Texas A&M Football: Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses Heading into Fall Practice
The Texas A&M Football team will enter the 2013 season with their first legitimate chance to win a national title since 1995. If the Aggies are able to accentuate their strengths while addressing a few areas of concern on their team, the 2013 season could be one for the ages for the fans of Texas A&M.
A lot of factors go into winning a national title. Ideally a team will start the season ranked in the top 10, and also have a schedule that allows for an undefeated season.
The Ags do have some weaknesses on the team that need to be fixed. There are some unknowns at a few positions and some depth issues that need to be taken care of.
Whether or not the coaches and players are capable of fixing these issues will help dictate the outcome of the 2013 season.
This is a look at the Ags' strengths and weaknesses as they enter fall practice.
Strength: Offensive Line
Despite losing two offensive linemen to the NFL off the 2012 squad, the 2013 Aggie offensive line will again be one of the best in the country. They return an All-American from the 2012 unit and two potential first-round draft picks.
Jake Matthews was an All-American at right tackle in 2012 and will flip over to the left tackle spot in 2013. He will be one of the top left tackles in America and will again compete for All-American honors.
Cedric Ogbuehi will slide over from right guard to Mathews' vacated spot at right tackle. Some project Ogbuehi to be one of the top offensive linemen available in the 2014 draft right along with Matthews.
With those two bookend tackles on the line, quarterback Johnny Manziel should have plenty of time to pick apart defenses. Jarvis Harrison is returning as the starter at left guard.
He should compete for All-SEC honors in the Fall. At right guard, redshirt freshman Germain Ifedi takes over. He was impressive enough as a true freshman to make the travel squad as the backup left tackle.
Since he never played in a game, he took a redshirt year and has four years of eligibility left. Ifedi appears to be the likely starter at left tackle in 2015 after Matthews and Ogbuehi move on to the NFL.
Sophomore Mike Matthews takes over at center for the departed Patrick Lewis. He will be tasked with setting the pace in the Ags' hurry-up offense.
Aggie fans should expect Mike Matthews to follow in the footsteps of his older brothers Kevin and Jake. He will be an excellent offensive lineman and should eventually play on Sundays.
Weakness: Linebacker Depth
The Aggies have some major question marks when it comes to depth at linebacker. They will be relying on true freshmen to step in and make an impact in 2013.
The starting lineup is already set with Donnie Baggs at middle linebacker, Steven Jenkins at weak-side linebacker and Tommy Sanders at strong-side linebacker.
There may literally be three true freshmen on the second team. Reggie Chevis, Brett Wade, Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Shaan Washington all will have an opportunity to earn immediate playing time.
Chevis and Wade both participated in spring practice and were both impressive during the spring game. Aggie fans should expect both to contribute on special teams in 2013.
The Aggies lost one of their best defensive players in recent memory when Sean Porter graduated and moved on to the NFL. He will be missed on the defense, but the Ags' starters should be solid.
It is up to the freshmen to step in and solidify the depth at the position. Right now it looks like senior Nate Askew will be good as a situational pass-rusher from the outside, and then there are a bunch of question marks.
Strength: Running Back Depth
The Aggies have the best depth at running back out of any team in the country. They're returning an 800-yard rusher in Ben Malena.
They are also returning three running backs who have rushed for 200 or more yards in a college football season. Trey Williams rushed for over 300 yards as a true freshman in 2012, and should only improve after an offseason that he spent working out in the weight room.
Brandon Williams and Tra Carson both rushed for over 200 yards as freshmen, and then sat out a year after transferring to A&M. Williams may be the fastest player on the team.
Carson is a 6'0", 227-pound sledgehammer who will help the Aggies in short yardage situations as well as in the redzone. Each back should bring something a little different to the table, and together they will help give the Aggies one of the best running games in the country.
Weakness: Questions on Defensive Line
Right now the Aggie defensive line is in a state of flux. No one can tell you with any kind of certainty who is going to start against Rice on August 31.
If you look at the depth chart, the current starter at nose guard is redshirt freshman Kimo Tipoti. He spent the 2012 season and the beginning of spring practice playing offensive guard.
There are questions that need to be answered before anything can be sorted out. The first question is whether or not Kirby Ennis will be ready to play after undergoing offseason surgery.
If the senior is back to 100 percent, then he will start at nose guard. Right now, sophomore Alonzo Williams is listed as the starter at defensive tackle.
There are a group of true freshman defensive linemen who will be competing for playing time at defensive tackle. If either Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Isaiah Golden or Jordan Points prove capable of holding up at defensive tackle, you could see Williams moving back over to strong-side defensive end.
It appears that Julien Obioha is going to make the move over to the weak-side defensive end position. If Obioha is able to provide the Ags a consistent pass rush, then he will stay on the weak side and either Williams or redshirt junior Gavin Stansbury will start on the strong side.
Incoming freshman Daeshon Hall will also get a look on the weak side. He is probably too thin at 6'6" and 220 pounds to see significant time in the SEC right now, but he will see the field in 2013.
The fact that Aggie defensive coordinator Mark Snyder likes to employ multiple formation and will likely open in an odd-man front against Rice and Sam Houston State complicates matters further.
There are numerous questions on the Ags' defensive line, and some of them will not be answered until September 14 when the Ags take on Alabama.
Strength: Offensive Playmakers Return
The Aggies are returning their top passer, rusher and receiver from the 2013 team. Johnny Manziel is returning for his sophomore season after winning the Heisman Trophy during his first year as the starting quarterback.
Manziel led the Ags in rushing in 2012 with 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. Senior running back Ben Malena returns after rushing for 808 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.
Sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans returns after setting school records with 82 receptions for 1,105 yards as a freshman. The Ags are returning their main offensive threat in every area of the offense.
They will again feature one of the most prolific offenses in the country.
Weakness: Questions at Placekicker
If you were to draw up a nightmare scenario for Aggie fans right now, it would probably involve Taylor Bertolet trotting onto the field to kick a 31-yard field goal with the Ags down by one and two seconds on the clock in the national title game.
The sophomore kicker's inability to consistently make chip-shot field goals and extra points in 2012 was very frustrating for Aggie fans in 2012. Bertolet made three of four attempts from 50 yards or more in 2012.
On field goals of 30-39 yards he made only one of six attempts. If he does not become a more consistent place-kicker in 2013 then it may cost the Aggies a national title.
National championship teams feature consistent special teams, and Bertolet is anything but consistent right now.