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November 1, 2013

AggieYell Mailbag

Here's this week's edition of the AggieYell Mailbag:

Q: The defense played its best game of the year against Vanderbilt, it was Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt did beat Georgia, the week before, the question: Has the D really turned the corner this year? (bqdrummer1)

A: In their sixth game of 2012, an undermanned Texas A&M defense gave up 57 points (and won) against Louisiana Tech. They would lose the next week to LSU, but the defense played much after the slugfest in Shreveport. The Aggies hit their nadir to date in the sixth game of this season against Auburn, but bounced back and performed pretty well against Vanderbilt. The Aggie defense played well against Auburn last year (when it was "just" Auburn), then shut down Mississippi State to really send them into a tailspin. By the time Alabama arrived, a defense that had been questioned earlier was starting to hit its stride.

A lot of similarities to 2013? Maybe, but probably not. First, you're still lacking a lot of reliable veterans and a top-flight pass rusher. On the plus side, younger (and talented) players are starting to figure things out, the coaching staff is getting more faith in them and your original defensive backfield is finally together. To get to the real guts of your question, the Aggie defense is likely going to be more aggressive and use more players from here on out. Will they be as good as least year's was down the stretch? I doubt it, but any noticeable improvement would likely means A&M wins out.

Q: When will Mike Evans make his way up the Heisman ladder?? Shouldn't he have entered the conversation as top 4 after the Alabama game?? (Hwood12)

A: I think he's making it now. There's just one problem: the Heisman has become a quarterback-dominated award, and there are three guys -- including his teammate -- that grab more attention and highlights than he does. There's not much doubt that he's the best non-quarterback in the nation right now among offensive players, but that's not going to be enough. Only two wideouts -- Desmond Howard and Tim Brown -- have ever won the Heisman, which shows you how tough it is. To win, Evans would need to put up monster totals -- which, in turn, would boost his quarterback, who is also very much in the equation.

Q: The LB situation seems to be getting better with Cleiburn taking over at MIKE and Baggs coming in on the outside at his old position along with Jenkins.

So, whats your thoughts of the LB situation for next year now that we have Claiborne (MLB) and (probably ) Baggs (OLB) coming back next year? Will our LBs be ready to go next fall? Does Tommy Sanders fill the missing Jenkins gap? Does this unit pick up where it ends this year and keep improving? (Fullback)

A: Well, you hope that having two of the three starters back (assuming Baggs remains in the starting lineup) would be a boost and limit the amount of mixing and matching done in the spring and summer. I would think Sanders would get the first shot at replacing Steven Jenkins, but Shaan Washington and Brett Wade also deserve a look. Washington has the size and physical gifts to be an outstanding linebacker, it's just a matter of how long it'll take for him to settle in. It's also possible Claiborne moves outside and Jordan Mastrogiovanni, AJ Hilliard and Reggie Chevis duke it out in the middle. Either way, you should have more depth and (in spite of losing Jenkins) more experience in 2014.

Q: Mark, there was some talk a while back about the stud WR Allen Lazard being interested in us. I know we really are after Speedy Noil, but do you think we crank back up our interest in Lazard and push for a visit? (WOSAG)

A: Getting pretty late in the game for that. I think that ship has probably sailed.

Q: How many more OLs do we take? (So Cal Ag)

A: Good question. You've now got five committed, with J.J. Gustafson, Zach Ledwik, Koda Martin, Tank Davis and Jermaine Eluemunor. Having said that, Eluemunor is the only one remotely close to being ready to play (I could honestly see Martin playing tight end next year), so that's an issue. Jeremiah Stuckey's unimpressive showing, questions about the health of Joas Aguilar, the loss of Jake Matthews and possibly Shep Klinke means you need some bodies. They seem intent on taking at least two more, including JUCO Fahn Cooper. Seven would be a pretty solid total, but depending on how the rest of the class shakes out, they could take an eighth.

Q: In your opinion, rank the top 10 players in the 2015 recruiting class and who you guys think might have the lead for each. (Akinr)

A: This one is a little deep for me at this point, since I'm still concentrating on football and the '14 class. So I called in a wringer -- regional analyst Jason Howell -- and got his take on the guys who top the list in Texas.

"You can't go wrong with Malik Jefferson, Maea Teuhema, and Daylan Mack in your top three. Kendall Sheffield is right there too with (Soso) Jamabo and DaMarkus Lodge right up there," he said. "Then you have guys like Jarrett Stidham and Kyler Murray at quarterback. Depending on how much you want to knock guys like Chad President and Chris Warren for knee injuries they could be in the mix. Carlos Strickland (Dallas Skyline WR) is a guy who is quickly rising and might be worthy of a mention. Rodney Anderson and Jay Bradford are also up there pretty high."

That's a pretty nice list if you're A&M, because you have three committed and either lead or are very high for four others. That would be a quality list of Yessirs.

Q: The next three weeks are playing out perfectly for the lsu match up. Two weeks to play teams that we should be able to handle and then an off week. As a coach, how much time and focus do you put on the lsu game while at the same time balancing the need to focus on this week's opponent? (Richard23)

A: One thing is for sure: Kevin Sumlin will NEVER, EVER tell you if he's preparing for one game ahead of another. But another thing that's sure: even if they haven't started implementing the game plan for LSU, the coaching staff has at least started watching tape. The magnitude of that game for both programs pretty much requires it.

Q: Defensive recruiting is going spectacularly well and all, but fruition is a couple of years off. What gives us cause for optimism next year? I assume at least one pass rusher can make an impact, but I said that about receiver this year and that didn't really work (RSJ being a caveat). (Ag98)

A: I can think of a few things, including "sophomore" by a bunch of names. Think about it like this: Isaiah Golden, Daeshon Hall, Darian Claiborne, Hardreck Walker and the like had four months to prepare to go up against guys who have been in college strength programs for four years. These guys were still wet behind their ears 18-year-olds going out there and going up against 22-year-olds that are amongst the best in the nation. They were going up several classes in talent, speed and strength while trying to figure out the basics of what to do. That's not easy.

Ok, flash forward to 2014 and, of the starters A&M is putting on the field right now, you lose one. That's it. Use lose three backups (Hurd, Jacobs and Askew). They'll be bigger, stronger, faster and acting on instinct, not thinking about what to do. Add in guys like Hoza Scott (maybe), Chevis, Wade, Justin Manning, Kameron Miles, Tavares Garner and Nick Harvey and you're deeper. You also have a guy who can start at rush end immediately in Myles Garrett.

All told, I think they can improve a good bit in 2014.

Q: Are we still recruiting a kicker for the 2014 class? Where do things stand with Cole Hedlund? I thought he was in town recently for a visit (I think) Auburn game. (Adam Dubya)

A: A&M has their kicker for the next few years. His name is Josh Lambo. Getting another kicker would be nice, but there are other matters to attend to in 2014.

Q: Given the recent additions to the '14 class, what is our biggest position of need? Who of the uncommitted guys would be #1 on your wish list? (Shike Merman)

A: My three would be defensive tackle, another ready-to-go offensive lineman and another defensive end. As a result, I'd want Josh Frazier, Fahn Cooper and Gerald Willis III (and I'll take Speedy Noil with him, thanks).

Q: Any committed prospects A&M going hard after outside of Whitley? Do you think we can flip any of them? (GigSoHard)

A: No and no. In terms of recruiting classes, this bunch (either committing to A&M or elsewhere) seems to be about as steady as any I've seen in the few years I've been doing this. A coaching change may alter that -- and yes, I am thinking of the school you think I'm thinking about (and I NOT thinking about A&M).

Q: Our highest ranked incoming DT, in fact our top defensive recruit of 2013, Justin Manning, has not played a game rep. Golden, our second highest ranked DT, now starting, was initially only in the rotation. We initially started Walker, the lowest ranked of our incoming DT's, who was not even ranked nationally and had very few tackles in his senior year. Clearly, in one of our greatest areas of need, the DL, to have no contribution from our number one defensive recruit has not helped the cause. And, in fact, to have this inversion of game reps related to their ranking seems strange. Can you provide any background/explanation on this outcome? (Cal-aggie)

A: Sure. For starters, Manning gained a lot of weight in a short period of time to bulk up, but it wasn't all good weight and cut into his quickness (and quickness was his strength). Golden was nicked up some this summer and Walker outperformed them both in fall camp. But, during the first press conference, Mark Snyder said, "We'll learn a lot when the lights come on." What we learned was that Golden was ready to play and Walker wasn't ready to start yet.

Rankings are subjective and they're far from perfect. Remember, Ryan Perriloux was a 5-star and Johnny Manziel was a 3-star. They're a gauge of potential, not what they'll do when they get to campus. Golden may not be the most gifted of the three (I think he is, honestly), but he's naturally STRONG and was more ready to play. Is his technique that good? No, that's not his strong suit right now. His deal is getting his hands on someone and pushing them around. The other two can't do that yet. It's not a reason to give up on them.

Q: Where are all the long runs at? This is a great offense but looking at other similar offenses (Spread Attack) we lack in long runs! I'm talking about 40-60 yard runs. I see many of these long runs when I watch Baylor and Oregon. We generally have runs of 10-15 yards at a time. Maybe it is just me thinking this! Any idea why? (fry)

A: A few reasons, including this one -- A&M's best runs, and the ones with the potential for big plays, have all turned into touchdowns because they're already in the red zone or close to it. Also, there's an element of luck involved. It just hasn't happened for A&M.

Q: Now that the NFL has set a rule of teams not wearing retro uniforms... Because they have their game helmets professionally fitted before the season, and by going retro that means a new helmet. I.E. player safety being the big thing here. Do you see the NCAA putting the same rule in? They seem to get in line with the NFL on player safety issues. This would put an end to the "new helmet every week" thing that teams like Oregon and Maryland seem do a bunch. Heck we even do it 2 or 3 times a year. (Bigstu)

A: This is tough for me to say, because I like the multi-helmet deal A&M has going...but yes. If there are concrete signs that wearing a single helmet and not changing cuts down on traumatic brain injuries -- and the NFL seems to think so -- then the NCAA should follow suit. Otherwise, you're liable to get drilled far worse than the NFL did in a lawsuit.

Q: Seems that Snyder has been very stubborn in regards to playing freshmen even though the may be the best option. It seems he finally did in Game 8. Next year we open on the road in a conference game. Will he show the same stubborness next year? (waymore blues)

A: Considering Julien Obioha and Devante Harris started last year from day one, I'm not sure if I agree totally with that. I know what you're getting at, though, and if a player gets the system, they're going to play. Myles Garrett is one guy that is going to be nearly impossible to keep off the field if he knows what he's doing.

Q: If Joeckel doesn't return next year is the staff content with Allen, Hill, and whatever walkons we got at QB? Obviously not from a talent perspective, but depth.

A: I think it's a moot point because Joeckel is likely to return, and the coaches are certainly approaching quarterback recruiting with the assumption he will be around for 2014. If he's not, I don't know if they have a choice to be comfortable with it, pray for health and push hard for both Kyler Murray and Jarrett Stidham in 2015.

Q: Looking at our recruitment list we only have one receiver committed in this class and are going after one other (Nacho) that I am aware of. Although we had six receivers commit last year do you feel like we should be taking more than just a couple this year? It just seems in our offense where we run four and five receiver sets like we do we would want to be taking at least three this year and preferably four after our six last year. (Aggie2015)

A: You're forgetting Noil, but he and Nacho are it at this point. I understand the concern about wideouts, but you have to consider two things: one, this is a really down year for wideouts and two, A&M already can go 10 deep next year. With RSJ, Malcome Kennedy, Sabian Holmes, JaQuay Williams, Jeremy Tabuyo, Sebastian Larue, Kyrion Parker, Quiv Gonzalez, LeKendrick Williams and Jamal Jeffery, the Aggies have a lot of bodies they can throw at the problem (there's also that small hope Mike Evans returns). If there's not a guy who makes you demonstrably better, A&M doesn't have to take them this year.

Q: Does Evans have a shot at breaking the single season receiving yardage record this year? (12thMan)

A: He'll probably break A&M's record tomorrow. Trevor Insley had 2,060 receiving yards in 1999, and Evans would have to average more than 200 yards a game (including the bowl game) to catch him. So the odds aren't in his favor.

Q: Against Auburn, the defense had trouble getting lined up before the snap, but against Vanderbilt, they seemed to have fixed that and were more prepared for the snap. What did Snyder do different to accomplish that? (3Dman)

A: Honestly, I'm not sure he did anything. It looked like guys just knew their assignments and where to be better. There wasn't any motioning from one guy to another to get him in the right spot last week.

Q: Any chance we see more versatility with the playcalling this week and/or next? Maybe throwing some screens to RBs, getting TEs involved in the passing game, end arounds with Quiv, etc.? More options on offense would make gameplanning/preparation for LSU and Mizzou a little more complex and possibly provide the edge we need during these games. (pebbycree)

A: Unlikely. Those are things they'll work on in practice and not give them any film to look at in advance. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Q: Was the shakeup on the offensive line partly responsible for the lack of running plays called against Vanderbilt? (Reecol)

A: No, that's just how they are. Throw first, get a lead, then run to keep it if the lead's big enough.

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