Here's this week's edition of the AggieYell Mailbag:
Q: Is there any question that Mike Evans will be ready for Ole Miss game? (AgFW73)
A: Is there some doubt? Sure, a little. But you're dealing with a guy who gutted out a half a season last year with a bad hamstring and other injuries. If you want to keep him off the field, hide his helmet or break his legs. He'll play.
Q: While Kirby Ennis was counted on as being one of the anchors of the defense, and now apparantly injured, what can the defense do to compensate if he is out? (3Dman)
A: The answer's pretty simple -- play Isaiah Golden. The true freshman is a massive presence in the middle, at 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 310 pounds (at least). He's actually bigger than Ennis, who is a redshirt senior, and is just naturally strong. He may not hit the right gap every time and will make mistakes, but his production (11 tackles, 2 TFL) his pretty darned impressive for a guy who has played limited snaps so far. By comparison, Ennis started and played all 13 games last year and had 23 tackles and 2 TFL for the season. Backing up Golden will probably be Hardreck Walker, another one of the "Big Three" freshmen defensive tackles. There aren't any plans at this point to pull the redshirt off the third member of that group, Justin Manning.
Q: In your Wednesday Talking Points... why did your state that RSJ medical Red Shirt was a dissapointment? (LTGRENADER)
A: Simple: I would have loved to have seen him play more. It's the right move, no question about that, but Ricky Seals-Jones showed in very limited action that he's the real deal. His presence would have been a great boost to the receiving corps the rest of the year.
Q: I've read the reports that Manziel worked on staying in the pocket and letting plays develop rather than tucking the ball and running. It seemed like he did that multiple times yet still never pulled the trigger with a reciever. Was that a function of Arkansas' coverage (ability or high safety look) or Johnny wanting to avoid turnovers and take care of the ball? It just seems to me that many of his completions are due to his recievers getting open through improvisation rather than the timing/design of the routes. Do you see him making more completions in the future on play design and timing or through scramble and having all day to survey the field, based on what Mississippi and the rest of the SEC does on defense? (Wildabs)
A: One of the reasons the receivers get open is because of Manziel's unpredictability in the pocket; they work on scramble drills, finding holes in the defense where Manziel can find them, during every practice. That's tough for a defender who has only had a few practices to prepare to deal with. Johnny is never going to be your normal, stay in the pocket and wait kind of quarterback; it's not in his nature. He's a playmaker, and he's very comfortable on the move. He'll make his passes from the pocket, but if there's no immediate open guy, he'll move around, if for no other reason to cause problems for defensive backs.
As for him not pulling the trigger, that's a sign of him growing as a quarterback and doing what Kevin Sumlin wants him to do. As he put it Tuesday, Manziel's job isn't necessarily to make (or put the team into) great plays; it's to avoid horrible ones.
Q: Does our running game by itself open up the downfield passing game? Or, would more designed runs for Johnny open it up further? (brAg)
A: Both can serve the same purpose, because it causes defensive coordinators to bring players closer to the line of scrimmage in an attempt to shut it down. Honestly, I think area where Manziel personally causes the most problems for defenses looking to stop deep passes is the non-designed run, because he'll wait until everyone is 25 yards down the field and take off and pick up 15 yards at a time. Then your defenders either have to spy or have that little second of hesitation before going into coverage -- and that's all he needs.
Q: It seems as though Mike Matthews is getting flagged often. Is this a real problem, and if so what is the solution??? (turgus)
A: I don't know if I agree with the idea that it's a real problem. Matthews had a couple of penalties against SMU that were racked up as freshman mistakes, but he did well against Arkansas. In fact, it was Jake Matthews who picked up the holding penalty against the Hogs, not Mike. By and large, Little Matthews has been better than I expected in 2013 and he's not making the same mistakes repeatedly.
Q: Do you see Golden turning into more of a Ndamukong Suh who when he was at Nebraska was the face of their defense and completely obliterated opposing offensive lines? With Ennis being out do you think this will help our younger defensive lineman grow up enough and get better through experience to hold their own against LSU? (aggie2015)
A: I don't know if Golden will become a Suh, but I do think he'll be the most effective interior lineman A&M has had in a long time. He's just bullrushing people right now, and as he develops his technique, he'll be nasty. As for LSU -- all you can do is hope. That one is beginning to shape up like a shootout, and nobody saw that coming.
Q: Given the board discussion about putting our front 7 seven defensive players on the field, who are the most physically ready defenders in the 2014 class to see the field (include potential recruits in your analysis) (alag85)
A: Four A&M commits that stand out to me are Josh Walker, Nick Harvey, Dylan Sumner-Gardner and, especially, Hoza Scott. Scott is listed by Rivals at 205, but I think he's closer to 215 and is 6 feet 2. If he's 220 when next season starts, he'll be fine. Walker is already 220 and runs extremely well at that size, so he'll be a guy that could contribute. Harvey is rock solid at 5'11", 180 and Sumner-Gardner is pushing 200 lbs. at 6'2". Other guys that I think would be ready to go next season are Myles Garrett, Josh Frazier and Gerald Willis III.
Q: What does it look like for total early enrollees this December? Based on attrition where would you guess we end up with available scholarships? (84aggiect)
A: I think they're going to take a full class. You'll lose 11 seniors; you have Matt Davis' scholarship, Shaun Ward's, Michael Richardson's (converted to academic) and there will certainly be attrition we're not aware of. Dominique Patterson is gone, for instance, and Kenneth Marshall is not on the 105 man roster. So, when it's all said and done, this will be a 25-man class or close to it.
As for the mid-term enrollees, we know of two commits right now: QB Kyle Allen and Sumner-Gardner.
Q: Do you guys think that the LBs that we are playing now will get the system down and improve our defense by the LSU game? seems like the young guys are not filling gaps correctly (gap responsibility) or running themselves out of the play, are they just not ready for big time SEC ball this year? IF our LB play increases, I think this D has some potential. (fullback)
A: I think you're going to see the linebacker rotation start to tighten up. With Darian Claiborne, Nate Askew and Steven Jenkins, you've got three athletic guys who have enough size and speed to compete in the SEC. Shaan Washington, Tommy Sanders, Donnie Baggs and Jordan Mastrogiovanni will get spot duty (some more than others), but this group seems to be the three that is most effective together. With five games before LSU, hopefully they can develop into a cohesive group.
Q: How is the turnover margin looking in comparison to last year? And is this defense comparable to an Oklahoma State defense from years past that's prone to giving up points, yet opportunistic? (Chance23)
A: The turnover margin this season is currently +5, which is tied for second in the SEC. Last season through five games, they were even, largely due to the six turnover performance against Ole Miss. The comparison may not be a bad one at this point, but this A&M defense is younger and has more room for improvement. It seemed like Oklahoma State's defenses were a little more of a veteran group who just never really got it all put together -- even though they came close.
Q: For the first time last week a big AQ conference commissioner spoke out against player being paid and how the NCAA needs to work with the NBA and NFL to create a path for player looking to make money right out of high school, and that they will not be the minor leagues for professional sports(Jim Delaney big10) How do you see all of this playing out long term as far as pay for play, potential for kids to by pass college and go pro, and the bigger AQ schools and conferences separating from the smaller less financially stable conferences/teams. (bigstu)
A: I don't see kids going straight from high school to the NFL; the physical risk would be tremendous and teams would be literally be putting the lives of 18-year-olds on the line. There are a lot of kids, who end up being very good college football players, who aren't physically prepared for college when they arrive, much less the pros.
On to the bigger question: I think what you're seeing here is the collapse of the NCAA as a controlling entity. Mike Slive took several shots at the NCAA at SEC Media Days; Jim Swofford did the same at the ACC's and now Delany's comments show that conference commissioners, and not NCAA President Mark Emmert, are truly driving the bus. The conferences have the money, the TV contracts and the sway. It's only a matter of time before the power conferences and the NCAA have a fundamental difference of opinion on matters, and the conferences pull out and let it collapse. Maybe if Emmert were a capable leader, this wouldn't happen -- but he's not.
Q: Are we taking enough risks on defense? Or do you think we need to send more guys, more often? (Ag4SEC)
A: A&M has blitzed -- they've just been very unsuccessful when they've done so. That's caused them to lay back into Cover 3, like they did a lot last year; they just don't have Damontre Moore. The risk-taking isn't the real issue, it's the effectiveness of the risks they take. The blitzes need to be more effective, or they're pointless.
Q: Is the talent to "fix" the defense for next season on the squad right now? I'm thinking particularly about the lack of an effective (much less elite) pass rush--is anyone now on the squad likely to be a true difference-maker next season or do we need a couple of top pass-rush JUCO's to help immediately? (Old Army 74)
A: I think the interior will be better next year, with Golden, Walker and Manning all having a year on campus to go with Alonzo Williams. Julien Obioha will start in one place, and it's very possible that Tyrone Taylor and/or Daeshon Hall will be big enough to handle every down work next fall. That would be a big boost to the pass rush, because those guys have the speed and length to cause problems. It's just a matter of strength. I haven't seen any pursuit of JUCOs (the Rivals database shows no offers), but that doesn't mean they can't shift gears quickly. But, as mentioned earlier, guys like Garrett and Willis could be ready physically next fall.
Honestly, linebacker may be an issue again next fall. You know Claiborne will start somewhere, but will Tommy Sanders step in to replace Askew again? Will Shaan Washington or Brett Wade (or even Hoza Scott) replace Jenkins? A lot of questions again.