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February 21, 2013

AggieYell Mailbag

Each week, AggieYell.com's Jeff Tarpley and Mark Passwaters take reader questions and answer them in the AggieYell Mailbag. Here's this week's sampling:

Q: We play Bama early with a big question mark on our defense after losing so many key players. How do you see Bama attacking us to exploit our weaknesses? Will they try to pound the middle and wear us down and keep JFF and Co off the field or do you think they will open things up more for fear of not being able to score enough points to keep up with our offense? (lifeinharelton)

A: First off, Alabama loses three offensive linemen of their own and all three should be relatively high draft picks. They are also going to be starting multiple underclassmen as well. The strength of that team is going to be its skill position players…McCarron, Yeldon, Norwood, and Cooper. As a result, it wouldn't be a surprise if Alabama decided to come out and go play action early on in order to try to open up its running game. No matter how much film that staff watches, they understand that they just can't come out and hope to win with defense and the kicking game. A&M scored 29 last year against what may well have been a better defense than what Alabama will have this year.

Q: What are the pro's and con's of getting Alabama at Kyle Field week 3? (CHANCE23)

Tarp: Cons….A&M is replacing multiple front seven personnel and offensive linemen and most of those guys are NFL caliber folks. You win in the SEC with upperclassmen at those positions and A&M has a lot of questions right now as to who is going to fill in, particularly in the front seven. A.J. McCarron is an experienced quarterback who has won back to back national titles and beat LSU on the road so he's not going to be intimidated by Kyle Field.

Pros…Alabama lost multiple offensive linemen itself (in fact, the Tide lost more in terms of quality and quantity than A&M did) and they also don't bring back NT Jessie Williams, DE Damion Square, LB Nico Johnson, and CB Dee Millner on defense. They weren't a very good pass rushing team last season and overall they are not as big as they were last year.

As a result, A&M (which took some shots down the field last season) may be even better equipped to do so this season. In addition, their big linebackers aren't built to chase Johnny Manziel in space. New starting center Mike Matthews is lighter than Patrick Lewis and may be able to set an even faster pace than Bama wants.

Overall, the losses each team suffered offset each other on the surface. But the bottom line is that A&M has Manziel and the Tide don't and if Manziel doesn't turn it over, A&M is going to be very hard to beat.

Q: Can you give us some more detail on the status of Ennis and Obioha? Are they out for the spring? Is there doubt about them being available for the fall? (3DMan)

Mark: At this point, Ennis remains indefinitely suspended and Obioha's health is a question mark. Coach Sumlin told us after the national signing day press conference he'd probably meet with us again right before spring practice started, so I anticipate that will be sometime next week. Even if neither takes part in spring practice, odds are that Ennis' legal situation and Obioha's physical situation will be settled by this summer.

Q: Will this be the year that we sign a nationally ranked offensive line? (Richard23)

Mark: It would be fantastic if A&M could somehow repeat the Joeckel/Matthews/Ogbuehi/Harrison/Klinke haul of 2010, but this doesn't appear to be the year for it. All of those guys were Texas natives, and the offensive line haul this year is subpar. A&M already has one of their targets in Kealvin Davis and is in good shape with another, Koda Martin. Outside of that, the targets --guys like Braden Smith and Andy Bauer-- are out of state guys with tons of offers. Thankfully, A&M has Joseph Cheek for three more years, Ben Compton for two, Shep Klinke for two, Ogbuehi for two, Jeremiah Stuckey for three and both Germain Ifedi and Kimo Tipoti for four -- not to mention the incoming guys, and J.J. Gustafson at next midterm.

There's no question A&M needs to get some more depth (and experience) on the line -- especially at tackle -- but it has the good fortune of having some talent on campus it can groom.

Q: Even with a redshirt year to reset his game and health, is 4-star OL Klinke ever likely to start again? (Old Army 74)

Mark: The question is, who can he beat out? Harrison easily bested him in the competition for left guard last summer and he's not being mentioned in the fight for the right guard slot, which should be one of Tipoti, Compton or Ifedi. Klinke may have a higher rating coming out of high school than those guys, but he hasn't taken advantage of the opportunities he's been given. He tends to play too high, doesn't move his feet and then has a habit of grabbing opponents, drawing holding penalties. He'll have to put on a good performance to get back into the starting lineup anywhere.

Q: Does Zach Whitley take all of his visits before making his choice? (Big_Hen11565)

Mark: When I last talked to him, he said he wanted to make a decision sometime this summer. That's still probably the case. More and more kids are trying to make a decision before they even start their junior year because the recruiting situation can become so oppressive. If they can get it done and say, "that's it," a lot of them will. Whitley may be in that category.

Q: With the number of quality running backs this upcoming season, do you think we try to get more of them on the field at one time to put more pressure on the defense? (BVOSUX)

Mark: That sounds like a pretty good idea, and one that actually got used a fair amount down the stretch. With the difference in playing styles that each back brings to the table, it has the potential of creating matchup problems for the defense. Of course, having three home run threats in the backfield at the same time tends to do that. But the idea of having Malena and Tra Carson, or the two Williamses, in the backfield at the same time has to be one that holds great appeal.

Q: What makes this team/situation different from 2005 & 2011 when preseason expectations were lofty and not met? (MMurray88)

Mark: There are a lot of differences, really -- and most of them start at the top. After the '04 and '10 seasons, there was not only a sense of complacency, but arrogance that came over a number of players in the program. The coaching staff didn't do anything to snuff that out, and it carried over into offseason workouts and the season itself -- where it promptly got knocked out of them. Sumlin made it pretty clear once the team returned to campus that they hadn't accomplished anything yet except put a target on their backs, and they'd better be ready to work even harder this year -- and Larry Jackson is making sure that they are. There aren't a lot of big talkers on this team, but there are a lot of guys who are intensely motivated, as can be evidenced by the impressive turnout for 5 a.m. workouts.

Sumlin has done a remarkable job in imparting his mindset onto this football team. When we talked to him on signing day, you would have thought A&M was a 6-6 team with a coach with the fire to prove something -- in other words, last year. His hunger and desire to win every week is greater now than I can remember it ever being for Franchione or Sherman. Kids pick up on that vibe and take it on too. This team is not expecting people to roll over and cower when they show up -- they're going to be ready to beat on them.

Q: What is your gut feel on the probabilities of Johnny sticking around for 2014 and 2015? (3s2ghill)

Mark: I expect to talk to him draft night 2014 and get very good tickets for a game or two wherever he's playing.

Q: Who has a better chance to play CB their freshman year, Noel Ellis or Tavares Garner? (sml2007)

Mark: Honestly, I could see both playing. You know Deshazor Everett is going to lock down one starting position, whether it's at corner or safety (odds are it'll be corner); Howard Matthews will start at one of the safety slots and Toney Hurd's the nickel. Outside of that, the competition is wide open. Devante Harris will probably get the first shot to take back the starting job at the other corner, but both Tramain Jacobs and Floyd Raven struggled last year. If the two youngsters are as good as advertised, they could not only get on the field, but open up some new possibilities for a guy like Raven at safety (and yes, I do like his skill set there).

Q: Whose more likely to see time in their career Shep Klinke or Joseph Cheek? Both highly rated OL prospects, yet we don't here much of them. Misses or wait and see approach? (Fatrobby)

Mark: Cheek got a good bit of playing time last year with the second team and certain red zone situations, and he's only a redshirt sophomore. With Jake Matthews leaving after this year, Ced Ogbuehi may move again, over to left tackle -- that means Cheek would get two years to start on the right side. He's now carrying 300 pounds on his 6'7" frame, so he's not going to be pushed around like he was when he arrived on campus. He may not be a left tackle, but he can be a solid player on the right side.

Q: 1) can those Taylor brothers put on weight and get in the mix? 2) can you sleep at night when you look at OLB depth? (renz_man)

Mark: 1) Tyrone already has (he's about 240 or so) and both are in the mix. Even though Tyrell is thin as a rail, guys on the team were raving about his ability to rush the passer. Even though he played limited snaps, Tyrell had 1.5 TFL, 1 sack and 3 quarterback hurries (more than Steven Jenkins, for instance). Tyrone Taylor is one guy I'm really excited about seeing this spring. If he has his weight where it's supposed to be and he still has that amazing burst he had in high school, he could be the answer at rush end. As it is, the two brothers could end up rotating there, unless Brandon Alexander decides he's ready to get involved.

2) With the exception of last night, I've been sleeping rather well, thanks. Here's why OLB doesn't horrify me that much: Tommy Sanders was supposedly the best JUCO linebacker in the nation and he's already on campus. Steven Jenkins returns to start at the other OLB slot. If things don't turn out the way they should, Donnie Baggs can move back outside and over for Sanders. As for having freshmen as backups, Michael Richardson filled that role admirably last year even as he learned the position. If Richardson returns, that would certainly be a huge boost in terms of depth and talent.

Q: If the stars align, and the Ags go 1 and 2 in the NFL draft, how much will that help the program? Do you think it is better exposure than the Outland and Heisman awards? (Mackey25)

Mark: The ultimate selling point for a college program, and it has helped schools like USC and Texas land many a recruit, is simple: "We'll put you in the NFL." If Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore go 1-2 this year, A&M will be in rare air when it comes to boasting about the success of its players. Von went second in 2011; Ryan Tannehill eighth last year, and now at least two guys will be top-10 picks this season (you will also have players like Sean Porter, Ryan Swope, Christine Michael, Patrick Lewis, Jonathan Stewart and EZ Nwachukwu who could well be drafted later). That's a lot of firepower in the top of the draft, and ammunition that works on recruits. The Outland and the Heisman are nice, but being able to point out guys who hug Roger Goddell on draft night? That's a winner.

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