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March 1, 2013

Analysis of the spring practice two-deep

During his press conference Friday afternoon, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said he was excited to get back on the field for the first day of spring practice Saturday morning. One thing is certain: he'll get an opportunity to see some new faces at work over the next month.

"We've got some guys who played a little bit last year or didn't play at all that we're going to have a chance to look at," he said.

Will he ever.

With injuries to Kirby Ennis (who is also suspended), Ivan Robinson and Julien Obioha, along with the departure of Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy, the Aggie front line will have an entirely different look this spring. Steven Jenkins is hurt, and Jonathan Stewart are gone, meaning none of the seven starters from last year's SEC season finale will be practicing this spring.

On offense, things are more somewhat more stable, but there are major changes there as well. Luke Joeckel is gone, replaced by Jake Matthews at left tackle; Matthews, in turn, is replaced by Cedric Ogbuehi on the right side. Mike Matthews will take over at center, but right guard is up for grabs.

Here is AggieYell.com's position-by-position breakdown of the spring two-deep (bold means returning starter):

Quarterback:

Johnny Manziel (6'1", 200, Soph.)
Matt Joeckel (6'4", 234, RS-Jr.)

Analysis: The Heisman Trophy winner returns, so that's the big point. Joeckel starts the spring ahead of Matt Davis, as he's more experienced. Davis should give him a stiff challenge this spring, helping solidify the backup spot no matter who holds the spot on the two-deep coming out of the spring.

Running back:

Ben Malena (5'8", 195, Sr.)
Brandon Williams (6', 192, RS-Soph.)
OR Tra Carson (6', 227, RS-Soph.)

Analysis: Even with Trey Williams out until the last week of the spring after sports hernia surgery, the Aggies are loaded at running back. Malena is a known commodity, so look for Carson and Williams to get a lot of snaps this spring to get acclimated to A&M's offense.

Wide Receiver:

Mike Evans (6'5", 225, RS-Soph.)
Edward Pope (6'4", 170, RS-Fr.)

Sabian Holmes (5'11, 175, Soph.)
Nehemiah Hicks (6'4", 250, Sr.)

Malcome Kennedy (6', 200, RS-Jr.)
Cameron Clear (6'6", 270, TR-JR.)

Derel Walker (6'2", 185, Sr.)
JaQuay Williams (6'3", 210, Fr.)

Analysis:

This group doesn't look as imposing as it will in the spring, but it's an opportunity for Pope and Walker to show what they can do with extended opportunities. Williams will also have a chance to show what made him such a highly-desired recruit before the rest of the 2013 class arrives. Could Clear and Hicks actually be used as slot receivers this year? It's an interesting concept, but probably not likely when it's all said and done.

Left Tackle:

Jake Matthews (6'5", 305, Sr.)
Jeremiah Stuckey (6'4", 285, TR-Soph.)

Analysis: The Aggies are the only team in the country who could replace a first team All-American with a first team All-American, and that's what they've done here. Matthews will get a lot of snaps this spring to get him re-acclimated to the left side, but A&M will also need to see what they have with Stuckey. If he's not ready to go, that could cause some potential troublesome juggling.

Left Guard:

Jarvis Harrison (6'3", 320, RS-Jr.)
Shep Klinke (6'7", 305, Sr.)

Harrison is entrenched here as the starter, but Klinke -- who should regain a year due to a medical redshirt -- needs to use the spring to make sure he's the solid backup here before new faces (or Kimo Tipoti) show up intent on taking it from him.

Center:

Mike Matthews (6'3", 280, Soph.)
Ben Compton (6'4", 308, Jr.)

Analysis:

Matthews has the starting job in his hands at this point, especially with Compton fighting for the starting right guard job. He will need all the snaps he can get his spring, as Sumlin said Friday that Patrick Lewis might be the biggest loss of all from 2012, as he took on a great deal of responsibility and allowed Manziel to "just play."

Right Guard:

Germain Ifedi (6'5", 338, RS-Fr.)
OR Compton (6'4", 308, Jr.)

Analysis:

The huge Ifedi, who redshirted last year while playing tackle, has moved back inside to compete for the job formerly held by Ogbuehi. Compton has a year of experience at the position, but Ifedi is a mauler. This competition could last well into the summer.

Right Tackle:

Cedric Ogbuehi (6'5", 300, RS-Jr.)
Joseph Cheek (6'7", 300, RS-Soph.)

Analysis:

Ogbuehi is the most athletic lineman on the team, so he should be capable of handling the right tackle job -- but he'll need a lot of snaps this spring to get back into the swing of things. Cheek is where he should be on the right side, where he can hold off strong but not fast ends.

Defensive End:

Gavin Stansbury (6'4", 270, RS-Jr.)
Brandon Alexander (6'6", 255, RS-Soph.)

Analysis:

Stansbury is a stand-in until Obioha returns this summer. But what he can do this spring is ensure that not only is he the primary backup to Obioha, but gets more snaps in the process. For Alexander, this is a critical opportunity to work himself back into the equation at either end spot. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder will be watching his progression this spring closely.

Nose Guard:

Polo Manukainiu (6'5", 270, RS-Fr.)
Tyler Godwin (6'3", 280, RS-Fr.)

Analysis:

For Manukainiu, this is a prolonged audition and an opportunity to work his way into the equation for the fall, when Ennis returns and the three big defensive tackles arrive. He should see a lot of action all spring as he adjusts to playing defensive line in college. For Godwin, a walk-on, this is a chance to show enough to earn a scholarship.

Defensive Tackle:

Alonzo Williams (6-4, 280, Soph.)
Jordan Points (6'3", 260, Fr.)

Analysis:

It wouldn't be too much of a shock to see Williams start at this spot when the season begins; he's earned the trust of the coaching staff with his work down the stretch last season and he's big enough to handle it. He'll get a lot of playing time in the spring to prove he's up to the challenge; if he is, that will solve a pressing problem. Points will probably need more time to grow into the position, but at least he'll get some experience that could prove to be valuable.

Rush End:

Tyrell Taylor (6'4", 230, Jr.)
Tyrone Taylor (6'3", 240, RS-Fr.)

Analysis:

The battle of the twins begins with Tyrell (who has added 15 lbs. from last year) in the lead. He's fast and a good pass rusher -- the question will be whether or not he can hold up against the run. The spring will be a good test for him. For Tyrone, this is an opportunity to see what he'll be able to accomplish against top competition.

WLB:

Brett Wade (6'1", 225, Fr.)
Cody Johnson (6'1", 220, Soph.)

Analysis:

Wade was expected to be the backup here before Jenkins was held out for the spring, so he'll get plenty of snaps to figure out A&M's defense and the speed of the college game. This should be a great learning tool for him and make him far better prepared for the season.

MLB:

Donnie Baggs (6'1", 230, Jr.)
Shaun Ward (6'2", 244, Jr.)
OR Reggie Chevis (6'1", 250, Fr.)

SLB:

Tommy Sanders (6'2", 215, TR-Jr.)
Nate Askew (6'4", 225, Sr.)

Analysis:

Sanders is the anticipated starter at this position, so this is his time to crash course in the system. Askew is he ultimate experiment, and he should get a fair number of snaps to see if he can make the change from wide receiver.

Strong Safety:

Howard Matthews (6'2", 200, Jr.)
Toney Hurd Jr. (5'9", 180, Sr.)

Analysis:

Matthews is the unquestioned starter here and has earned the trust of Snyder to lead the defensive backfield. Hurd is the backup in name only, as he's going to start at nickel.

Free Safety:

Floyd Raven (6'2", 190, Jr.)
Clay Honeycutt (6'2", 200, RS-Jr.)

Analysis:

Raven is moving to safety in order to, in Snyder's words, "play to Floyd's strengths." An aggressive tackler and blitzer, Snyder thinks he can be the answer here for 2013 if he makes the adjustment. Honeycutt will need a good spring to position himself as the backup in the fall.

Cornerback:

Devante Harris (5'10", 175, Soph.)
Tramain Jacobs (6'1", 190, Sr.)

Analysis:

This will be a fight of two contrasting styles. Harris covered well in 2012 but didn't tackle; Jacobs tackled well and didn't cover. The most complete performer this spring will go into the fall in the best position to hold off Tavares Garner or Noel Ellis.

Cornerback:

Deshazor Everett (6', 185, Jr.)
Alex Sezer (5'9", 180, Fr.)

Analysis:

Everett is the unquestioned starter. For Sezer, this is a chance to really learn the position as he switches over from running back.






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