The Texas A&M football team will kick off the 2014 season against South Carolina in just a week. The Aggies will try to mesh 10 new starters along with a new assistant coach and improve on their 9-4 record from 2013.
The Aggies lost six starters on offense and four on defense from the 2013 squad. Defensive backs coach Marcel Yates took the defensive coordinator job at Boise State. Head coach Kevin Sumlin tapped Nebraska defensive backs coach Terry Joseph to replace him.
The Texas A&M defense ranked No. 109 in the country in 2013. They were hurt by poor play at all three levels of the defense, but particularly at linebacker and safety. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder needs to put a better unit on the field in 2014 or he will likely be looking for a new job in 2015.
Joseph Joins The Team
Joseph has been tasked with one of the most difficult jobs on the staff. It is his responsibility to improve the play of the safeties on the 2014 team. The play by safeties Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven was very poor in 2013.
Honeycutt was benched in favor of Raven after the Alabama game. Matthews was known more for his ineptitude against the wheel route than the three interceptions he made in 2013.
It is Joseph's responsibility to put two quality safeties on the field from a group that includes Matthews, Raven, Honeycutt, Jonathan Wiggins, Nick Harvey, Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson.
Defensive line coach Terry Price will have much more depth to work with than he did in 2013. He is a tremendous recruiter and will coach the unit that should be the strength of the defense in 2014.
Mark Hagen coaches the linebackers and will be tasked with finding a way to build a unit that will help stuff the run in 2014. The 2013 Aggie defense allowed 5.4 yards per rush. The Aggie linebackers were simply too small to stand up to the punishing ground games of the SEC.
|Texas A&M 2014 Coaching Staff|
|Title||Name||Years on Team|
|Head Coach||Kevin Sumlin||3|
|Offensive Coordinator/QBs||Jake Spavital||2|
|Defensive Coordinator||Mark Snyder||3|
|Running Backs||Clarence McKinney||3|
|Wide Receivers||David Beaty||3|
|Offensive Line||B.J. Anderson||3|
|Special Teams/TEs||Jeff Banks||2|
|Defensive Line||Terry Price||3|
|Defensive Backs||Terry Joseph||1|
Hagen will try to form a competent unit with one returning starter dismissed from the team and an expected starter out with an injured collarbone. He will have to mix and match players in an attempt to find an effective group.
On offense, Jake Spavital will continue to call plays after taking over those duties before the Chick-fil-A Bowl. In addition to being the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Spavital is considered one of the bright young offensive minds in college football and will likely be a head coaching candidate if the Aggie offense performs as expected in 2014.
Sumlin has assembled an all-star staff of recruiters. Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and wide receivers coach David Beaty are two of the best recruiters in the nation and have played a huge role in the Aggies bringing in consecutive top-10 recruiting classes.
Clarence McKinney returns at running backs coach after Spavital replaced him as the offensive coordinator. He will have three very talented junior running backs to work with in 2014.
The Aggies run Sumlin's version of the hurry-up no-huddle spread offense. He will adjust the scheme to the talent available. His base offense includes a one-back scheme with the quarterback taking short drops and getting the ball out quickly.
With Johnny Manziel under center, Sumlin inserted some zone-read into the offense in order to take advantage of Manziel's scrambling ability. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill will open the season as the starter at quarterback and ran a spread offense with a lot of zone-read in high school. He led Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas, to the 2011 class 5A state championship in that scheme.
Expect Sumlin to keep the quarterback running game in the offense to take advantage of Hill's ability to run. When the play breaks down, he is an extra running back on the field and should prove invaluable as the offense breaks in three new starters at the receiver position.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Malcome Kennedy will start at wide receiver against South Carolina. Noil and Reynolds have never caught a pass in an FBS game while Seals-Jones has only caught three passes.
All three are very talented and are expected to make life easier for Hill as he makes the adjustment to being the starter. Hill competed 16 of 22 attempts for 183 yards and a touchdown in 2013. Kennedy is the elder statesman of the receiving corps as a fifth-year senior.
He caught 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. Kennedy and 6'6", 285-pound tight end Cameron Clear will act as security blankets for Hill.
The Aggies return four of five starters from the 2013 offensive line. Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is an All-American and All-SEC candidate. He projects to be the third Aggie left tackle in a row to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
That veteran line will block for three talented junior running backs in Trey Williams, Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. The 6'0", 235-pound Carson is expected to start. All three backs averaged more than five yards per carry in 2013.
|Texas A&M 2014 Offensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Kenny Hill||Kyle Allen||Conner McQueen|
|RB||Tra Carson||Trey Williams||Brandon Williams|
|WR||Josh Reynolds||Frank Iheanacho||Kyrion Parker|
|WR||Malcome Kennedy||Jeremy Tabuyo||Jamal Jeffery|
|WR||Ricky Seals-Jones||Sabian Holmes||LaQuvionte Gonzalez|
|WR||Speedy Noil||Edward Pope||Frank Iheanacho|
|LT||Cedric Ogbuehi||Avery Gennesy||Jarvis Harrison|
|LG||Jarvis Harrison||Garrett Gramling||J.J. Gustafson|
|C||Mike Matthews||Ben Compton||Koda Martin|
|RG||Joseph Cheek||Jemaine Eluemunor||Kimo Tipoti|
|RT||Germain Ifedi||Ryan Lingblade||Jeremiah Stuckey|
|K||Josh Lambo||Taylor Bertolet||Dillon Moore|
|PR/KR||Trey Williams||Speedy Noil||LaQuvionte Gonzalez|
With Spavital calling the plays, this Aggie offense has enough talent to be the best in the SEC and among the top offenses in the nation in 2014.
The biggest question facing the 2014 Aggie football team is whether the defense will improve enough to allow the team to compete for championships. The 2013 defense allowed 475.8 yards per game. The 2014 version of the defense will have to be much improved to prevent every game from turning into a shootout.
The defensive line should be the strength of the defense with three-year starter Julien Obioha moving back to strong-side defensive end. Hardrick Walker got one start at nose guard in 2013 but will be the backup to begin the 2014 campaign. True freshman Zaycoven Henderson has shown the coaches enough to earn a start in his first collegiate game.
Alonzo Williams is a third-year junior who will start at defensive tackle. Daeshon Hall is a 6'6", 260-pound defensive end from Lancaster, Texas, who is poised to have a breakout sophomore campaign on the weak side.
The difference between this defensive line and the 2013 line is that in 2014, the coaches have a lot more depth. They will be able to rotate linemen throughout the game to keep them fresh.
True freshmen Myles Garrett and Zaycoven Henderson are in the two-deep and will see immediate playing time in 2014. The second team defensive line will be Qualen Cunningham at strong-side defensive end, Justin Manning at defensive tackle, Walker at nose guard and Garrett at weak-side defensive end.
That is a strong eight-man rotation that should allow the Aggies to pressure the opposing quarterback while remaining strong against the run.
At linebacker, Donnie Baggs will start on the strong side, with Jordan Mastrogiovanni in the middle and A.J. Hilliard on the weak side. None of the three is a proven playmaker, which is why the position is such a major question mark for 2014.
|2014 Texas A&M Defensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|SDE||Julien Obioha||Qualen Cunningham||Darrell Jackson|
|DT||Alonzo Williams||Justin Manning||Jay Arnold|
|NG||Zaycoven Henderson||Hardrick Walker||Ivan Robinson|
|WDE||Daeshon Hall||Myles Garrett||Tyrone Taylor|
|SLB||Donnie Baggs||Otaro Alaka||Brett Wade|
|MLB||Jordan Mastrogiovanni||Justin Bass||Josh Walker|
|WLB||A. J. Hilliard||Tommy Sanders||Josh Walker|
|CB||Deshazor Everett||Tavares Garner||Noel Ellis|
|SS||Howard Matthews||Donovan Wilson||Clay Honeycutt|
|FS||Armani Watts||Floyd Raven||Clay Honeycutt|
|CB||Victor Davis||Nick Harvey||Devonta Burns|
|P||Drew Kaser||Shane Tripucka|
Deshazor Everett returns at cornerback to lead the secondary. The four-year starter will compete for All-SEC honors in 2014. De'Vante Harris has started at corner opposite Everett for the past two years, but he is out for an undetermined period of time with a urinary tract injury.
Redshirt freshman Victor Davis will start in his place. Matthews and true freshman Armani Watts will start at safety. The safeties will need to take a quantum step forward in their play if the back end of the Aggie defense is going to improve in 2014. Devonta Burns will start at nickel back when the Aggies open the game with five defensive backs on the field.
|Texas A&M Injuries|
|Player Name||Injury||Expected Return Date|
|De'Vante Harris||Urinary tract injury||Unknown|
|Shaan Washington||Broken collarbone||4-6 weeks|
The two most noteworthy injuries for the Aggies are on defense. Harris and Washington are two starters whom the Aggies were depending on to help improve the defense in 2014. Their absence is a major blow to a defense that has to be better than it was in 2013.
Keep Your Eye On
The one player whom Aggie fans need to focus on in 2014 is Noil. He has the speed and elusiveness to be an impact player at wide receiver and on special teams.
Noil could conceivably lead the Aggies in receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman. He will be their punt returner and has the ability to change games on special teams.
|Texas A&M 2014 Schedule|
|August 28||South Carolina||Columbia, SC|
|September 6||Lamar||College Station, TX|
|September 13||Rice||College Station, TX|
|September 20||SMU||Dallas, TX|
|September 27||Arkansas||Arlington, TX|
|October 4||Mississippi State||Starkville, MS|
|October 11||Ole Miss||College Station, TX|
|October 18||Alabama||Tuscaloosa, AL|
|November 1||Louisiana-Monroe||College Station, TX|
|November 8||Auburn||Auburn, AL|
|November 15||Missouri||College Station, TX|
|November 27||LSU||College Station, TX|
All of the pundits who are focusing on the offense and defense need to realize that special teams is a major part of the game. Noil could have the biggest impact of any freshman on the team in that facet of the game.
The most important game of the 2014 season for the Aggies will be the October 4 contest against Mississippi State at Starkville. The Bulldogs will be a competitive team in the west division and a tough test on the road.
The Aggies are 2-0 against MSU since they joined the SEC. The game against Mississippi State marks the halfway point of the season. It is important for the Aggies to get a conference win in a hostile environment in order to get some momentum as they head into the second half of the season.
The Aggies should be able to get a win at Starkville. They will end the season with a 9-3 record, 6-3 in conference with losses to South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn.
The Aggies will surprise some with their ability to win games without Manziel under center, but they are not quite good enough yet to make a run at a conference championship.