The Texas A&M football team enters the 2013 season with expectations as high as they have been since 1995. The Aggies have a few holes to fill on defense and at receiver but enter fall practice with the requisite talent in place to compete for a national title.
There were five Texas A&M players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, and the Ags are going to need some of the incoming freshmen to step in immediately and plug the holes left by those departures.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff brought in a top-10-ranked recruiting class in 2013, according to 247Sports. They will need some of those young players to play immediately on the defensive line and at wide receiver. The Ags will also need the freshmen to add depth at linebacker and in the secondary.
The success of the 2013 season will rely heavily on how these newcomers perform.
This is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Aggie football team looks as it enters fall practice.
The Ags return the top quarterback in the nation in 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. The sophomore quarterback returns after torching SEC defenses for a conference-record 5,116 total yards.
He passed for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns while learning the offense on the fly. Now that Manziel has a year of experience in Sumlin's system, he should threaten to pass for 4,000 yards in 2013.
There is a trio of quarterbacks competing for the backup spot behind Manziel. Fourth-year junior Matt Joeckel was listed as the second-team quarterback on the depth chart coming out of spring practice.
Joeckel will compete against redshirt freshman Matt Davis and true freshman Kenny Hill for the right to back up Manziel in 2013. Joeckel is the only one of the three who has taken a snap in a college game.
He completed five of 11 passes for 42 yards in 2012. Davis struggled with his decision-making during the spring and will need to make a big leap in his ability to pass the ball if he wants to play in 2013.
Hill played in an offense similar to the Aggies' at Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas. It will be interesting to see how far along he is at this point. Hill has a legitimate chance of entering the season as the backup if he performs well during the fall.
The Aggies have arguably the best running back depth in the nation. The running back position is obviously the strength of the team as the Ags enter fall practice.
Senior Ben Malena returns after rushing for 808 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. He is one of the most underrated running backs in the nation. Malena excels in every phase of the game.
Trey Williams comes back for his sophomore year after rushing for 376 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman. He will be a tremendous weapon for the Ags, both while running the ball and in the passing game.
Brandon Williams and Tra Carson are both eligible after sitting out the 2012 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Williams and Carson both rushed for over 200 yards as freshmen at Oklahoma and Oregon, respectively, in 2011.
The Ags have four running backs on their roster who would start at most FBS schools. With running back coach Clarence McKinney calling the plays in 2013, the running backs should be a bigger part of the offense than they were in 2012.
Mike Evans registered 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns during his redshirt freshman season in 2012. His season was good enough to garner Second-Team All-SEC honors by the media at SEC Media Days.
The Ags experimented with Evans in the slot during the spring. Expect the Aggie coaches to move him all over the field in order to create the biggest mismatch for the defense.
Malcome Kennedy returns for his junior season after catching 26 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. He will start in the slot and should double those numbers in 2013.
The other slot position is up in the air. Sabian Holmes is listed as the starter on the two-deep, but LeKendrick Williams had an excellent spring. Incoming freshmen LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Sebastian Larue and Jeremy Tabuyo will also compete for the starting spot opposite Kennedy.
The outside receiver opposite from Evans is up in the air. Senior Derel Walker is listed as the starter. Ja'Quay Williams was his backup on the post-spring depth chart but appeared very raw during the spring.
Edward Pope could fight for starter minutes opposite Evans. Incoming freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, at 6'6", 230 pounds, is a matchup nightmare for any defense. His playing time will be determined by how quickly he picks up the offense.
Right now, Evans and Kennedy are the only two receivers whom Manziel can count on in a pinch. The rest of the receivers on the roster are in a dogfight for playing time.
This is the position that all the pundits seem to be ignoring during the offseason. Everyone wants to talk about how all the SEC defenses have had a year to prepare and plan for Manziel.
Have any of them prepared for Manziel to have a 6'6", 270-pound tight end running down the seam? In junior college transfer Cameron Clear, the Ags have given Manziel a huge target who can also seal the edge in the running game.
Nehemiah Hicks returns for his senior season and will offer the Ags a nice receiving threat out of two-tight end formations. In Clear and Hicks, the Ags have their best tight end combo since Derrick Spiller and Daniel Campbell were playing at Kyle Field in 1998.
In 2013, the Ags put the best offensive line in America on the field on every Saturday. Two starters from that line have moved on to the NFL.
Senior Jake Matthews leads the three returnees as the 2012 All-American flips sides from right tackle to left tackle. Junior left guard Jarvis Harrison will remain at the same spot he played in 2012.
Sophomore Mike Matthews takes over at center after getting some meaningful snaps as a backup behind Patrick Lewis in 2012. Junior Cedric Ogbuehi slides over from right guard to right tackle.
Redshirt freshman Germain Ifedi will take over at Ogbuehi's right guard spot. He was thought of highly enough as a true freshman that he traveled with the team to every game as the backup left tackle to All-American Luke Joeckel.
The first-string will be very solid, and the Ags will again have one of the top five offensive lines in America. There are some questions among the backups, but the Aggies have improved depth over 2012.
Junior college transfer Jeremiah Stuckey will back up Jake Matthews at left tackle. If Matthews was injured, you would likely see Ogbuehi flip over to the left side and Stuckey or Ifedi start at right tackle.
Senior Shep Klinke will back up Harrison at left guard. He has extensive starting experience and is a solid backup.
Junior Ben Compton is backing up both Mike Matthews at center and Ifedi at right guard. Redshirt freshman Garrett Gramling is also in the mix at right guard.
Sophomore Joseph Cheek is the backup right tackle. The backups are solid and should be able to fill in for a game or two if the Ags suffer injuries on the offensive line.
The Ags must replace two starters from their 2012 defensive line. Senior nose tackle Kirby Ennis returns and will be a rock in the middle of the Ags defense.
Sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha has flipped sides from the strong side to the weak side. He will attempt to replace some of the pass rush the Ags lost when All-American defensive end Damontre Moore left early for the NFL.
The defensive tackle spot next to Ennis is where it gets interesting. Alonzo Williams played strong-side defensive end in 2012. He has grown to around 6'4", 280 pounds and possesses the size and strength to play on the interior.
If one of the freshmen quartet of defensive tackles in Jordan Points, Isaiah Golden, Hardreck Walker or Justin Manning can prove ready to start, they will slot in next to Ennis, and Williams will play defensive end.
If the freshmen are not quite ready, then do not be surprised to see Williams starting at defensive tackle. With defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's propensity to use multiple fronts, fans should expect the Ags to open in an odd-man front against Rice consisting of Williams, Ennis and Obioha.
The Aggies return one starter at linebacker from 2012. Steven Jenkins had an excellent junior year with 79 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
He will be one of the top outside linebackers in the conference. Jenkins will start on the weak side for A&M.
Junior linebacker Donnie Baggs backed up Jenkins in 2012 and started in his stead when Jenkins was suspended for the Louisiana Tech game. Baggs will start at middle linebacker in 2013.
Junior college transfer Tommy Sanders will take over for Sean Porter as the starter on the strong side for the Ags. It will be interesting to see how well Sanders replaces the heart of the Aggie defense from 2012.
There is still a lot of competition at the backup spots. If a two-deep was released today, you would probably see true freshman Brett Wade on the outside behind Jenkins. True freshman Reggie Chevis would back up Baggs in the middle.
Nate Askew switched positions before his senior season and was impressive during the spring. He will likely back up Sanders on the strong side.
The unknown in all of this is incoming freshman Shaan Washington. At 6'3", 220 pounds, he could see some playing time at outside linebacker immediately.
Fans should expect to see Askew enter the game in obvious passing situations and Chevis to enter the game in short-yardage situations against Rice.
Taylor Bertolet returns for his sophomore season at place-kicker. He needs to improve on his consistency if he wants to keep his starting position.
Drew Kaser is the punter. He has one of the strongest legs in the nation. The redshirt sophomore just has to be more consistent.
Incoming freshman Shane Tripucka will give Kaser some competition in the fall. He helped Allen High School win a Texas state championship in 2012 and was an Under Armour All-American.
Sophomore running backs Trey Williams and Brandon Williams are currently listed as the starting kick returners. Do not be surprised if Laquvionte Gonzales works his way into that mix in August.
Gonzalez, De'Vante Harris, Sabian Holmes, Sebastian Larue and Jeremy Tabuyo will all get a look at punt returner in August. Whoever shows the most consistent hands will likely get the job.
The Aggie secondary was a major weakness in 2012 but should be a strength in 2013. The depth is much better entering the 2013 season than it was at any time in 2012.
Sophomore cornerback De'Vante Harris will start at one corner spot, while junior Deshazor Everett will occupy the other. Harris struggled to be physical in 2012 but added some muscle during the offseason and was impressive against the run during the spring game.
Everett is one of the better defensive backs in the country. He played both safety and corner as a sophomore but will stick with corner as a junior.
Junior Howard Matthews returns as the starter at strong safety. Senior Toney Hurd Jr. will back Matthews up and will also start when the Ags open games in the nickel.
Junior Floyd Raven will start at the free safety spot. He and Matthews should form one of the more physical safety tandems in the conference in 2013.
Both Raven and Everett are currently suspended from the team due to an offseason arrest. If they both miss the opener, expect senior corner Tremaine Jacobs to start in place of Everett. Hurd or incoming freshman Kameron Miles could start in place of Raven.
Sumlin proved in 2012 that he would start true freshmen in the first game of their college careers if he thought it would give the team the best chance to win. Do not be surprised if Kameron Miles is starting against Rice.
True freshman Alex Sezer was an early enrollee and will compete for playing time at cornerback. Sezer, Noel Ellis and Tavares Garner are all freshmen who could break into the two-deep at corner.