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August 18, 2013

AggieYell Mailbag

Each week, the writers and editors of AggieYell.com take reader questions and respond to them in the AggieYell Mailbag. Here's this week's sampling:

Q: Using last year as a baseline, how does the team cohesiveness feel? (84aggiect)

A: Last year's team was very cohesive, and had a lot of great senior leaders to help pull the team together. This season's leaders -- Toney Hurd Jr. and Ben Malena, in particular -- may not be as talkative as Patrick Lewis, Ryan Swope, Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter, but they've worked to keep a good thing going. There doesn't seem to be any fragmenting of the team over the Johnny Manziel situation, and they've responded well to a tough situation -- the death of Polo Manukainiu -- as well as could be expected. The team got a light tighter after the death of Joe Villavisencio win November 2011, so we'll see how it goes here.

Q: What is going on with Joas Aguilar, can you give us an update on him? (Carguy1901)

A: He suffered a back injury and has not been able to practice. He's almost certainly redshirting this year, but he's expected to be back for 2014.

Q: Is nick Watkins the CB an actual recruit target or have we moved on from him a long time ago. He seems to be ranked high from recruiting services and looks to be from same high school as Ish Wilson? (Rbowen)

A: He has an offer from A&M, but the Aggies stopped pursuing him some time ago. His junior year wasn't quite as impressive as his sophomore campaign and when A&M snagged Cedric Collins, Dylan Sumner-Gardner, Armani Watts and Nick Harvey in rapid succession, they pretty much moved on. Watkins isn't someone you need to feel sorry for, however: he's still being pursued by Alabama, UCLA, Notre Dame, Oregon and FSU, just to name a handful.

Q: In your observations, are the coaches trying to run plays even quicker than last season? (aggie198056)

A: I don't know if they're operating faster, but they are continuing to push the pace in practice. There's very little downtime between plays. If the pace is going to be faster than last year, they'll start increasing the tempo here shortly as we get closer to the season opener.

Q: 2013 class at this point. Sumlin was quoted as saying half play. Who are they?

A: At this point, it's all guesswork, but I can see it being a little more than half, with 17 making the cut.. The certain players are Noel Ellis, Isaiah Golden, Tommy Sanders, Justin Manning, Jeremiah Stuckey, Hardreck Walker, Cameron Clear, Ricky Seals-Jones, Laquvionte Gonzalez, Sebastian Larue and Tavares Garner; Kenny Hill, Alex Sezer, Darian Claibone, Daeshon Hall, Jonathan Wiggins and Jordan Mastrogiovanni are more than likely to play as well. I think both Kyrion Parker and Jeremy Tabuyo are on the bubble and could end up playing, and so could running back James White. Shaan Washington, Reggie Chevis, Brett Wade, Kameron Miles, Victor Davis, Aguilar, Ishmael Wilson, JaQuay Williams, Jay Arnold and Jordan Points are more likely redshirts.

Q: Do you believe that our special teams will be better this year than last (I'm not asking about FG or PAT kicking)? Why or Why not? (Hustlin' One)

A: I think it will be better, for a few reasons. The biggest one, in terms of returns and coverage, is greater overall team speed. This team has more speed and athleticism than last year's team, and more fresh players (read: freshmen) can be used on return teams. During yesterday's scrimmage, the punt and kick return teams got down the field in a hurry. When it comes to A&M returning kicks, Trey Williams is already known to be a weapon, and Devante Harris looked extremely good in his lone punt return. Laquvionte Gonzalez, given a chance, could also be a weapon in the return game. If Drew Kaser punts during the season like he did yesterday, A&M will have a real weapon who can change field position, but he was crushing the ball Saturday night.

Q: Last year's biggest surprise was JFF and the offensive success in the SEC. Tell me why this year's biggest surprise will be the defense. (Chance23)

A: It shouldn't be difficult for them to surprise, because everyone expects them to be average at best and overshadowed by the offense. But if you look at the Aggie defense, it has some legitimate talent. Kirby Ennis looks really good so far this year, and Alonzo Williams impressed both me and Tarp with his performance Saturday. Julien Obioha has looked good in practices at rush end, and the linebackers are faster and more athletic than in 2012. The secondary, when healthy, has the potential to be very good; Devante Harris has come a long way in a short span of time. You have more depth at defensive tackle and all three linebacker slots (which isn't saying much, because A&M had painfully little last year); the questions are how keenly felt the loss of experienced players is felt, whether A&M can muster a pass rush with four down linemen and if the young defensive backs are ready. If most of those things are accomplished, this will be a solid defense. It won't be Alabama's, but it won't have to be either.

Q: Question on the defense: it's been reported in the practice notes that the defense has been showing a lot of 3-3-5 or 4-2-5. Is it a product of last year's D being ranked 86th in pass defense vs 35th against the run? Do you see this being our primary set? (Fansview)

A: The reason you're seeing 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 a lot is because the defense is responding to the offensive formations it's seeing. When Johnny Manziel comes out with four wides and a running back, Mark Snyder can't run his base 4-3 defense. As a result, he'll switch it up. A&M will use multiple fronts, as they did last year, but the 4-3 is still the base defense they'll use.

Q: What are the chances we get both GWIII and Speedy? (aggies43080)

A: Speedy Noil has liked A&M a lot for a long while now, and he's had the Aggies and USC at the top of his list. LSU tends to hover at the back of his top four or five, but he's aware they don't throw the ball a ton. Gerald Willis III has had A&M, LSU and Florida as his top three for what seems like forever now, but he doesn't seem to be prepared to commit. Neither does Noil, for that matter. If one team can get both Edna Karr standouts, odds are it would be the Aggies. Will they? That one is really anyone's guess right now.

Q: I've been reading in different places that the front seven might actually be the biggest surprise if they can hold up like they have in this fall practice. What are your thoughts on this in comparison to how they're playing now from spring? Do you agree and why? (usmarine0812)

A: I do agree, and largely for the reason mentioned earlier -- nobody is expecting a darned thing from them. They're playing far, far better this fall than in the spring for a lot of reasons, primarily health. In the spring, Obioha, Justin Bass, Ennis, Jenkins and Sanders all missed time or the entire spring; you didn't have Mastrogiovanni, Walker, Golden, Hall, Manning, Claiborne and Washington to compete. Now, you've got added depth, you've got your starters back at all positions and you can really have some quality competition. The starters have pretty much been set from the first day and the young defensive tackles have been as advertised; add in impressive performances from guys like Hall and Claiborne and things don't appear to be nearly as dire.

Q: Timeline for important personnel decisions as the season quickly approaches. This weekend's scrimmage has been cited many times as critical to locking down positions. Are most 1s and 2s locked down prior to Rice? When are red shirt decisions made? Which positions or freshman do you see taking longer for a decision? (3s2ghill)

A: Those decisions will probably be made in the next couple of days. The first teams on both sides of the ball look pretty set; the only competition is for second team defensive end, backups at linebacker and corner and, on offense, quarterback and wide receiver. The guys they intend to redshirt will probably know it by the start of next week, if not before.

Q: Are you concerned with our kicker situation? Has bertolet improved so much that we will not have to worry about extra points being made? (Salty Tx AG)

A: He hasn't kicked, so I can't tell you. I do know that Jeff Banks believes he's got his kicker, and it's Bertolet; Kyle Serres and Josh Lambo are kicking for the backup job (judging from the number of kicks Lambo got yesterday, he's the guy). When will we know if Bertolet has improved? First time he lines up to kick a PAT against Rice, probably.

Q: Do you see all of the furor around the JFF issue being a distraction for the rest of the team so far in practice sessions or scrimmages? (AgFW73)

A: No, not really. They're acting like he's going to play, the coaches are acting like he's going to play and, as time goes on things remain quiet, the more likely it is that that's exactly what will happen. They're going about their business as best they can. Now, I can't tell you if they're watching ESPN when they're at home at night -- but I wouldn't be.

A: Who gets more sacks, our DE's or our LB/Secondary combined? (Smee17)

A: the linebackers and secondary. That was the intention last year, but you had an all-world DE in Damontre Moore than altered the equation. Donnie Baggs, Steven Jenkins, Tommy Sanders, Darian Claiborne and Nate Askew all can get after the quarterback, and they're going to get their chance. So will Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven. The only DE who has shown the ability to get to the pass this summer has been Moore's replacement, Julien Obioha.

Q: After reading the updates from the first two weeks of camp, is Sezer one of the best recruiting finds in our recent history? Smart kid with blazing speed, and a desire to be coached. Graded a 2 star and working his way up the depth charts. I think he is the biggest find in our 2013 recruiting class. Your thoughts? (reckless_TOCUser_3943)

A: Best finds? I don't know. Shaan Washington and Darian Claiborne are both very impressive, but you're probably right because NOBODY -- literally as well as figuratively -- went after Sezer, and A&M probably only did because he was a mid-term enrollee. But the numbers that impress with Sezer are 4.3 and 4.0 (40 yard dash and GPA). He has come in, learned a new position quickly and has competed at a high level. Even if he's just used on special teams during his freshman year, that's still a very nice return on A&M's investment.

Q: What did Sumlin noticeably hold back in open scrimmage? Cam Clear involvement? Defensive blitzes? (pblocker12)

A: The blitzing was the most obvious thing; coach Snyder was very vanilla yesterday, as he tends to be anytime there's an open practice or scrimmage. As far as Cam Clear's involvement, I'm not one of those who subscribes to him being the ultimate weapon who is being hidden like the military hid the F-117 for a decade. He was used in several different ways yesterday, including on the line in a two tight end set, and that's probably how he'll be used. He'll be a blocker in the backfield, a tight end on the line and, every once in a while, as a slot receiver. That's just how the tight end gets used in this offense.

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