Texas A&M had a wonderful first season in the SEC and will be looking to build off of that momentum when spring practice kicks off on March 2. With a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and a team that returns 14 starters from last year, the Aggies are one of the hottest teams to pay attention to entering the new season.
There are plenty of storylines to capture more than just the fan base in College Station, and you can bet that anybody with the slightest interest in college football will take note with what is going on with the Aggies. This was a team that shocked everybody last year and it will be compelling to see what is in store for the newbie of the SEC in year two.
With spring practice quickly approaching, here are the top Texas A&M storylines that should have your attention.
Texas A&M finished tied for sixth in the SEC with a respectable 31 sacks on the year. The pass rush was consistent throughout the year and many guys stepped up to the plate when they were needed the most.
But this is a completely new season and many of the players that made an impact are no longer around to help carry the load.
To get an idea of how much the Aggies lost defensively, KC Joyner of ESPN broke it down in one of his recent columns:
With the departure of Moore, combined with the departures of linebackers Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart, and defensive linemen Spencer Nealy and Jonathan Mathis, Texas A&M is losing 23.5 of its 31 total sacks from this past season. To put that into perspective, consider that only nine teams from BCS conferences lost players who produced at least 20 sacks to the NFL draft.
It is bad enough that a future NFL star in Damontre Moore is no longer on the roster, but this is a team that lost four of the top five sack leaders from a year ago. There will be a lot of youth on the defensive line this season, and for a team that finished ninth in the SEC in total defense, this can't be great news for Aggies fans that are hoping to see a conference title this year.
Defense will be key in spring practice.
While the pass rush needs to improve, the linebacker position is without question the biggest area of concern for the Aggies. With Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart both graduating, there are even more holes on the defensive side of the ball.
The linebacker corps will receive a boost with outside linebacker Steven Jenkins returning. He finished third on the team last season with 78 tackles and added two sacks for good measure. He should now be one of the leaders of the defense and help mentor some of the younger guys as they adjust to their new positions.
Donnie Baggs will benefit from playing the last couple of years, and he may end up becoming the starting middle linebacker. There are also a handful of 2013 recruits such as Tommy Sanders, Brett Wade and Reggie Chevis, who will all be competing for playing time and will add much needed depth to the position.
A lot of youth will be included in the next level of this defense, and it is important that these players help get the ball rolling into fall camp.
With two the most productive and experienced receivers in Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu graduating, Texas A&M needs to find a few players who can catch the football. Thomas Johnson, who was productive as a freshman, also left the school and likely isn't going to return.
The good news is that the leading wide receiver in Mike Evans is returning, but one great player isn't enough for this offense to take that next step.
Who is going to be the guy to have an Evans-type impact and explode on the scene?
One of the guys that will be worth keeping an eye on is Malcome Kennedy. He caught 26 passes in a limited role last year and he has the speed to become a legitimate big play receiver. The Aggies also have a bunch of 2013 recruits who should see playing time as true-freshmen with JaQuay Williams, Sebastian LaRue and Laquvionte Gonzalez giving their commitments to the school in College Station.
We saw Evans take over as a young player in his first season, and the offense will need to see others fill a similar role.
Whether you are a Texas A&M fan or not, you are paying attention to quarterback Johnny Manziel. Even if you don't want to receive updates on the Heisman Trophy winner, there is no possible way you can escape it.
Ever since he took over the SEC and nearly the entire 2012 college football season, we have been receiving daily updates on the kid. It is like he is the 2013 version of Tim Tebow and nearly everything except what he ate for breakfast has become news worthy.
Did you know he has spent time during the offseason sitting front row at NBA games? I'll remind you that he is just as good in the casino as he is on the football field. Oh, and I forgot to mention that he is only taking online classes now, so running into him on campus is highly unlikely at this point.
If things as simple as that are going viral, just wait until he puts the pads on during the spring.
Last season it was the Johnny Manziel show, and as long as he can continue to play at that high level, don't expect much of that to change. However, the same way SEC defensive coordinators are staying up all night designing plans on how to stop "Johnny Football," is the same way the Texas A&M coaching staff needs to come up with wrinkles to keep defenses honest.
There has been a change at offensive coordinator with Kliff Kingsbury leaving for Texas Tech, which has made Clarence McKinney the new guy calling the shots offensively. He recently told Sean Lester of the Dallas Morning News that he has no plans of changing the offense much, as it is still going to run through Manziel and his playmaking ability.
We’re going to let Johnny do what he does best. McKinney said Monday night after a speaking engagement at the Houston A&M Club. We’re not going to try and control him. We’re going to give him the system and let him play football.
While this may be the case, the Aggies will have to switch things up a bit. With an experienced and talented backfield of Trey Williams and Ben Malena, you have to expect more carries split between them to take some of the pressure off of Manziel.
With brilliant defensive minds in this conference, tweaks will need to be made, and it will be interesting to see what some of them are.