The 2012 Texas A&M Football team featured the top offensive line in the country. How the Aggies respond to the loss of two members of that line will define how successful their 2013 season is.
Luke Joeckel was the starting left tackle on the Aggies' offensive line in 2012, and he declared early for the NFL draft. Joeckel is expected to be one of the top five selections in the draft.
Patrick Lewis started on the offensive line all four years he was at A&M. He spent the last two seasons as the Aggies' center. He is projected to go anywhere from the fifth round of the draft to signing as an undrafted free agent.
The Aggies lost two very talented offensive linemen who were also leaders of the team. This would be a major blow to most programs, but the Ags have a lot of depth at the position and an offense that is versatile enough to cover up for weaknesses on the line.
Matthews' Return Solidifies Line
The prospects for the 2013 offensive line received a huge boost when Jake Matthews announced he was going to return to A&M for his senior season. Matthews was named All-SEC and All-American for his play at right tackle in 2012.
Jake Matthews to Return to Aggieland aggi.es/2ubXRE
— Texas A&M Football (@AggieFootball) January 10, 2013
Matthews will move over to left tackle to protect rising sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel's blind side. Most mock drafts had Matthews being selected in the first round along with Joeckel. By returning for his senior season and playing left tackle, Matthews will get the opportunity to improve his draft stock into a top-10 selection.
With the move of Matthews to left tackle, there will be a hole at right tackle. Cedric Ogbuehi should move over from right guard to right tackle. Ogbuehi is built like an NFL left tackle and will likely take over at left tackle in 2014 when Matthews moves on to the professional ranks.
Mike Matthews is Jake Matthews' younger brother and was the backup center in 2012. He will take over Lewis' starting spot in 2013. The younger Matthews got extensive experience in the Aggies' multiple blowout wins in 2012. He should be a solid center for A&M for the next three years.
Jarvis Harrison returns at left guard for in 2013. He got better as the season went along in 2012. Harrison should be expected to compete for All-SEC honors in 2013 as a junior.
The move of Ogbuehi to right tackle leaves a hole at right guard. Redshirt freshman guard Kimo Tipoti should compete with a slew of others for the starting spot at right guard.
Do not be surprised if incoming freshman offensive guard Joas Aguilar gets a serious look at that right guard spot. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has shown that he will play true freshmen on the lines in the SEC.
At 6'5", 295 lbs, Aguilar has the size and strength to play in the trenches in the SEC in 2013. It will be a question of how far along his technique is and how well Tipoti plays during spring practice.
Versatile Offense Can Conceal Weaknesses
The 2013 offensive line should be very good and has a chance to be outstanding. If the line does struggle, the Aggies' offense is versatile enough where the coaches should be able to conceal those weaknesses.
In 2012 the Ags had one of the top offenses in the country averaging 558 yards per game. The Aggies averaged 316 yards passing and 242 yards rushing per game. If a team stacked the box to stop the run, the Ags could throw over the top.
If a defense dropped into a nickel or dime defense to stop the pass, then the Aggies rushed the ball with Ben Malena and Johnny Manziel. They could hurt defenses in multiple ways.
The beauty of Sumlin's spread offense is in the diversity. There is an answer in it for every question that a defense presents it with. The offense can feature five wide receivers on the field on one play, and three running backs in the backfield on the next.
If the offensive line struggles in pass protection, you can run one and three-step drops and pass the ball inside of three seconds. If the line is weak up the middle, you can run out of a double-wing formation or run some speed option.
The Ags will feature four running backs on the roster in 2013 who could start for most other teams in the nation. Brandon Williams, Trey Williams, Ben Malena and Tra Carson give the Aggies the deepest backfield in the nation this side of Tuscaloosa.
The Aggies will be able to pound most SEC defenses with Manziel and those running backs in the coming season. If Mike Matthews and the new right guard cannot get the job done, they can put two tight ends in the backfield and run wide with the double-wing all day long.
If the interior offensive line is strong but Jake Matthews and Ogbuehi are struggling, then Manziel and his band of running backs can run zone-read all day long.
If the offensive line struggles in run blocking, then you spread the field out with four and five wide receiver sets and pass the ball the majority of the time.With receivers Mike Evans, Malcome Kennedy and Derel Walker returning, the Ags will be a tough task to cover by any secondary.
The Ags are bringing in JaQuay Williams, Kyrion Parker, Laquvionte Gonzalez, Ricky Seals-Jones, Jeremy Tabuyo and Sebastian Larue at receiver in the 2013 class. Edward Pope is a 6'4" receiver who redshirted during the 2012 season. No secondary in the country will be able to match up with the height of Evans, Williams, Pope, Parker and Seals-Jones.
The Ags should be able to find a nice rotation of seven receivers out of the returning players at the position and the incoming freshmen. Manziel has the elusiveness and the speed to buy time to get the ball to his receivers.
Malena and Trey Williams caught 30 passes combined in 2012. They will be a threat in the passing game out of the backfield.
The Clear Factor
Cameron Clear signed with A&M during the early signing period for junior college players, without much media attention. The tight end recruit from Arizona Western Community College is one of the lesser-known players in the Ags 2013 recruiting class.
He may end up being the most important. At 6'6" and 275 lbs, Clear is an imposing blocker who will give the Ags a dominating presence on the edge of the line.
If either Jake Matthews or Ogbuehi struggle at their respective positions, the coaches can line up Clear next to them to help out. He has the size and strength to project as a blocking tight end in the NFL. Clear will remind most Aggie fans or former A&M tight end and current New York Giant Martellus Bennett.
In 2012 when the Ags got into the red zone, they would often insert Joseph Cheek at left tackle and move Joeckel to right tackle and Jake Matthews to tight end on the right side to get better blocking on the edge. With Clear on the field, they can simply line him up at right tackle and have a viable receiving target from that position in the red zone.
Clear may end up being most valuable out of the double-wing formation. Most Aggie fans will remember this formation from the Louisiana Tech game where both the A&M and Tech offenses lined up in it against each other.
In 2012 the Ags used Michael Lamothe and Nehemiah Hicks as the wing backs in this formation. They lined the two tight ends up closer to the quarterback so long with the running back, it appeared that the Ags had a "Y" formation in the backfield.
The point of the double-wing formation is to outnumber the defenders on the edge. With five offensive linemen and two wing backs they should be a minimum of seven blockers on every play. With a quarterback like Manziel carrying the ball, you could have eight blockers in the game.
Clear would offer the Ags a devastating blocker on the edge out of this formation. He would also give them the option of a 6'6" receiving target out of this formation. If the Ags put Carson in as the running back in this formation, they could have 275-lb Clear and 230-lb Carson on the edge blocking for Manziel.
Diversity Is The Key
Sumlin and the Aggie coaching staff have recruited enough skill talent to A&M in the past two years that their options on offense are unlimited. They can be equally effective running the ball or passing the ball.
The offensive line is key to the success of any offense. However, the fact that Sumlin keeps such an open mind about his offense and is not afraid to experiment with new formations means that they scheme around any offensive weakness.
Sumlin has recruited the personnel and already employed the schemes and plays needed to overcome any weakness on the offensive line.