The Texas A&M football team begins spring practice on Saturday, March 2. The Aggies have to replace 12 starters from their 2012 team, and that process starts on Saturday.
The team has big holes to fill on the defensive line, at wide receiver and at linebacker. The Ags need to find players to plug into these holes if they want to improve on their 11-2 record from 2012.
This spring will also offer Aggie fans their first look at how the offense will look with the improved depth at the running back position. Johnny Manziel returns for his sophomore season with a better understanding of the passing game.
What adjustments will the coaches make in the offense to account for Manziel's advanced understanding of the scheme, as well as the influx in talent at the running back position?
This is a position-by-position preview of the Aggies' 2013 Spring Practice.
The Ags head into spring practice with the best quarterback situation in the country. They return Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel for his sophomore season.
Manziel will obviously be the starter, but most of the attention from the fans will be on who wins the second-team spot. Rising junior Jameill Showers is going to graduate from A&M in the summer and transfer to a different program.
Showers was the backup to Manziell in 2012 and will have two years of eligibility left wherever he transfers. That leaves redshirt freshman Matt Davis and fourth-year junior Matt Joeckel to fight it out for the backup spot.
Joeckel is a big quarterback at 6'4", 234 lbs. He has a big arm and good speed for a quarterback of that size. Matt Davis is a little smaller at 6'2", 206 lbs. Davis has better mobility and is a much bigger running threat than Joeckel.
Joeckel is the more polished passer between the two. Davis will have to show that he has progressed in the passing game in order to beat out Joeckel for the backup spot.
Texas A&M has the luxury of having the best running back situation in the country. The Ags are very deep at talented at running back.
Ben Malena returns for his junior season after starting nine games in 2012 and rushing for 809 yards. Malena averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 18 passes for 111 yards and an additional touchdown.
Malena was the unsung hero for the Ags in 2012. He knocked out a Florida safety in the season opener and set the tone for the year.
Brandon Williams will likely enter the spring as the second string running back. The redshirt sophomore drew rave reviews during the spring and fall of 2012 in practice. He sat out the 2012 season after transferring from Oklahoma.
Williams should be a difference maker in the Aggie backfield. He has the kind of game-breaking speed to terrify defensive coordinators. If he has fixed his ball security issues from OU, then he will compete for All-SEC honors.
Trey Williams returns after playing as a true freshman in 2012, when he rushed for 376 yards and five touchdowns. Aggie fans should expect to see a big leap from Trey Williams now that he knows what to expect in the SEC.
Tra Carson transferred from Oregon and sat out the 2012 season along with Brandon Williams. The 6'0", 220-lb running back should offer the Aggies a power option in the backfield now that Christine Michael has graduated. Expect to see Carson play extensively in the red zone and short yardage situations.
The Ags have the luxury of four running backs on the roster who could start for other FBS teams. Their depth at running back is the best in the country. The Aggies need to develop depth at other positions like they have at running back in order to consistently be an elite team in the SEC.
The running backs at A&M are so deep and talented that the offense should be tweaked a little in 2013 to implement them into the game plan more. Aggie fans should expect to see less rushing yardage from Johnny Manziel in 2013, and more from the running back position.
Mike Evans vs. OU
The Aggies lost 147 receptions, 2,002 yards and 18 touchdowns from the 2012 receiving corps. Ryan Swope left A&M as the all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards for A&M.
Swope had 72 catches for 913 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. He set the tone for the Aggies with his toughness and clutch play in 2012.
The good news for Aggie fans is that Mike Evans returns. The rising sophomore burst onto the college scene as a redshirt freshman with 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. He was Johnny Manziel's favorite receiver in 2012.
Evans should improve in 2013 as he continues to adjust to the receiver position. He was a FBS basketball recruit who decided to play football as a senior in high school because he was receiving enough interest from name schools in basketball.
He is still raw but is already one of the most physically dominating receivers in the country. Evans uses his 6'5", 218-lb frame to overpower defensive backs. He is a Sunday player whom the Aggies should have on campus for at least another two seasons.
Malcome Kennedy is a rising junior who will be a starter at one of the slot positions when spring practice begins. Kennedy had 19 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. He should triple those numbers in 2013.
Derel Walker was a junior college recruit who was brought in as an insurance policy in case Swope left early for the NFL draft in 2012. He had eight receptions for 85 yards in 2012. Walker will get a look at the slot and outside receiver positions this spring.
JaQuay Williams will open the spring as the starter at the outside receiver opposite from Evans. Williams is 6'3", 205 lbs and, along with Evans, will cause a huge size mismatch with every secondary the Ags face in 2013.
Sabian Holmes will enter the spring as the starter at the slot position opposite Kennedy. He impressed the players and coaches during the summer workouts but struggled with his hand during the 2012 season. He should make an impact as a sophomore.
The Ags recruited Cameron Clear from Arizona Western Community College to step in and play right away. At 6'6", 280 lbs, he has the size and strength to seal the edge in the running game.
Clear will be the starter at tight end in the spring, while Nehemiah Hicks will back him up. Hicks is a very talented athlete, but he has not shown the coaches the kind of consistency required to be a starter.
Expect to see the coaches trying to use the tight end in the passing game more with Clear on the field.
The starting offensive line in spring practice will be Jake Matthews at left tackle, Jarvis Harrison at right guard, Mike Matthews at center, Kimo Tipoti at right guard and Cedric Ogbuehi at right tackle.
That should make up one of the best offensive lines in the country. The big questions for the Aggies' OL is how well Mike Matthews can play in Patrick Lewis' stead, and whether Tipoti can earn that starting spot at guard.
Germain Ifedi impressed the coaches enough during two-a-days in 2012 that he made the traveling squad as the backup left tackle. He did not play in 2012, so he retained his redshirt status.
He now has the opportunity to show the coaches that he should be a starter and step in front of Tipoti at right guard, or that he could be a swing tackle as a backup on either side.
Jeremiah Stuckey is an early enrollee out of junior college. He will compete with Ifedi and Joseph Cheek for the backup spots at either tackle position.
Ben Compton enters the spring as the second-string center behind Matthews. Shep Klinke will be the backup left guard behind Harrison.
Tipoti and Ifedi need to make an impression on the coaches now, because 2013 signee Joas Aguilar arrives in August. He has the size and strength to start right away in the SEC and will be given a look at right guard.
The Ags lost two starters from the 2012 defensive line. They expect to receive a big contribution from freshmen in the fall. For now, all eyes will be on the defensive end position as the Ags try to find a replacement for Damontre Moore during spring practice.
Moore skipped his senior season to enter the NFL draft. His vacated weak-side defensive end position is one of the biggest holes on the team.
Brandon Alexander will receive the first look at Moore's vacated spot. The 6'6", 245-lb athlete has everything you want from a defensive end. He has long arms and is quick off the edge. The question with Alexander is whether he will play hard on every play.
Tyrone Taylor redshirted in 2012 and will get a serious look at weak-side defensive end over the next month. He has great quickness off the edge but needs to add some size if he wants to play on the line in the SEC.
Kirby Ennis returns as the starter at nose guard. Ivan Robinson will likely enter the spring as the starter at defensive tackle. Robinson has great quickness on the inside but does not have the size to hold up as a starter in the SEC.
Shayvion Hatten and Polo Manukainiu will both receive plenty of opportunities to take over that defensive tackle position during the next few weeks. It is just a question of whether they step up to the challenge or not.
Alonzo Williams will be the starter at strong-side defensive end to start the spring. Expect him to remain the starter there while Julien Obioha continues to recover from a back injury. If Williams adds some size, he could move inside to defensive tackle in 2013.
Jordan Points was an early enrollee out of Rockwall-Heath (TX) High School. At 6'4" and around 260 lbs, he should get a look at strong-side defensive end and defensive tackle over the next month.
This defensive line will likely get pushed around by the offensive line during the spring. They will get much better in the fall when the freshmen arrive.
The Ags return one starter from the 2012 linebacker unit in Steven Jenkins. He started 12 of 13 games in 2012 and racked up 79 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss.
Jenkins' backup in 2012 was Donnie Baggs. The junior from Houston will get a look at middle linebacker and outside linebacker during the spring. He will be listed as the starter at middle linebacker when the Ags start practice on March 2.
Reggie Chavis is an early enrollee from Houston Sharpstown High School who will enter the spring as the second-string middle linebacker. He has the size and the instincts to play in the SEC right away. The question is whether he has the speed and can pick up the scheme quickly enough to start in 2013.
If Chavis earns the starting spot at MLB, then expect Baggs to start on the outside opposive from Jenkins. Shaun Ward will get a look at middle linebacker. He needs to step up his performance on the field and in the weight room because he is in danger of getting surpassed by the freshmen.
Michael Richardson is not expected to participate in spring practice as he continues to recover from the neck injury he suffered against Sam Houston State.
Tyrell Taylor may open the spring as the starter at strong-side linebacker. He has speed to burn, but the question has always been his size. If he can add some good weight, then he will surprise some people in 2013.
The starting linebackers to open the spring will likely be Tyrell Taylor, Donnie Baggs and Steven Jenkins.
The Ags lost two starters from their secondary in 2012. They return Howard Matthews at strong safety and Deshazor Everett at corner.
Everett will be one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC in 2013. He can play either corner or safety.
De'Vante Harris will start at corner opposite from Everett. Harris has very good cover skills, but he struggled with his confidence and with tackling in 2013.
If Harris does not step up and be a more physical defender in 2013, then he will find himself on the bench again.
Tramain Jacobs will be the backup to Harris when practice starts on Saturday. He is a much more physical tackler than Harris and could move ahead of him during the spring.
Floyd Raven is an intriguing prospect because he is fast enough to play corner but has safety size at 6'2", 190 lbs. If he decides to play within the defensive scheme, he could be a starter at corner or safety in 2013.
Tony Hurd, Jr. will be the starter at safety opposite from Matthews on Saturday. Hurd is only 5'9" 180 lbs but he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. When Hurd is on the field, good things tend to happen for the Aggies' defense.
The Ags have the talent and experience in the secondary to make a marked improvement in their play in 2013. The coaches are going to need the defensive backs to lead the defense while the front seven takes shape.
Taylor Bertolet returns for his second season as the kicker for A&M. Aggie fans have to hope he can be more consistent in 2013. Bertolet would hit a 50-yard field goal and miss an extra point in the same game in 2012.
The Ags need Bertolet to simply make all of his extra points in 2013. If he can make his extra points, then the missed field goals will not matter.
Drew Kaser will take over at punter after Ryan Epperson graduated. The Aggie coaches and fans will hope to see consistency from Kaser during the next month. He can kick 60-yard punts, but the coaches just want him to consistently kick the ball 40 yards in the air.
Trey Williams and Brandon Williams should both get looks as kickoff returners during the spring. Expect Tramain Jacobs to be the punt returner during the spring.