The Texas A&M football team started Spring Practice on Saturday, March 2. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has multiple areas of concern on his team that needs to be addressed during the 15-practice sessions.
The Aggies are trying to improve on their 11-2 record in 2012. They have a very strong nucleus returning that will allow them to compete for Southeastern Conference and BCS championships in 2013.
The Ags return six starters on each side of the ball. They suffered major personnel losses at wide receiver and linebacker. The team will receive a major influx of talent in the fall when a top-10 ranked recruiting class arrives on campus.
Until then the coaches will have to concentrate on rebuilding their defensive front seven, and finding a solid group of receivers to catch passes from rising sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel.
This is a look at Sumlin's biggest worries as he heads into Spring Practice.
Redshirt freshman Polo Manukainiu currently sits atop the Aggies' depth chart at nose guard. At 6'4", 270 lbs, Manukainiu is a little small for the position. Ideally an interior defensive lineman in the SEC should be at least 280 lbs.
Manukainiu was a defensive end at Euless (TX) Trinity High School when he signed with Texas A&M. He has a long and lean frame that is not ideal for the nose guard position.
Manukainiu is the first-team nose guard because Kirby Ennis is sitting out this spring after having surgery. He is listed ahead of walk-on Tyler Godwin.
If Manukainiu can hold up against the run at nose guard then he will be a tremendous asset to the Ags in 2013. With his length, he should be able to play any of the four positions on the defensive line. He would be a tremendous source of depth for A&M.
If he cannot hold his ground on the interior, Manikainiu will likely be a candidate to offer depth at strong-side defensive end. If Manukainiu does not work out at nose guard, then the A&M offensive line will run roughshod all over the defense all spring long.
The quality of reps for the defense and offense will go down if Manukainiu cannot get it done.
Ryan Swope, Kenric McNeal and Uzoma Nwachukwu have all moved on from the 2012 Aggie receiving corps. Sabian Holmes, Malcome Kennedy and Derrell Walker are all listed as starters at wide receiver alongside returnee Mike Evans.
Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney is going to need the wide receivers to become reliable receiving targets for quarterback Johnny Manziel. He needs at least one of them to step up in order to take some pressure off of Evans.
After setting a school record with 1,105 receiving yards as a freshman, defenses are going to roll their coverages over to Evans in 2013. The Ags need another wide receiver to become a viable weapon, so teams will not be able to double Evans.
In 2012 Swope had 72 catches and 913 yards receiving. The Ags do not necessarily need a slot receiver to have 900 yards receiving. It can come from any of the receiving positions and does not have to be just one play.
The coaches would be ecstatic if they could have two receivers step up to replace Swope's production. The need to see Kennedy, Walker, Holmes and JaQuay Williams step up their game during the spring so they will know what they have when the freshmen arrive in August.
If the receivers do not improve, then the passing game will suffer and what was a dominant offense in 2012 will become much easier to defend.
The Ags are missing Steven Jenkins, Kirby Ennis, Julien Obioha, Justin Bass and Ivan Robinson for the spring due to injuries. Trey Williams will miss most of the practices while he recovers from a sports hernia surgery.
All coaches worry about injuries and the Aggies have their fair share as the enter Spring Practice. What Kevin Sumlin and his team can ill afford would be more injuries particularly in the defensive front seven.
The Aggies two returning starters on the defensive line are out for the spring. Any more injuries to the defensive line and the Ags may have to practice their odd front schemes for the remainder of the practices.
A team is not going to get better without getting quality reps. When your depth chart is ravaged by injuries, you cannot get quality reps and the team will not improve.
Who will back up Johnny Football in 2013?
No one seized the starting quarterback job during the spring of 2012 and the Aggie coaches had to wait until August of 2012 to give Johnny Manziel the starter's snaps. This spring, the competition is for who will back up the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis are going to compete for the backup job behind Manziel. Ideally, one of them will separate himself during the spring and be the unquestioned backup headed into the fall.
Having a backup picked for the fall will allow the coaches to properly allocate the snaps when the freshmen quarterbacks arrive for two-a-days. If the Ags do not have a definitive backup, then the snaps will have to be evenly split until one is found.
The quicker the backup quarterback is named, the more snaps he will receive and better prepared he will be if Manziel goes down to injury.
Tommy Sanders is expected to replace Sean Porter at OLB.
One of the big reasons that the Aggie defense only allowed 3.7 yards per rush in 2012 was the strong play of the linebacker corps. Two starters at the position have graduated and are currently prepping for the NFL draft.
With Steven Jenkins out due to injury, the Ags have three different linebackers listed at No. 1 on the depth chart. Donnie Baggs is starting at middle linebacker. Brett Wade is starting in Jenkins' spot on the weak side, and Tommy Sanders is starting in Porter's spot on the strong side.
Baggs started one game in 2012 against Louisiana Tech when Jenkins was suspended. He needs to show the coaches that he can handle the move to the middle.
Sanders is an early enrollee at A&M from junior college. He needs to prove to the coaches that he can handle the multiple responsibilities of the strong-side outside linebacker position.
Wade can use the spring as an opportunity to show the coaches that he is ready for college football and should not be redshirted. Reggie Chevis is an early enrollee like Wade, and he will get a look at middle linebacker. He is currently the second-team middle linebacker on the depth chart.
If the linebackers cannot get the job done, then there will be major questions about the Aggie defense heading into the fall. The defensive line and secondary can be questionable if the linebackers are strong. The linebackers need to be solid if the Ags are going to have a chance at being a championship football team in 2013 and that all beings at Spring Practice.