Texas A&M Football: Keys for Aggies to Keep Up in the SEC
With the Aggies' upcoming season in their new conference, the SEC, approaching fast, many fans and alumni are beginning to think long term. New head coach Kevin Sumlin has been thinking the same way as he boosted his 2013 recruiting class to 27 commits on July 26 with JUCO DT Robert Zimmerman.
For an A&M program that owns a ton of talent and unlimited potential, they must start keying on their new home and ways to be successful over the course of their tenure there. With powerhouse programs such as Alabama, Georgia and LSU to learn from, the Aggies are in great company and plan to improve significantly over the next few seasons.
We take a look at a few areas A&M must take a look it for any true success to be, first, attainable, and second, sustainable.
Utilize the Home Field Advantage
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The SEC is, by far, the toughest conference in the nation. For the time being, the league's western division stands apart from any other sector of competitive football in the country, especially following two premiere squads from that division, Alabama and LSU, battled for the national title last season.
Therefore, to even have a shot at becoming a part of the elite conversation, there is one undisputed necessity any team must accomplish.
Win at home. It's simple and extremely important to a program looking to emerge as a threat to the big shots from the SEC.
Kyle Field has been and will continue to be one of the most hostile environments in college football. The 12th Man has earned a reputation as a powerful force capable of urging its team onto victory time and time again, meaning that this trend must continue when programs such as Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama visit the storied venue.
Build an Interior Defensive Line
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Starting at the defensive tackle position this season for the Aggies will be Jonathan Mathis and Kirby Ennis, two 290-300-pound monsters who should provide some decent stability at the center of the entire defensive front.
With two top-notch pass-rushers in Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy coming off the edge while Sean Porter, Steven Jenkins and Jonathan Stewart back them up as the linebacker corps, one might ask "what's the problem here?"
Fact is, there's no real talent or size behind Mathis and Ennis who could enter the game if one or both get injured or need a breather. While Sumlin and his staff have already begun to address their interior defensive line depth by recruiting multiple prospects to play the position, A&M may struggle mightily till the now-high school athletes come of age.
However, building up one's D-line talent is the correct move for the program. With four defensive tackle commits in Isaiah Golden, Kerrick Huggins, Hardreck Walker and JUCO Robert Zimmerman, new DC Mark Snyder has already worked to solidify his standing in the center of his defense.
The SEC is a ground-and-pound, grind-it-out kind of league, making hole-clogging defensive tackles a luxury as valuable as gold in the conference.
While this may be somewhat obvious considering that strong recruiting is essential to any program's success on the field, it is particularly true in the SEC. Year after year, the conference's footprint produces some of the best talent in the nation and now, with the addition of Texas, the range of quality recruits available increases tenfold.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin has been burning up the recruiting as of late, earning his 26th and 27th commitments over the course of the past week. The Aggies rank as a Top-15 class in each of the three major prospect analysis sites of 247Sports, Rivals and ESPN.
With commits such as TE Derrick Griffin, DT Isaiah Golden, WR Laquvionte Gonazalez and LB Darian Claiborne littering the largest class in the country, A&M is working to build a top-notch SEC program. The most notable necessity for the Aggies, however, will be consistently putting out Top-10 recruiting classes over the course of the next couple of seasons.
Maintain a Powerful Offensive Line
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As A&M enters its inaugural SEC season, the league's newest member may hold the top offensive line in the conference, possibly the country. With junior tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews anchoring the edges while senior center Patrick Lewis holds down the middle, expect A&M's rushing attack and pass protection to be some of best nationwide.
With some decent backup in Ben Compton and Joseph Cheek as well as some rising talent in current 2013 commits Ishmael Wilson and Joas Aguilar, the offensive line seems to be set for the next few years. However, in order to compete in the SEC, maintaining that power will be a necessity to matching up with the best defensive fronts this sport has to offer.
While the Big 12 did produce some "middle-of-the-pack" D-lines, the Aggies may be in for a rude awakening when they face off against top defensive fronts such as Alabama and LSU. However, Luke Joeckel believes he and his compatriots have all the experience in the world to match up with the SEC.
Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel has studied LSU DEs and feels prepared because "I've blocked Von Miller."— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) July 17, 2012
That's Von Miller, the overall No. 2 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and current Denver Bronco. This may be a first, but perhaps the SEC defensive lines should be fearing how solid this offensive line really is.
Depth, Depth and More Depth
I can not stress this enough—A&M needs depth. As of right now, the Aggies lack depth particularly on the defensive line, something the coaching staff is addressing right now with the four defensive tackles and two ends lined up the sign with the program in the 2013 class.
Furthermore, A&M will be losing all three of their starting linebackers, Sean Porter, Steven Jenkins and Jonathan Stewart, to graduation following this season. Again, Sumlin has begun to work to add depth with four prospects at the position committed for the 2013 class.
However, while the Aggies have had depth problems in the past with other head coaches, nothing will compare to the meat-grinder of the SEC that Sumlin and his staff will have to endure.
The league is, by no contest, the most physical conference in the nation and while A&M does have tons of talent to match up with top teams right now, injuries or wear-and-tear on these players could significantly hurt the Aggies' chances later on in the season.
Put simply, A&M is in a position where it needs to "deepen" their roster. If Sumlin and the Aggies can do so, they can and will be successful in the pound-it-out SEC over the course of time.
Assemble a Versatile Linebacker Corps
For a defense, the linebacker position is the key to success. New DC Mark Snyder understands this well and is extremely fortunate walking into an A&M program which boasts three seniors at the unit with projected first-round draft pick Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart and Steven Jenkins.
However, with all three graduating following this season, the Aggies will have a major problem replacing the massive amounts of talent heading out of College Station. Although some solid prospects including sophomores Donnie Baggs and Shaun Ward as well as freshman Michael Richardson back up the seasoned veterans, some big-time recruits will be a necessity for future success as the position.
As seems to be custom with this new staff, they have already begun to address the discrepancy by picking up four commitments for the 2013 class. With all four desiring to help bring back the legendary Wrecking Crew, Brett Wade, Reggie Chevis, Darian Claiborne and Edward Williams are poised to be huge impacts once they arrive at A&M.
The versatility of the linebacker corps basically refers to the fact that the Aggies must have a unit that can strongly defend any rushing attack while also being able to drop back into pass coverage. For the time being, however, the Aggies realize that they need more talent at the position but with months till national signing day, Sumlin and his staff have all the time in the world.
Construct a Diverse Offensive Attack
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As the Aggies enter their new conference, the offense is actually set up to be successful in both the rushing attack and the air raid styles. Offensively-minded head coach Kevin Sumlin and OC Kliff Kingsbury will work to exploit this advantage against SEC defenses over the course of the season.
Anchored by a powerful offensive line, the Aggies' running game should be a key asset against the versatile defensive fronts it will face. With Christine Michael, arguably A&M's top skill player, as well as backup halfbacks Ben Malena and Trey Williams (Brandon Williams out for season due to transfer), the Aggie rushing attack will produce on levels many don't expect.
On the other hand, stud wide receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu own the top slots in the A&M air raid. Despite a new starting quarterback in (expected) Jameill Showers, the Aggies should prove to own one of the better passing attacks in the country.
With tons of depth at running back, Sumlin has only brought in one RB prospect in James White. The wideout unit, however is a different story. The new head coach has managed to pull in five receiver recruits including Derrick Girffin, Laquvionte Gonzalez, Quincy Adeboyejo, Kyrion Parker and, most recently, Jeremy Tabuyo.
Maintaining consistent production out of both facets of the Aggies offense will be a huge key to Sumlin snaring victories. For now, he and his staff are en route to building an offensive powerhouse in the defensive-centric SEC.
Establish a Deadly Secondary
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Over the past few seasons, A&M's defensive backs have remained a source of constant frustration for Aggie football. Allowing 276 yards through the air last season, A&M ranked as the No. 109 pass defense in the country.
While many attribute the secondary coming up short due to subpar training, lack of experience or a multitude of other factors, there is no excuse for allowing such numbers at a Division I program. Fixing this problem is first and foremost in new DC Mark Snyder's mind.
Starting three sophomores in Floyd Raven, Howard Matthews and Deshazor Everett along with one senior in Steven Terrell for this upcoming season, the Aggies will most certainly be vulnerable in the secondary on defense.
Accordingly, the recruiting staff has begun to build up the weak defensive back unit with six commitments so far for the 2013 class. With big shots in Noel Ellis and Tavares Garner leading the way, speedsters Alex Sezer and Shaan Washington along with Victor Davis and Jonathan Wiggins compile a strong secondary presence.
Overall, the Aggies are working to construct a passing defense that can withstand some of the best receivers in the country. While it will not happen overnight, this secondary unit will significantly become a solid part of this defense with continued recruiting production and strong coaching.