Kevin Sumlin held his first game week press conference of the 2017 season on Tuesday, and credentialed media were given a copy of the updated Texas A&M Aggies depth chart. Of course Good Bull Hunting is not credentialed media, but lucky for us, several of those who are just...tweeted it out.
Texas A&M depth chart for UCLA: pic.twitter.com/ClcrSTy5Ij— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) August 29, 2017
Let’s take a look at the surprises and storylines at each position.
Still no starting quarterback. At this point it’s safe to assume this will be a mystery until pre-game warmups. If you aren’t giving your guy the full week of game prep as the announced starter, you might as well keep UCLA guessing, having to prepare for some combination of Jake Hubenak, Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond (also starring Connor Blumrick as Daario Naharis). The bigger question remains, is the starting job truly still up in the air, or has Kevin Sumlin made his decision and decided to keep it a secret from the public?
Shuffling along the offensive line. Seeing that Koda Martin is not firmly entrenched as the starting left tackle (instead in an “OR” battle with Colton Prater) is a bit concerning. Especially since he’s a preseason All-Conference selection by the SEC coaches. The logical conclusion is that Martin has struggled, and they now face the decision of choosing between a slight weakness at LT (Martin) and a strength at center (Prater), or a slight upgrade at LT (Prater) with a big question mark at center (Ryan McCollum). The rest of the line (Erick McCoy at LG, Connor Lanfear at RG, Keaton Sutherland at RT) should be solid. Let’s hope whatever combination they use figures things out, or else it could be a long season for [insert quarterback name here].
A logjam at TE, but will we use them? Kalvin Cline, Aaron Hansford and Tanner Schorp are listed as co-starters, and there’s a good chance we see all three of them depending on the package. The bigger question is whether any of these three players will be effectively utilized, as tight end has been a black hole of production for much of the Kevin Sumlin era. We saw an uptick in passes going their way in the spring game, but who’s to say whether that will transfer to the field on Sept. 3.
No surprises at RB/WR. Christian Kirk is joined in the starting lineup by fellow junior Damion Ratley and freshman Jhamon Ausbon. Every other receiver on the depth chart is either a redshirt freshman or a true freshman. While talented, that’s a very inexperienced group, especially if injury happens. Running back will be a two-headed monster of Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams, which should be the strength of the offense. Let’s hope our playcallers remember that.
Replacing a monster DE tandem. It’s easy to point out that the departures of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall are hard to fill, but despite those losses, the defensive end situation may not be as dire as you thing. As Kevin Sumlin loved to point out, Jarrett Johnson had as many sacks as Hall last year despite playing less than half as many snaps, and Qualen Cunningham will start alongside Johnson after seeing significant action off the bench in 2016. They’ll be backed up by junior college transfer Michael Clemons (a raw but athletically gifted player by all reports) and Justin Dunning (a safety-turned-linebacker-turned-DE recovering from several knee surgeries). Maybe not the strength it was last season, but this group still has the potential to be effective.
Depth at DT, is this real life? The Aggies return three upperclassmen defensive tackles with a wealth of game experience in Zaycoven Henderson, Kingsley Keke and Daylon Mack. They’re joined by Justin Madubuike, a highly touted defensive end recruit who converted to defensive tackle after redshirting last season. This list doesn’t even include TD Moton, who may also see time in the rotation. Outside of safety, this group may be the strength of the defense, and could make things a lot easier on the other units if they can dominate the line of scrimmage.
A couple surprises at linebacker. Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson were no-brainers as returning starter from last season, but the rest of the LB depth chart was murky. Some thought freshman Anthony Hines might start alongside them, but for now that job falls to former walk-on and current 12th Man Cullen Gillaspia. But starter or not, Hines will no doubt see playing time, as well as junior Riley Garner. Notably absent from the two-deep is Buddy Johnson, who despite being a true freshman, many believed would be worked into the linebacker rotation this season.
Consistency at corner. Priest Willis will carry the biggest load as A&M’s lockdown corner, while sophomore Charles Oliver steps up to the other corner spot to replace the injured Nick Harvey. The Aggies suffered key injuries at corner last year, and with little experience behind the two starters, it could be an issue again in 2017 if one of them goes down. We also had a surprise at nickel corner, with Deshawn Capers-Smith taking the starting spot over junior college transfer Antonio Howard. Howard was rumored to be locked into the nickel corner spot, but is now listed as a backup safety.
Safety blanket. Seniors Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson will be roaming the secondary for A&M. Just bask in that for a moment. Watts is a preseason All-American, and Wilson, despite having a somewhat down 2016, is a proven playmaker that should fill in for NFL-bound Justin Evans with little downturn. Safety is by far the strength of the defense, if not the entire team.
Specialist are the best...ialists. A&M returns the same group of kickers as last year, with senior punter Shane Tripucka, kicker Daniel Lacamera, and kickoff specialist Braden Mann. Tripucka will also take over the reigns from national holder of the year finalist Conner McQueen. He’ll receive snaps from sophomore Austin Frey.
Then again Kevin Sumlin could just be effing with us and maybe this will all change on Sunday afternoon.