On Sunday, August 4, the Texas A&M football team will officially report for the start of the 2013 season. The beginning of fall practice will feature multiple position battles as the Aggies coaches try to sort out the two-deep for the season.
The 2013 Texas A&M football team is expected to be one of the best in recent memory. Most preseason polls have A&M ranked in the top 10, and the Ags are expected to compete for the SEC and national titles in 2013.
The 2012 senior class left the Aggies program in much better shape than when the players arrived. They joined a program that was coming off of a 4-8 season and left a program coming off of an 11-2 season.
It will not be easy to replace the on-field play and leadership from players like Sean Porter, Ryan Swope and Jonathan Stewart. That is exactly the task the Aggies coaches and players are faced with as they enter this season of high expectations.
Some new faces are going to have to step in and become leaders and difference-makers on this team. Who chooses to step into those new roles will be determined out in the searing Texas heat in practice.
This is a look at the most important position battles that will occur during fall practice.
The single most important position battle during fall practice is going to be at defensive tackle because it will determine the personnel throughout the rest of the defensive line. Kirby Ennis returns as the starter in the nose guard spot.
The defensive tackle position next to Ennis is the big question mark right now. Alonzo Williams was listed as the starter at defensive tackle after spring practice.
Williams started the Cotton Bowl at strong-side defensive end in the place of the injured Julien Obioha, a fellow true freshman last year. Obioha has moved over to weak-side defensive end for the 2013 season.
Williams will be a solid defensive tackle, but his presence on the inside could create an issue at strong-side defensive end, where the Ags do not have any proven depth. Right now Gavin Stansbury and Brandon Williams are filling up the two-deep on the strong side.
The Aggies have four incoming freshman defensive tackles who will add immediate depth to the defensive line. Isaiah Golden, Hardreck Walker, Jordan Points and Justin Manning will all be given ample opportunity to show they can get the job done at defensive tackle.
If one of the three plays well enough to earn the starting spot in camp, then that will allow Williams to move back outside to defensive end. That would result in the Ags having an extremely strong front four on defense.
Whoever wins the position battle to start at defensive tackle will go a long way toward determining what kind of defense and team the Aggies are going to have in 2013.
The Ags enter the fall with no clear-cut choice at backup quarterback. Junior Matt Joeckel and redshirt freshman Matt Davis basically battled to a draw during the spring.
Joeckel has a big arm and a prototype NFL body at 6'4", 234 pounds. Davis brings a lot more mobility to the position but is not as polished of a passer as Joeckel.
True freshman Kenny Hill will be given an extensive look during the August practices in order to see whether he can step in and contribute. Hill is 6'1", 215 pounds and physically capable of standing up to SEC defenses.
The question with Hill will be how quickly he can pick up the offense. While Johnny Manziel and Davis are elusive runners, Hill is more of a battering ram. The offensive coaches would be able to keep the zone-read and running aspects of the offense intact, but Hill is not a threat to go 70 yards like Manziel is.
The offense will be adjusted depending on who wins the backup job. If Manziel is injured and has to miss playing time, the offense would move more toward the run with Davis or Hill under center. With Joeckel under center, you would see more emphasis on passing plays from the pocket.
Aggie fans should not be surprised if there is no clear-cut backup listed when A&M opens with Rice on August 31. It is likely no one will know who the true backup is until Manziel is rested late in the game against Rice.
Sophomore receiver Mike Evans returns as the starter at one outside receiver spot after setting an A&M record with 82 receptions for 1,105 yards as a freshman. The outside receiver spot opposite from Evans is open for competition.
Derel Walker, Ja'Quay Williams and Ricky Seals-Jones will all compete for that open position during fall practice. Walker is the only one of the three who has actually played in a college game.
Walker played in eight games for the Aggies in 2012 and reeled in eight receptions for 85 yards. He backed up Ryan Swope in the slot and filled in admirably against Louisiana Tech when Swope was knocked out of the game with a concussion.
Williams and Seals-Jones are both true freshmen. However, Williams enrolled in January and participated in spring practice, so he has an extra semester of experience on Seals-Jones.
Both freshmen will create size mismatches for the defense. Williams is 6'3", 210 pounds and has a big wingspan. Seals-Jones is 6'6", 225 pounds and has the speed to separate from defensive backs.
The wild card at the position is Edward Pope. He is currently listed as the backup to Evans, but the 6'4", 190-pound redshirt freshman was very impressive during the spring game. He may force his way onto the field opposite of Evans.
The Ags basically have an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position. Whoever ends up starting will offer the offense a tremendous size advantage over every defense they face.
Senior Nehemiah Hicks and junior Cameron Clear make up the depth chart for the Ags at tight end. Hicks was listed as the starter coming out of the spring.
Hicks has been a solid pass-catching tight end during his three seasons at A&M. He has the hands and speed to be a real weapon in the passing game but has not played up to his potential yet.
Clear is a 6'6", 270-pound mismatch waiting to happen. He could change the face of the Aggies' offense by himself. Clear offers Johnny Manziel a huge target down the middle of the field.
His biggest contribution may end up being in the run game. Clear is a dominant blocker and will allow offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney a lot of flexibility with formations because of his blocking skills.
Clear can seal the edge in the running game or go into a pattern and become a receiving threat. Aggies fans should expect to see a lot of Hicks and Clear on the field at the same time in 2013.
With Hicks, Clear and the Ags' stable of talented running backs, the Aggies should improve on their rushing numbers from 2012, when they led the SEC.