Beat Writer Q-and-A

Thanks to Brent Zwerneman who covers Texas A&M for the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. He’s a former Southland Conferenace pitcher and has authored three Texas A&M books.

Q: With Johnny Manziel playing so well so quickly, what was the quarterback competition like that led him to the starting job?

A: Most everyone believed sophomore Jameill Showers, Ryan Tannehill’’s primary backup last season, would earn the starting job. But Manziel, who redshirted last season, put together an impressive camp and edged out Showers – and then has put an awful lot of distance between himself and the competition with his record-setting showings through four games. Manziel won the job because he could make things happen with his feet when things broke down around him, and that’’s been evident through the first third of the season.

Q: Furthering the Manziel critique, where can he be better?

A: It’’s hard to say he shouldn’t be so quick to run, considering he leads the team in rushing by a wide margin, but … he shouldn’t be so quick to run. The more college experience Manziel earns, the more comfortable he appears in the pocket, and willing to pull the trigger on passes he might not have in the first two games against Florida and SMU.

Q: Looking at A&M’s early schedule and considering Arkansas’ struggles, do you sense that the Aggies have been challenged beyond the first game against Florida?

A: They were challenged against the Razorbacks primarily based on recent history. Arkansas had held a spell (and a three-game winning streak) over the current A&M seniors, so some figured the Razorbacks held the mental edge going in, despite their struggles this season. It was huge for A&M on the confidence front to get an early lead against Arkansas and then step on the gas, based on the five second-half collapses last season (including blowing an 18-point lead to the Razorbacks).

Q: If Manziel is limited, can the Aggies run the ball successfully?

A: On paper, yes, although it hasn’t really been shown so far this season. Fans still expect to see a breakout game from bullish senior Christine Michael, who rushed for 230 yards against Arkansas last season but has been in the doghouse occasionally this season, in part because of his sometimes poor blocking. I still believe Michael is going to bust loose in one of these games, but if not current starter Ben Malena and dynamic freshman Trey Williams are quite capable of breakout games themselves. As Kevin Sumlin has said from the start, A&M has three good backs, and he intends to use them all.

Q: How would you assess A&M defensively?

A: Way better, at least so far, than most anticipated. Especially along the defensive line, which many of us predicted was the team’s weak link entering the season. New coordinator Mark Snyder is the third most popular man in town right now (behind Manziel and Sumlin) based on four solid showings from his defense, while the offense struggled in the opener against Florida (a 20-17 loss). Keep an eye on end Damontre Moore, as well, he’’s making mentor Von Miller proud (Moore backed up Miller in Moore’s first season) the way he’’s terrorized quarterbacks so far this season.

Q: Aggies seem very proud of their traditions. Explain the 12th man, and tell us what from those traditions Ole Miss fans should expect to see in an A&M road game.

A: A&M is very proud of being the “Home of the 12th Man,” so much so that the school had “12th Man” trademarked years ago, and now continually fights for its exclusiveness. In 1922, student E. King Gill came out the stands and stood ready to enter a game for the injured Aggies, and the 12th Man has lived on since. Ole Miss fans will want to keep an eye on A&M’s Yell Leaders – it’s an eyeful to watch their many coordinated hand signals in leading what’s sure to be a decent road crowd decked in maroon.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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