A&M begins again without Manziel in charge

A&M/AuburnLife without Johnny Manziel as the quarterback of the Texas A&M Aggies started in earnest this past January for Kevin Sumlin.

The veteran coach had already signed Manziel’s replacement on the recruiting trail. Sumlin then saw what his offense would look like without the 2012 Heisman winner through 15 spring practices. He also knows that much more about his next quarterback thanks to a full summer of workouts.

Still, Sumlin had to field questions about Manziel last week during SEC Media Days, and how the offense would be different with jersey No. 2 now with the Cleveland Browns. Sumlin had to know the questions were coming, at least based on his overall avoidance, but it also became clear that he felt good about his offense, and the next quarterback that will run the high octane unit that scored 575 points in 2013.

“We understand, I understand, there’s not going to be another Johnny Manziel, the way he played the game. That’s all part of it,” Sumlin said. “You wouldn’t be so excited if you hadn’t recruited the Gatorade Player of the Year out of the state of Texas at quarterback, and the No. 1 quarterback in the country behind him. What we have done is we’ve gone out and been able to recruit very, very well to a system that we believe in. I think we’ve laid the groundwork in recruiting to still be successful.”

Based on that answer, the Aggies, who were 9-4 last season and champions over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, will do the same things on offense, with just a different signal caller pulling the strings.

Kyle Allen is the nation’s top quarterback Sumlin just got on campus from Arizona, while Kenny Hill was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas that saw action in four games as a true freshman last season. Hill was 16-for-22 for 183 yards and threw one touchdown in 2013. Hill missed a week of spring practice after being suspended by Sumlin following an arrest for public intoxication back in March.

The good news for Sumlin, and whoever is in at quarterback, is the offensive line returns four starters. Senior lineman Cedric Ogbuehi was selected to the pre-season All-SEC first team at SEC Media Days.

A&M lost its top receiver in Mike Evans, but senior Malcome Kennedy, who caught 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns, is back to provide some stability on the outside.

Trey Williams and Tra Carson, who combined to score 13 touchdowns last year, are the top returners at the running back spot for the Aggies.

If Texas A&M is going to take another step in the SEC, they have to be better on defense. Last year the Aggie defense ranked 14th in the SEC, allowing 475 yards per game. In three of the team’s four losses, they allowed 34 or more points. As good as A&M has been on offense under Sumlin, a little more defense may have just propelled them into the SEC Championship game one of the last two seasons.

The Maroon & White returns seven starters from last season’s defense, with 23 players who earned a letter on that side of the ball in 2013. Cornerback Deshazor Everett, who finished second on the team with 73 tackles, feels like the defense will be better. He also said he was tired of answering questions about when the team would be better in that department during his visit to media days; so the motivation is obviously there.

“We can improve and we have improved. We are continuing to make progress and that is all we can do as a defense is to continue to make progress,” Everett said. “I know I’m tired of hearing about how bad the defense has been. We’re going to do something about it this year. We’ve got the players back to be able to.”

Sumlin felt like with three starters back on the defensive front, and the entire secondary returning, the pass rush and limiting yards through the air would be better.

“Defensively I think we will have, believe it or not, more depth in our front seven, particularly in our front four,” Sumlin said. “We ended the year rotating five D-linemen out of the four spots. That took its toll. As anybody will tell you in this league, it’s a line of scrimmage league.

“We’ve recruited and have more depth. Those guys are one year older. I think the key to our defense will be the rotation up front, the maturity of the guys who played last year, and getting better safety play.”

The Aggies should have one of the best special teams units in the SEC this coming season thanks to the return of junior punter Drew Kaser, who was named to the All-SEC team. Last year Kaser led the SEC with a 47.4 yards per punt average. He also put 17 punts inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Williams is back to return kickoffs after averaging 25.2 yards per return, a figure that ranked 26th-best in the nation. Josh Lambo, who kicked the game-winning field goal against Ole Miss last year, is also back after making 8 of 10 field goals.

Texas A&M opens the season on the road against South Carolina on Aug. 30 before hosting Lamar at newly-expanded Kyle Field on Sept. 6. Ole Miss visits College Station on Oct. 11, with the Aggies having won the last two games in Oxford.

john.davis@journalinc.com



About John Davis

Eighteen years in the business. Dedicated to providing the best local content for sports. Oxford, Lafayette, Ole Miss, youth sports, outdoors and the things nobody else wants to cover.