Texas A&M Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons
The Texas A&M football team will being fall practice in less than two months. Like any team in college football, the Aggies have areas where they are strong, a couple of major concerns, and a few players on campus who should surprise fans in 2014.
Whether or not the Aggies have a successful season in 2014 will be determined in large part by how they address their weaknesses. There are areas that will improve with experience as the season goes on, and some areas where the current players are going to simply have to step up and play better.
The Aggies have enough talent on the roster to compete for an SEC title in 2014. They will compete for a conference and national title if they can emphasize their strengths while minimizing the impact of the weakest positions on the field.
This is a look at the 2014 Aggies' strengths, weaknesses, and a couple of players who will surprise the average college football fan.
Strength: Offensive Line
The obvious strength of the Texas A&M football team is its offensive line. Despite the graduation of All-American left tackle Jake Matthews, the Aggies should again have one of the better lines in the country.
The Aggie line will be led by senior left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. He is projected to be an All-American in 2014 and one of the top picks in the 2015 NFL draft, per Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke.
Ogbuehi leads a group of four returning starters on the Aggies' offensive line. Senior guard Jarvis Harrison will line up next to Ogbuehi on the left side. He has been a three-year starter for the Aggies and will join Ogbuehi in the NFL in 2015.
Junior Mike Matthews returns at center for his second season as a starter. Sophomore Germain Ifedi is sliding from right guard to right tackle.
Fifth-year senior Garrett Gramling started two games at left guard in 2013 and will compete with Jermaine Eluemunor, Avery Gennesy and Joseph Cheek for the starting right guard position.
The offensive line is the foundation for a football team. The Aggies will have one of the strongest, most experienced offensive lines in the SEC.
The weakest position on the field for the Texas A&M football team is the linebacker position. The dismissal of Darian Claiborne from the team just exacerbated matters.
Claiborne was the best linebacker on the team and a very instinctive football player who would have been a four-year starter at A&M. Now the Aggies will have to rely on senior Donnie Baggs to fill in at weak-side linebacker.
Baggs had eight tackles in his only career start at weak-side linebacker when he played for a suspended Steven Jenkins in 2012 against Louisiana Tech. Baggs was the starter at middle linebacker for the first half of the 2013 season until it became obvious that he could not get off of blocks and was ineffective at the position.
Sophomore Jordan Mastrogiovanni will be the starter at middle linebacker in 2014. He struggled to play off blocks in 2013 also. He is nowhere near as instinctual as Claiborne was, and the jury is still out on how effective he will be in the middle.
Baggs is undersized at around 220 pounds. If he struggles on the outside then you could see Mastrogiovanni move to weak-side linebacker, with redshirt freshman Reggie Chevis starting in the middle. This would give the Aggies more size against the run, but Chevis is a liability against the pass.
Shaan Washington will be the starter on the strong side. Right now he appears to be the only sure thing at the linebacker position for the Aggies. Washington displayed impressive pass-rush skills as a true freshman in 2013 when he registered three sacks.
Aggie fans are going to have to hope the coaches can find a linebacker combination that will work next to Washington. Entering a season with questions at two of the three positions on your weakest unit overall has to be very concerning for the Aggie coaches.
Secret Weapon: Cam Clear
Cameron Clear is a 6'6", 270-pound mountain of a man who plays tight end for the Aggies. He uses his tremendous size to be an effective blocker on the edge for the Aggie running game.
In 2013 Clear was used sparingly in the passing game. Aggie running backs coach Clarence McKinney was calling the plays and seemingly ignored the tight end position as Clear caught two passes for four yards in 12 regular-season games.
Quarterback coach Jake Spavital was promoted to offensive coordinator before the Aggies' bowl game, and Clear caught two passes for 38 yards in the Peach Bowl. Aggies fans should expect Spavital to make Clear a much bigger part of the offense in 2014.
Clear has the size and speed to be a mismatch with linebackers and safeties at the college level. He can be a security blanket for the Aggies' young quarterbacks as they adjust to the college game.
The defensive coordinators in the SEC will be tasked with stopping an Aggie offense that will use all of its available weapons in 2014.
Strength: Running Back Depth
The Aggies have tremendous depth at the running back position in 2014. Juniors Trey Williams, Tra Carson and Brandon Williams return in addition to redshirt freshman James White.
The three juniors combined to rush for 1,005 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. They averaged 6.1 yards per rush in 2013.
Trey Williams is elusive and has tremendous speed. Brandon Williams has great speed and runs with some power. Carson gives the Aggies a dimension of power along with some wiggle. All three are capable receivers out of the backfield.
In the SEC it is nearly impossible to go through a season without a running back getting injured. The Aggies have the kind of high-level talent on the team where a running back missing a game because of injury should not cause a drop-off in play.
The safety position was a circus for the Aggies in 2013. Injuries forced Clay Honeycutt into the starting lineup when he clearly is not an SEC-caliber starter.
Howard Matthews started the entire season at strong safety, but his propensity for ignoring the running back on wheel routes became a sense of constant frustration for Aggie fans.
Floyd Raven did not display the kind of consistency you would like to see at the position. The Aggies defense was bad in 2013, and the safeties played a large role in that.
Raven and Matthews return as starters in 2014, and Aggie fans have to hope that new defensive backs coach Terry Joseph can bring out the best in them. The team cannot afford to have a repeat of the 2013 season at the safety position.
Secret Weapon: Myles Garrett
The issues for the 2013 Texas A&M defense started up front, where the defensive line was unable to create a consistent pass rush. Since there wasn't any pressure, opposing quarterbacks simply took their time and picked apart the Aggie secondary.
That should all change in 2014 with the arrival of defensive end Myles Garrett. Ranked as the No. 1 overall recruit in the country by 247sports.com, the 6'4", 255-pound pass-rushing terror will be an instant-impact player for the Aggies in 2014.
Garrett will consistently provide the Aggies with pressure from his weak-side defensive end position. That will expedite the clock in opposing quarterbacks' heads and force more confusion and turnovers on the part of the opposing offenses.
Garrett registered 20.5 sacks as a senior in high school. The entire A&M team had 21 sacks in 2013. He will have an instant impact on the Aggie defense and may be the most important addition to the team in the 2014 class.