West Coast offense includes two running backs in the backfield with the quarterback, two wide receivers split out wide and a tight end lined up on the line next to an offensive tackle.
In Sherman's version of the West Coast offense at A&M, they typically lined up with one running back and put an extra receiver in the slot. He also liked to line up an H-back in the backfield in front of a running back instead of leaving a tight end on the line.
Sherman used a lot of spread principles in his offense. The Ags on offense in 2012 used a lot of formations with four and five wide receivers on the field at the same time. The offense ran a lot of five-wide sets because that was what quarterback Ryan Tannehill was most comfortable in.
Kevin Sumlin cut his coaching teeth at Purdue under Joe Tiller. Sumlin runs a variation of the spread that uses a lot of West Coast concepts. He also has variations in his offense that he picked up from Dana Holgerson and also Kliff Kingsbury.
Sumlin's offense is going to use a one back set with four wide receivers on the field as its base formation. In Sumlin's offense, you will almost always see two slot receivers on the field at the same time. Some people also like to call the slot receiver an "inside receiver" and line their tight ends up there like Missouri does under Gary Pinkel or the New England Patriots in the NFL.
Both the West Coast offense and the spread offense have the same simple goal—get the ball into the hands of your playmakers out in space where they are lined up against a slower player. This creates a mismatch that should be to the advantage of the offense.
The spread offense was created by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach to spread defenses out and lessen the impact of a weak offensive line on a team. With so many players out in passing routes, the quarterback should be able to find someone open and get the ball out quickly. This will lessen the period of time needed for the offensive line to block the defensive line, and in theory will allow less talented teams and programs to compete with the better teams.
Every offense in the NFL and in college football has some variation of the spread offense in it. The Aggies will have an easy transition from Sherman's offense to Sumlin's offense because the two offenses use a lot of the same concepts and same type of personnel.
A lot of people have the impression that A&M will look like Texas Tech under Mike Leach where they threw the ball 60 times per game and the running game was an afterthought. The Aggies should expect to see Sumlin emphasize the running game in 2012 as he allows his younger quarterbacks to gain experience running the offense.
At quarterback, the Aggies are likely going to start sophomore Jameill Showers. He spent two years in Sherman's offense and looked the best running Sumlin's offense during spring practice. Showers has a strong enough arm to play in any offense. He is also very mobile so should be effective if the Aggies run any zone read plays out of spread formations like Sherman did in 2011.
Johny Manziel will likely be Showers' backup. Manziel played in a spread offense all through high school. Once he can learn to take care of the ball more he should be a tremendous asset to the team.
At running back, the Aggies will start senior Christine Michael who is recovering from ACL surgery. Michael's powerful running style should be a great fit in Sumlin's offense that features wide splits between the offensive linemen. Those wide splits should help give him bigger holes to run into against those tough SEC defenses.
Ben Malena will be the backup to Michael with incoming freshman Trey Williams as the third-string back. Malena is a great fit for Sumlin's offense because he excels at catching the ball out of the backfield and at pass protection. Williams should be used a lot of ways by Sumlin. Do not be surprised to see Sumlin split Williams out wide in the slot to take advantage of the freshman's 4.3 speed.
Expect Sumlin to ride Michael and Malena a lot early in the season. With the talent at running back and on the offensive line, A&M should be able to win some games simply by pounding the rock. Some defenses like LSU and Alabama are going to force you to beat them through the air, but against teams like Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Missouri, do not be surprised to see the Aggies run the ball 40-50 time per game.
At wide receiver, the player who will see the most benefit from the transition to the spread offense is slot receiver Ryan Swope. The senior from Austin should put up around 100 catches and 1,500 receiving yards in this offense.
Kenric McNeal should get the start at the other slot receiver spot. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands and should benefit from the attentions that defenses are going to give Swope.
Uzoma Nwachukwu will start at one of the outside receiver spots. He needs to improve his consistency catching the ball. Mike Evans will start at the other outside receiver spot after having a more consistent spring than Nate Askew. Evans will offer the Aggie QB a big target in the red zone.
The Aggies return five players with starting experience on the offensive line. Most important for Sumlin, he has a likely preseason All-American at left tackle in Luke Joeckel. The right tackle spot is manned by Jake Mattews, who will join Joeckel in the NFL some day. Patrick Lewis returns at center and is a four-year starter for the maroon and white.
Jarvis Harrison will line up at one guard spot while Cedric Ogbuehi will take the other. Together, these five players should make up one of the best offensive lines in the country.
Nehemiah Hicks is the best athlete at tight end, but missed spring practice while recovering from surgery. Expect Sumlin to find ways to get him the ball once the coaches see what he can do in the Fall. Michael Lamothe is a great blocker who has solid hands. Sumlin will find a way to use him on the field.
Mike Sherman left the offense stocked with a lot of future NFL talent. It should be a particularly easy transition on offense for Sumlin and his staff as long as they get quality play from the quarterback position.
Considering the fact that Sumlin has had good quarterback play on every team he coached at, the Aggies should feel very confident about their offense in 2012.