The Texas A&M football team is busy preparing for the Cotton Bowl after a surprising 10-2 record in its first season in the Southeastern Conference. The future for the program looks very bright, but there are many holes that will be need to filled in the starting lineup before the 2013 season starts.
The Aggies' current senior class is a special group that led A&M to four consecutive bowl games. They signed to play for Mike Sherman in the spring of 2009 with the Aggies coming off a 4-8 campaign in 2008.
There are multiple members of this class who made tremendous contributions to the program during the last four years and have helped put the Aggies back into the top 10. Many players from this senior class will hear their name called during the NFL draft in April.
This is a look at the biggest holes the Aggies will have to fill on the team before the 2013 season starts.
Aggie center Patrick Lewis blocks against LSU
Patrick Lewis has been a stalwart on the Texas A&M offensive line since his freshman year. He earned a starting spot at guard as a true freshman and has been in the starting lineup ever since.
Lewis moved to center as a junior and developed into one of the top centers in the country. In Kevin Sumlin's spread offense, Lewis was counted on to set the pace. He was often seen running down the field to quickly set up over the ball in order to snap it before the defense was set.
Lewis was responsible for calling out all of the signals on the line. He made the line-calls for the best offensive line in the country. Four years of starting experience will be hard to replace, but freshman Mike Matthews has been able to gain valuable experience behind Lewis during some of the Aggies' blowout wins in 2012.
Expect Lewis to play on Sundays in 2013.
Aggie TE Michael Lamothe
Michael Lamothe has been a jack of all trades on the football field during his five years in Aggieland. In high school, Lamothe played quarterback, running back and linebacker. The Aggies brought him in and moved him to tight end.
Lamothe is one of the best blockers on the team and rotated between tight end and fullback to give the Aggies a better blocker in the backfield.
Every winning team in the country needs a player like Lamothe. He is a glue guy who can be counted on to make the plays that do not show up in the box score. Lamothe also had five tackles on special teams in 2012.
Lamothe may get a look as an undrafted free agent in the NFL because of his versatility.
Senior wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu has been one of the most exciting and frustrating receivers on the team during his four years in Aggieland. "EZ" excelled at making big plays, but his inconsistent hands kept him from ever realizing his potential.
Nwachukwu had a solid senior season, with 23 receptions for 404 yards and six touchdowns. His 17.6 yards per reception led the 2012 team. He was the third-leading receiver for the Ags in 2012.
Nwachukwu has been a four-year starter at outside receiver. He has the size at 6'0' and 194 lbs that NFL scouts covet. "EZ" will get a look in the NFL, most likely as an undrafted free agent.
Ryan Swope is one of the best receivers ever to set foot on Kyle Field. He owns the A&M records for season and career receptions. He also owns the A&M records for season and career receiving yardage.
He has been an All-Conference wide receiver in the Big 12 and the SEC. Swope has been making clutch plays for the Aggies for the past four years.
You do not simply replace a player the caliber of Swope. He was second on the team with 64 receptions for 809 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012.
Malcome Kennedy and Derel Walker are the most likely candidates to take over in the slot after Swope moves on to the NFL.
Senior wide receiver Kenric McNeal has been a solid slot receiver during his four years in Aggieland. He had 19 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.
McNeal struggled with injuries throughout his career, but has always found a way to contribute. He will probably most be remembered by Aggie fans for his 32-yard reception against Alabama in the first quarter of the Aggies 29-24 upset of the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide.
That reception set up the offense for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 14-0 lead. It was a huge play in a game that helped the Ags ultimately change the perception of the program.
Aggie fans should expect Sabian Holmes and the incoming freshmen to compete for McNeal's starting spot in the slot.
Christine Michael was considered a "can't-miss" prospect for the Aggies when he was recruited out of Beaumont (TX) Westbrook High School. He was ranked as a 5-star recruit and one of the top running backs in the nation.
Although he struggled with injuries through his career at A&M, he still rushed for 2,791 career yards and 34 touchdowns. When healthy, he was one of the better running backs in college football. Michael gave the Aggies a physical running presence during his four seasons in the maroon and white.
Michael should be selected in the NFL draft in April. If he can stay healthy, he should have a successful NFL career. Expect Tra Carson to assume Michael's role as a short-yardage back in 2013.
Spencer Nealy entered the A&M program in 2009 as an invited walk-on, and leaves it in 2012 as a starting defensive tackle in the SEC. He is the emotional leader of the team and a fan favorite.
Nealy's relentless motor and inability to take himself seriously has endeared himself to his teammates and Aggie football fans. Nealy was moved inside to defensive tackle in 2012 after spending the past three years as mainly a backup defensive tackle.
Nealy shocked the his coaches, teammates and Aggie fans with his strong play. He had 37 tackles with six tackles for loss and two sacks during his senior season. He is the perfect example of why fans love college football.
Nealy is not the biggest, fastest or strongest guy on the field. He simply plays as hard as he can on every play, and the fans love him for it.
The Aggies will likely be able to find someone to replace Nealy's production on the field, but his personality and ability to keep everyone loose off the field will be a huge loss.
Jonathan Stewart developed into a solid middle linebacker during his four years in Aggieland. He has been a two-year starter for the Aggie at the mike linebacker position. In 2012, he was second on the team with 72 total tackles. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
As a junior, Stewart led the Aggies with 98 total tackles and added 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He has been a solid member for the linebacking corps for the past four seasons, but really came into his own as a junior.
Stewart may get a look in the NFL as an undrafted free agent. Donnie Baggs will get a chance to take over for Stewart in the middle in 2013.
Sean Porter is one of the better linebackers to play at A&M in the past decade. He was often overlooked because he played on the same defense with standouts like Von Miller and Damontre Moore.
Porter has consistently played great football for the Aggies for the past four years. He is the classic example of a player who fans will appreciate more once he is gone.
Porter has excelled in all phases of the game while in Aggieland, whether it be in coverage, rushing the passer or playing the run. He is an exceptional linebacker who has been a leader on the defense for the past two years.
Porter registered 60 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks during his senior season. As a senior, he was asked to drop into coverage more when the Ags moved from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3. Porter's sack numbers dropped from the 9.5 he had as a junior.
Expect Porter to be selected within the first three rounds of the NFL draft in April.
Dustin Harris had a solid season at corner in 2012. He has the ideal size and speed that NFL scouts look for at 6'0",180 lbs. with a 4.4 time in the 40. Harris has excelled throughout his career as a punt returner.
He has struggled with inconsistency throughout his career in the secondary. Until his senior season, he also struggled to consistently catch punts. Harris may have the best pure cover skills of any defensive back on the roster.
As a senior, Harris averaged 13.2 yards per return and a touchdown. He led the nation in punt returns as a junior with an 18.6-yard average.
Harris has great speed and will likely find a spot on an NFL roster due to his speed and ability on special teams.
Aggie safety Steven Terrell
Steven Terrell has spent the past four seasons roaming the Aggie secondary as a starting safety. He started all 12 games of his senior season and accumulated 58 tackles with four tackles for loss and an interception.
Terrell is a solid SEC starter in the secondary. His veteran presence will be missed in 2013. Expect Tony Hurd, Jr. to get the first opportunity to replace Terrell at free safety next season.
Terrell will likely get the opportunity to try out for an NFL squad as an undrafted free agent.