The Texas A&M Football team's 2012 season will not be defined by their starting 22 on offense and defense but by their backups. A&M has the talent to compete with any team in the Southeastern Conference when you look at their starters.
The question at hand is whether or not the Aggies have enough depth to be a factor in the SEC race. In a physical league like the SEC, injuries have to be expected, and teams need to have quality players up and down their depth chart to succeed.
There are some positions like running back where the Aggies have as much depth as any team in the country. Other positions like defensive tackle are so thin that you have to expect issues at the position by the end of the season.
This is a look at a few of the key backups that will have a say in how the Aggies perform in their inaugural season in the SEC.
If Brandon Williams' request for a waiver from the NCAA is denied as expected, then Malena will enter the season as the second-team running back behind Christine Michael. Malena started the last two games of the 2011 season after Michael and Cyrus Gray were lost to injury.
Malena rushed for 259 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. He also had 10 receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown. He has great hands out of the backfield.
Malena took a huge step forward in the spring. After a few months of working out in Larry Jackson's strength and conditioning program, Malena displayed a noticeable improvement in his speed.
Going into the spring, most Aggie fans would have expected Malena to be a three-yards-per-carry type of thumper in the SEC. Nothing special, but a solid back who might break a 15-yard run here and there.
After his work in the weight room, Malena has transformed himself into a solid SEC running back. He is the type of back who could rush for 600 to 800 yards in a season and also 200 receiving yards.
Along with Trey Williams and Michael, Malena gives the Ags one of the deepest backfields in the country.
Ben Compton saw action as a true freshman in 2011 at nose guard in the Aggies 3-4 defense. He showed surprising strength for a freshman and had six tackles on the season with one tackle for loss.
He moved over to the offensive line in the offseason and is currently the second-team right guard behind Cedric Ogbuehi. Compton's play could have a major impact on the season.
Ogbuehi is really a left tackle masquerading as a guard because Luke Joeckel is the Aggies' left tackle. Ogbuehi is talented enough to play left tackle in the NFL in a few years.
If Joeckel goes down, and the coaches feel comfortable with Compton starting at right guard, then Ogbuehi will slide into the starting spot at left tackle. If the coaches are not happy with Compton, then Ogbuehi will stay at right guard, and Germain Ifedi will lose his redshirt and start at left tackle.
Compton is strong enough to play on the interior OL in the SEC. He should treat 2012 as an opportunity to gain experience because he may be a starter in 2013 if Joeckel leaves early for the NFL.
Jacobs is a cornerback the Aggies signed in the 2012 recruiting class out of junior college. Kevin Sumlin was able to flip Jacobs at the last minute from Tennessee.
Currently Jacobs is listed as the second-team cornerback on the depth chart. The top four corners on the roster right now are Deshazor Everett, Floyd Raven, Jacobs and DeVante Harris.
Jacobs is backing up Everett right now. Harris and Raven are fighting it out for the starting spot at the other corner position.
Jacobs is a big corner at 6'1" and 190 lbs. He should be able to use his size against the bigger receivers in the SEC and should be an asset against the run. He was effective in coverage in the spring game.
Aggie fans should take a wait-and-see approach with Jacobs. It is too early to tell how much of a contribution he is going to make.
Stansbury is currently listed as the second-team strong-side defensive end. He saw extensive action in 2011 and finished the season with 15 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
Stansbury played DE and NG for the Aggies in 2011. In Mark Snyder's multiple defense, he will likely be used as a DE when the Ags go to the 4-3 and in the 3-4 or 33 stack formations.
Right now Stansbury is backing up Spencer Nealy. The coaches are taking a look at Nealy on the inside. If Stansbury shows that he can be effective enough to start, then expect the coaches to move Nealy over to the weak-side tackle position where he will back up Kirby Ennis.
If that happens, then look for freshman Julien Obioha to lose his redshirt and move into the two deep.
Robinson is the backup at nose guard behind Jonathan Mathis. Robinson is an active defensive tackle, but his main issue is his lack of size. Robinson is 6'3" but is listed at 265 lbs. In reality he may weigh less than that.
A 265-lb. nose tackle is much too small for the SEC. He can be a situational pass rusher,3 but you will not stand up against an SEC offensive line at that weight on a consistent basis.
In an ideal world, Robinson would play defensive end. He is simply too small to play on the interior. Expect Robinson to split time at nose guard with Alonzo Williams.
If the Aggies are forced to start Robinson at nose guard because Mathis gets injured, then it will not bode well for the season.
Hatten could be the answer to the Aggies' prayers on the interior defensive line. At 6'4" and 295 lbs., Hatten has the size to stand up to SEC offensive linemen.
The issue with Hatten is that he has not put it all together on the field yet. He has the size and strength to play defensive tackle in the SEC. However, he has not yet displayed the ability to consistently hold up in the trenches.
Hatten is currently listed as the second-string defensive tackle behind Kirby Ennis. He was one of the top recruits in the state when the Aggies signed him in 2011. He redshirted last season and is entering his redshirt freshman season.
If he can give the Aggies anything on the defensive line in 2012, it would be a major plus for the team.
Kennedy is the second-string slot wide receiver behind Ryan Swope. In 2011 Kennedy caught 11 passes for 140 yards.
He proved adept at making clutch catches on third downs to extend drives.
With Swope sitting out the Aggies' scrimmage on Saturday, Kennedy led all receivers with eight receptions for 72 yards.
Only a sophomore, Kennedy should have a big year in Kliff Kingsbury's offense. He has reliable hands and good speed.
Aggie fans should expect Kennedy to haul in around 30 receptions in 2012 for 500 yards.