As the 2008 college football season inches closer and closer, few teams have been busier than the Aggies of Texas A&M—from the hiring of Mike Sherman as the new head football coach, to the installment of a completely new style of offense, to filling the holes on the offensive line and the defensive front seven.
Sherman, who was an assistant on R.C. Slocum’s crew and then head coach of the Green Bay Packers, brings a pro-style offense similar to what is run in the NFL. The running/option-styled attack seems to have become a distant memory, and fans will be happy to see it go.
Although A&M’s backfield is loaded with tons of talent, the rest of the depth chart is seriously lacking. With the loss of most of the offensive and defensive line, along with the top three receivers and top two tacklers of 2007, the holes that must be filled are tremendous.
The Aggies do have a bright future with talents like WR Jeff Fuller, redshirt freshman TE Frank Avery, and redshirt freshman RB Bradley Stephens. Although the turnaround in Aggieland may not be immediate, the Sherman era is on the right path.
Starting with the offense, there will be a lot of changes. Senior QB Stephen McGee won’t have to worry about carrying the ball 35 times like he did in last year’s game against Nebraska. A quarterback should not have to do that to win a football game. McGee is a hard-nosed competitor with the grit and determination to keep running at defenses.
What most people don’t know is that McGee was recruited for his arm, not his feet. He was one of the best passers in Texas in high school, and he is finally going to be given the opportunity to showcase these abilities. With the new offense, McGee can be expected to throw the ball down the field instead of constantly tucking it away or handing it off.
While the Aggies expect McGee to start the season, they can be confident in backup Jerrod Johnson, who led Texas A&M on several scoring drives in 2007. Johnson played in the early games of 2007 and showed just a taste of what he can do. His style of play is similar to that of Vince Young.
The biggest change in the backfield will be senior Jorvorskie Lane moving from running back to fullback. Lane weighed in at 285 pounds and constantly plowed through defenders for 16 touchdowns in 2007.
That power, along with the Mike Goodson's big plays and lightning-quick speed, turned the Texas game in A&M’s favor the last two seasons.
Goodson will likely get most of the calls in the tailback position, although Sherman stated that he will have to battle Bradley Stephens for touches. Stephens was a star in high school, accumulating nearly 10,000 yards.
The most important part of the offense is how quickly the inexperienced offensive line matures. With only one player returning who has seen consecutive starts, the success of the team depends on the play of the O-line. Though Travis Schneider and Michael Shumard are tested run blockers, the unit is still young and may be in for a long season if they do not develop quickly.
In the spring Maroon and White game, the offensive line looked solid, but their true test will come against the Big 12 powerhouses.
The receiving corps is also in question as a fully functional unit. With the loss of the top three starters, the players are unproven as far as consistently making big plays for the offense.
Pierre Brown, E.J. Shankle, Roger Holland, and true freshman Jeff Fuller will play most of the time. All have impressive skills, though they still have yet to showcase their true talent. Fuller is the most talented recruit of 2008 and will most likely have a huge impact on the passing game.
At tight end, Jamie McCoy will most likely replace Martellus Bennett, while Frank Avery will also see some snaps. McCoy came to A&M as a QB but switched to WR and then to the TE position. He runs very clean routes, and his blocking will improve as he adjusts to the position
The defensive side of the ball has also been drained of starters. Cyril Obiozor is the only returning starter on the defensive line. He is a big time playmaker who is a ruthless pass rusher. He may have a breakout year.
Other players expected to step it up a notch are defensive end Michael Bennett and tackle Kellen Heard. Both have the talent to stop the ball in the backfield, though it has yet to be consistently displayed.
Several players saw playing time, but the underclassmen must step up to help the D-line entrench themselves against the running game.
All three starting linebackers from last year’s squad have moved on from college football. However, Sherman is confident that he has found replacements in the form of OLBs Von Miller and Johnathan Haynes and MLB Matt Featherston. All three add a great deal of speed and ball-hawking tendencies, which should allow them to wreak havoc up and down the line of scrimmage.
The defensive secondary has the chance to be one of the better units in the conference this year with the return of Devin Gregg, Jordan Peterson, Jordan Pugh, Alton Dixon, and Arkeith Brown. Gregg will be the leader of the entire defense and has shown that he is a workhorse with a nose for the football. Look for him to come up with some big plays during the season.
The kicking game will also be a factor in the outcome of the Aggies season. New kicker Richie Bean has attempted and made just one extra point in his career. Justin Brantley is an outstanding punter who led the Big 12 last season in net punting.
Roger Holland will return punts, while the Aggies will be looking for some big returns from Pierre Brown and E.J. Shankle as kickoff returners.
The Aggies should be bowl eligible come December, most likely for the Alamo Bowl or the Texas Bowl. They also have the capability to pull off upsets against Oklahoma in College Station and Texas in Austin. Look for the Aggies to combine for at least seven quality wins and maybe a few surprises.
The Aggies have an easier conference schedule, as they do not have to play Missouri or Kansas this year, while they get Oklahoma and Texas Tech at Kyle Field.
A&M has the potential to do some damage in the Big 12. However, it all depends on how fast they accept Sherman's style of offense and defense, and how fast the younger players mature and take their games to the next level.
Although it seems like a long road, we can expect a bright future for Texas A&M.