I've been described as an optimist which is good with me. I tend to look at the glass as being relatively half full. For a couple of weeks, my three-year-old's favorite song was Pharell's "Happy" which, as you know if you have kids, I listened to at least five times a day driving him to and from preschool. I was good with that. It's a catchy song.
With that in mind, I've got hope that the 2014 iteration of your Fightin' Texas Aggie Football team will not be as bad as you all fear. It seems like all of the news we've been getting about our squad has been negative, due primarily to offseason arrests, players being injured, etc. The defensive losses we've had over the past few weeks will be a challenge to overcome, but we'll be okay. Let me tell you why.
The key thing that gives me hope about our defense this year is that we have options. I wouldn't necessarily say we have depth, because depth indicates players with experience, but we do have more options than we had last year. Let's break that down:
Yes, we lost Stansbury and Golden who were arguably our two most productive defensive linemen towards the end of the season. But from a bigger picture perspective, our defensive line rotation was thin as all get out last year. We have options this year. Below are legit possibilities for our defensive line rotation (possible starters listed first):
Obioha (playing back in his natural position)
Arnold (I think he'll end up as a 3 tech being that he's 285 right now)
Robinson (if Healthy)
That's not even counting the possibility of Cunningham or Johnson coming on strong (lol) in Fall Camp. Tell me that a starting front four of Obioha, Walker, Arnold/Williams/Robinson, and Garrett isn't something that gives you a little bit of hope. Hell, the 1-2 punch of Garrett and Hall at that RUSH spot should be something to make you smile.
Same thing here. We were forced to try out different players in different positions last year because we lacked options. This year, provided that Mastrogiovanni is able to handle the mental part of the ILB position, we should be able to play people (ahem Donnie Baggs) in positions that better suit them. Additionally, we're in position now to have some level of competition among players at various spots. I am excited to see players like Washington, Sanders, and Hilliard battle it out...and for the possibility of Josh Walker to come in and get some meaningful playing time.
This a veteran group with a couple of newcomers to add both a spark and talent at much needed spots. Furthermore, I have to believe that Terry Joseph is a better coach than Marcel Yates, and will work to make this secondary seem much less inept than what they were last year. But more on coaching later.
At the corner spot I feel good about Everett and Harris. Both have proven to be more than capable of holding their own in the SEC. When you toss in guys like Noel Ellis, and freshman phenom Nick Harvey...I think we'll be fine there.
Safety is a concern. I was crossing my fingers hoping that Justin Evans would be able to come in to at least provide some depth there. I've gotta think that Joseph has made a mission out of turning Howard Matthew's career around...and if you remember, Matthews had a good end to the 2012 season. It's my hypothesis that Matthews is better at being 10-15 yards outside of the box...anything beyond that and he gets lost. The other safety spot has some good options, but sure. If there's one position I'm concerned about, it's this one.
The jury is out on Mark Snyder. I'd toss LB coach Mark Hagen into that category as well. But Mark Snyder has had success elsewhere, and he did have a good deal of success in 2012. I don't think the guy forgot how to coach (although sometimes his defensive fronts make me think otherwise). The combination of having options (I'm using that word a lot here) and allowing players to play in position will put the Aggie defense in a better spot to have a year that resembles 2012 more than it does 2013.
I'm not going to say a ton about the offense because Kevin Sumlin knows offense and Texas A&M will always have a productive offense under his rule. The talent is there. It's raw, unproven talent but it's there. The good thing about this year (and the thing that the national pundits seem to be missing) is that despite having inexperience at the QB position, our RB stable is about as good as anyone's in the country. Tra Carson is poised and primed to have a breakout year. Trey Williams has been been doing nothing but working out and eating raw meat to prepare for this season. Brandon Williams is ready to show the world why he was a 5-star coming out of high school. This might be the most talented stable of running backs we've seen in at least 10 years.
Kevin Sumlin is an elite recruiter. He has a staff of elite recruiters. We have the #2 class in the country according to 247's composite rankings, and it's only going to get better over the next few weeks. The big fish on the line is Mesquite Poteet's star LB Malik Jefferson, and I think we have as good of a shot (if not better) than anyone of landing him.
The arrests suck. I find myself having an internal dialogue trying to justify our off-the-field behavior as of late. I have to think that we are through the worst of it (and hey...we went from pistol whipping dudes at a drug deal to shoplifting well priced goods at Kohl's--that's progress!). I don't have an excuse for why so many players got into trouble, but I do think that we are making strides in the right direction to correct the issue. A&M recently filled the vacant "Director of Player Development" position by hiring Mikado Hinson. Hinson, who served in relatively the same capacity at UH under Sumlin, will also serve as the team chaplain. I think his impact will be noticeable.
Additionally, the athletic department has brought in outside resources such as "The Program" and speaker Adam Ritz to talk about issues related to team development, personal leadership, social media, etc. on multiple occasions. While there might not have been anything they could have done to help some of our players make better choices, I do believe that the foundation is being set for better off-the-field behavior in the future.
Will any of this translate to wins? Who knows? I firmly believe that success this year is an 8-4 mark... I think we could be anywhere from 6-6 to 10-2, but I feel pretty good about 8-4, which means that somewhere down the line we're going to steal a game or two that folks don't expect us to steal.
I do think that the overall performance of this team in both wins and losses will surprise folks, and I think we are primed to make significant waves in 2015.
So yeah, I'm an optimist. I might not be chugging the Kool-aid, but I'm sipping on it. I have confidence that our coaching staff will do everything in their power to put us in position to be successful (but God help me if i see a three man front against a two TE set again I will set my house on fire). I think we as Aggies are predisposed to see the negative in any situation, and in some sense there is value in guarding our football hearts to keep from being disappointed... but I refuse to let go of the hope that the facts (meaning the roster) provide me.
So Gig 'Em and let's beat the everliving hell out of South Carolina. Tell me what you think about this upcoming season in the comments and correct me if I got anything wrong.