Texas A&M Spring Game: Aggies' Key Positional Battles to Watch
Everyone knows who the starting quarterback will be for Texas A&M in 2013, but there are some wide-open positional battles to keep an eye on during the team's spring game on Saturday.
Kevin Sumlin did a phenomenal job in his first season with the Aggies in 2012, leading the program to an impressive 11-2 record in its first year in the SEC.
His job won't get any easier this season, however, and he'll need to figure out who his starters will be at a few key positions sooner rather than later.
The team's offense is pretty much locked in, but its defense is full of question marks. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top positional battles to watch during this weekend's spring game at Kyle Field.
Strong-Side Outside Linebacker
JUCO transfer Tommy Sanders and former wide receiver Nate Askew will compete for the right to start on the strong side in 2013.
A&M linebackers coach Mark Hagan loves what Askew brings to the table, according to Aggies Insider Brent Zwerneman, via MySanAntonio.com: "He adds an element of speed and athleticism that we don't have a lot of. We've thrown a lot at Nate, and he's been a little frustrated in recent scrimmages because his head is spinning."
Speed and athleticism are critical aspects of playing the linebacker position, but it's hard to imagine a player who has spent his entire career on the offensive side of the ball picking up the nuances of playing on defense in time for the 2013 regular season.
Sanders, on the other hand, is an experienced linebacker who has garnered some positive reviews since the first day of practice. ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. wrote back in mid-March: "Community College transfer Tommy Sanders is looking the part. [Mark] Snyder said Sanders was "all over the field" in the team's first practice in pads last week."
Given the incredible leadership and talent the Aggies lost after Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter graduated, it's imperative that one of these young men steps up in a major way to fill the void this spring.
The loss of Damontre Moore cannot be understated. His 12.5 sacks last year won't be easily replaced, but thankfully the Aggies have some youngsters with loads of talent coming in this year.
With Julien Obioha and Kirby Ennis both still recovering from injuries this spring, Tyrone and Tyrell Taylor (twins) have been getting a really close look in practice and during the team's recent "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage.
Tyrone has been making a particularly strong case as a potential difference-maker for the Aggies this season, as his ability to get to the quarterback has been on display. Per Gabe Bock of TexAgs Radio, he logged two sacks in the team's recent scrimmage:
#FNL Stats: Sacks: Tyrone Taylor (2), Tyrell Taylor, Alexander, Wade. Interceptions: Raven, Baggs. Blocked FG Attempts: Raven.— Gabe Bock (@TexAgsRadio) April 6, 2013
Also in contention for starting duties at defensive end is Gavin Stansbury and Polo Manukainiu.
Once Obioha and Ennis come back, there will be a logjam at this position, but for now, the Taylor twins and a few others will have an excellent chance to stand out at the spring game.
No. 2 Wide Receiver
We all know Mike Evans will be the team's No. 1 receiver. As a redshirt freshman last season, Evans broke through with a monster season, catching 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. He and Johnny Manziel will only get better with another year under their belts.
That said, determining who starts opposite Evans in 2013 is still a bit of a mystery.
Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Thomas Johnson are all gone—a healthy chunk of production last season—and Manziel will need to find some new targets in the passing game.
Malcome Kennedy, Derel Walker and Nehemiah Hicks all have a chance to earn more playing time, but they'll need to really step up in order to avoid being outshined by 2013 recruits JaQuay Williams and Cameron Clear.
The battle for playing time in Manziel's offense will be fierce, and given the stakes there isn't any room for error. The men who step up in the spring game with big-time performances will certainly have a leg up on the competition heading into the dog days of summer.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
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