Texas A&M is just days into fall camp, with their first game of the 2023 season looming just weeks away on Saturday, Sept. 2. While the vast majority of these practices happen away from the public eye, the media day availability has given glimpses that we, irresponsibly or not, will make assumptions about. Several of these will likely shake out over the course of the next month, and may well define success or failure for this team in 2023.
1. Who’s offense is this anyway?
While this is a question that Jimbo Fisher has been reluctant to answer definitively in a press conference setting, it’s an answer that seems pretty clear based on what we’ve seen and heard from players over the past several months. Bobby Petrino has been the man leading the offense in practice, and players have been vocal about the changes they’ve seen in the offense in terms of tempo, pre-snap motion/deception and a bigger focus on explosive plays.
While Jimbo Fisher will never be 100% hands-off with this offense (no offensive coach is), those expecting to see A&M roll out the same offense we’ve seen for the past five years are likely in for a rude awakening.
2. Who is the starting QB?
It’s cliché, but college football success often hinges on good quarterback play. A bad one can sink your season, and a great one can take you to new heights. The assumption continues to be that sophomore Conner Weigman has the edge in this battle over redshirt junior Max Johnson, but the two continue to alternate reps with the first team offense, just like they did in the spring. Is this in deference to the veteran Johnson, or perhaps to ensure he doesn’t jump into the transfer portal? Or is this a legitimate battle for who will be named starter?
It feels lot like the situations of the past two years, where even though QBs were alternating reps, there was a clear public opinion about who that starter will be. Whether that opinion proves to be correct is yet to be seen, but Weigman certainly seems to be the player with the higher ceiling. You can win games with Max Johnson, but Conner Weigman can win you games.
3. Will the OL be healthy?
Offensive line play was an unquestioned weakness of this team in 2022. Some of that can be attributed to inexperience and a first-year position coach, but it was also exacerbated by a slew of OL injuries. The most significant of those was C Bryce Foster, who missed all of fall camp with mono before tearing his ACL against Alabama. In total, 10 players started on the offensive line for the Aggies, which is obviously not ideal.
Fast forward to now, and the only o-lineman not fully participating in practice is OT Reuben Fatheree, who is “easing in” after suffering an injury at the end of spring ball. But Fatheree is doing sideline work at practice this week, which makes you think his return is not far off. If this unit can stay healthier this season, in addition to just having more experience, both in Steve Addazio’s system and in college in general, they have the opportunity to take a big step forward in 2023. Needless to say, a good OL makes everything else way easier.
4. Will the run defense improve?
One of the most disappointing developments (in a season full of them) last year was A&M’s porous run defense, finishing 123rd nationally (yuck). More often than not, it seemed like this wasn’t because linemen were getting beat, but because guys just weren’t where they were supposed to be. Was this simply a result of being in year one of D.J. Durkin’s scheme and playing a ton of true freshmen? Or is it a sign of bigger issues? Only time will tell.
6. What does LB depth look like?
We think we know who the starting linebackers are on this team (Edgerrin Cooper and Chris Russell). The big question is what happens if one of them misses time. A&M has only one other returning player at the position in sophomore Martrell Harris, but supplemented that group in the offseason by adding Jurriente Davis from Jackson State out of the transfer portal and signing three freshmen: Daymion Sanford, Taurean York and Chantz Johnson. Given that your starters remaining completely healthy all season is a tall task, one or more of these reserves emerging as an SEC-ready player would be a huge boon to the Aggies’ chances of thriving in a grueling 2023 schedule.
BONUS: Surprise starter at TE?
Texas A&M is absolutely loaded at tight end, but going into fall camp, the assumption was that sophomore Donovan Green would likely maintain the starting role that he garnered in the back half of 2022. In fact he was just added to the Mackey Award preseason watchlist. But in the first two days of practice, it appears that another tight end from the class of 2022, Jake Johnson, has been taking first team reps. Granted, that’s just two practices (and only the first 15-20 minutes of said practices). But Johnson was the top-ranked tight end in his recruiting class, and missed virtually all of last year due to injury. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could take over (or at least share) first team duties in 2023.
Some of these questions will get answered in the coming days and weeks, others we won’t know until we see this team take the field for real in September. But if you want to try and find out for yourself, head out to the open practice at Kyle Field this Sunday.