Before I get going on my “analysis” of A&M’s Spring Practice I want to be clear that I will never cheer against Texas A&M and I’m not rooting for Kevin Sumlin to fail. Not at all. I hope Sumlin proves me wrong in what I’m about to write but I’m trying to look at this objectively. We’ve had 5 years of Kevin Sumlin and nothing that I’ve seen says this is the year he finally flips the switch. I’m just being realistic here.
There’s nothing that can come out of Spring Practice/Games that should get anyone excited. Its practice and nothing more. Every program in the country does it. All it’s really good for is getting the younger guys some reps and for a coaching staff to maybe determine who might start where heading into the summer. It’s a practice where players are going up against each other and not real competition. It’s good to get those reps but nothing at all matters until real bullets start flying on Labor Day weekend in California. That game is the only thing that matters so until that happens there’s no need to get worked up over practice reports. Practice matters and means a ton but the ultimate evaluation comes in the form of wins and losses. Until live bullets start flying in September there’s no reason to get worked up over anything you see or read related to spring practice.
The absolute best thing that can come out of a spring practice is naming your starting quarterback if there’s any question. That’s what happened last year with Trevor Knight but Sumlin didn’t name a starting quarterback this year. That’s not a good thing because it means the trio of Hubenak, Starkel, and Mond didn’t separate themselves. In the Sumlin era Trevor Knight is the unquestionable #2 quarterback when judged solely by wins and losses behind Johnny Manziel. It’s not even close. No other quarterback even comes close to a season of work when it comes to wins and losses to be the #2 quarterback behind Johnny. I say that because I think we’re really going to miss Trevor. As wildly inconsistent as he was as a passer, he was a consistent winner. He had control of the team and ran Mazzone’s offense pretty damn well. If he didn’t transfer in from OU last season would have been a DISASTER and Sumlin wouldn’t be our coach.
So here we sit with a trio of quarterbacks that no one can figure out who’s going to start including the coaching staff. There’s no Trevor Knight here. Let’s not forget we’re headed into Year 6 of Sumlin’s tenure and have no clear quarterback. We could be in Kyle Allen’s senior season, Kyler Murray’s third season, or something else but we sit here wondering who is going to be taking snaps. Sumlin has botched his handling of quarterbacks since Johnny. He flat out has. This is all on him.
Under center against UCLA we will have a quarterback who’s never won a start and some that haven’t even taken a snap. Hubenak started in some big games against Louisville, Ole Miss, and LSU and didn’t win any of them. I think Jake Hubenak is a fine Aggie but when it comes to production measured by wins his body of work doesn’t look good. He couldn’t bring A&M back against Mississippi State either. If it’s not Hubenak then it’s going to be a guy who’s never taken a snap in a college game in redshirt freshman Nick Starkel or true freshman Kellen Mond. We’re going to have a guy under center who has NEVER won a game at the college level against another Power 5 conference team. None of these guys are Johnny Manziel so get that out of your head.
I think it’s either going to be Mond or Starkel but what bothers me about those two is they’re both completely different quarterbacks. Starkel is a classic pocket guy and Mond is a dual threat guy. I kind of wish Sumlin had named Starkel the starter coming out of spring practice as it would give the players and staff some idea of what type of offense they’ll be running. As it stands we’ll go into summer camp with no clue if we’re going to have a pocket or running quarterback. A redshirt freshman or a true freshman. I would have given the nod to Starkel and told him it was his job to loose. It doesn’t mean you hurt Mond’s development as you can have some plays for him but I think the sooner you establish your starting quarterback the better off your team is. Just like Trevor Knight last year.
I just don’t know how this team does better than last year from a record standpoint when Trevor Knight is clear head and shoulders above any QB on the roster. I think Mond could be really solid at some point down the road but Kevin Sumlin should only be looking at 2017 right now and what’s best to get more than 8 wins. He might survive an 8 win season depending on how it goes but there’s no way in hell he survives a 7 win season. No way at all. He’ll only survive an 8 win season if we beat LSU with Mond under center showing there’s some progress but good luck doing that in Baton Rouge this season.
In addition to not having a quarterback we also don’t have a pass rush. I mean none. We lost our two best defensive ends to the draft and the guys we have behind them showed virtually no promise last season. We had a massive drop off in defensive end play when Myles Garrett wasn’t on the field. So much so that South Carolina and Mississippi State ran their QBs at Garret’s replacement on their first offensive play of the game and ripped off 75 yard touchdown runs. We’re not going to have any pass rush to speak off and that’s going to stress our already weak cornerback situation I believe. I really think our defense is going to fall off big time next season with the loss of Garrett and Hall.
We finally get some depth and talent in our linebacking corps but there’s no Von Miller to bring pressure off the edge. Speaking of Von Miller let’s think back to the season after we lost Von and what happened. We went from 9-3 to 6-6 and Mike Sherman got fired. Our defense couldn’t hold a lead at all partially because we lost our ability to bring a pass rush. I just don’t know how a defense that’s not already loaded with talent gets better when you lose a guy that is the #1 or #2 pick in the draft. I just don’t know how that’s possible. I hope I’m wrong but the talent and depth of the defense isn’t there to be better than last year’s defense with the loss of a guy like Garrett as well as Hall. A lot like in 2013 when the defense lost all its upperclassmen leaders.
We lost our two best players from last year’s team in Trevor Knight and Myles Garrett and we’re supposed to be better when their replacements appear to be significant drop offs? Remember when people were saying Caleb Russell was going to be a fine replacement for Von Miller? How did that turn out? Kevin Sumlin is going to have to flat out pull a rabbit out of his hat to equal the 8 wins from last season. I don’t know how 8 wins is possible much less 9 or more. I really don’t. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t know how we’re better.
While it’s easy to point out the likely drop in production of our quarterback and defensive ends there’s another group that I think could suffer but hardly ever gets talked about. That group is our wide receiving corps. Most people seem to think we have the talent to re-load and go but I’m not totally sold on that. I don’t think we fully understand what the loss of Josh Reynolds will mean to our passing game. While he’s not exactly Mike Evans he’s not too far from him in terms of production. Christian Kirk is an outstanding receiver but outside of Kirk I don’t see one guy on this roster that will come close to matching Josh Reynold’s production. Jhamon Ausbon appears to have the talent and supposedly had an excellent spring but he’ll still be a true freshman and they tend to hit a wall. I don’t think he’ll be good enough to replace Reynolds for 12 games this season. Reynolds is kind of like Knight in that he’s CLEARLY the second best receiver as far as production in the Sumlin era. Kirk is good but Reynolds got the job done better. Now he’s gone and nobody is talking about his loss because there’s this weird assumption he’s easily replaced and I just don’t see it.
I know everyone seems to be glad RSJ moved on as he was wildly inconsistent and never lived up to his talent but he wasn’t terrible. He was a defensive mis-match and along the way he made some solid catches. He dropped some balls he should have caught and he’s replaceable but I’m not sure there’s anyone on the roster that’s a sure upgrade. There’s talk of Damion Ratley starting at receiver. If you think RSJ dropped passes, Ratley makes RSJ look like he’s got glue for hands. If Damion Ratley starts for us it’s not a good sign for our receiving corps at all. I can’t believe Ratley is even in the running to start at receiver but he is. I’m not talking about Kirk Merritt until his “jock itch” situation gets taken care of because I’m not sure he should be practicing with the team right now. It’s a little Baylor esque in my mind and I don’t like that at all.
There’s some talent and depth on the roster at the receiving position but it just seems odd everybody assumes the receiving corps won’t miss a beat with the loss of Reynolds for sure and even RSJ. Christian Kirk while extremely talented has not shown he can carry a team and some of that might be on Noel Mazzone. However, in the receiving game I think defenses will make sure to take away any threat from Christian Kirk and see if the other receivers can beat them. In my mind this unit is going to be worse than last year.
Strength and Conditioning:
Now to my favorite move ever by Kevin Sumlin. The firing of Larry Jackson aka Black Death. I have no allegiance to Larry Jackson but I giggle every time I hear the late season collapses being blamed at the hands of our strength and conditioning coach. Four flipping seasons in a row we failed to win games in November and Kevin Sumlin decides his strength and conditioning coach was to blame. Get out of here. I don’t mind a change to the staff to shake things up but to blame FOUR SEASONS of losing November games on the strength and conditioning coach is maddening.
Our guys weren’t gassed to the point they couldn’t get off the ground and they weren’t suffering from muscle atrophy where they were just weaker and got pushed around. That wasn’t the case at all. In fact I remember reading things last season of how Coach Jackson had changed things to be more “SEC Like”. Coaching lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU last season. It wasn’t ANYTHING related to strength and conditioning. Blaming those losses on lack of strength and conditioning is some Coach Fran bullshit right there.
The reality of in season football is strength and conditioning isn’t all that important beyond a maintain level. Any strength and conditioning coach can do that as it’s mainly just making sure guys are doing some running post practice and doing some lifting to maintain what they have. You’re not building strength and conditioning during the season. As long as Larry Jackson didn’t cut gassers and lifting during the season he ain’t to blame. And if Larry Jackson did cut gassers and lifting then Kevin Sumlin should have fired him on the spot and told his squad to line up for gassers and get their ass in the weight room and do some lifting. It really is that simple.
All of this talk of how different the players look this spring cracks me up. Our new strength and conditioning coach hasn’t been on the job for even 4 months. If he’s really having an effect where already elite level athletes look totally different then he needs to get an infomercial or a website because he’s found the secret to working out. He could make a shit load more money selling his system to the general public than wasting it on 100 players at Texas A&M. Seriously. If it’s true this guy has changed the physique and lungs of our athletes in four months then Sumlin should be fired right now for keeping Larry Jackson around as long as he did.
It’s all a big ruse by Sumlin to deflect more blame from himself while he pretends to be an elite level coach by being condescending to anyone that questions the reality of where this program is. At the end of the day it’s about football coaching and technique. If you have superior coaching and athletes your strength and conditioning program could consist solely of gassers, running stands, swinging sledgehammers, and flipping tires. I’m dead serious. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney didn’t get to the National Championship the last two years because they have superior strength and conditioning coaches. In fact I bet Nick Saban would still beat Sumlin if Saban hired Larry Jackson as his strength and conditioning coach. Just Sumlin re-arranging his staff and blaming someone else because he can’t re-arrange or blame himself thanks to his big contract. Classic clueless management.
Units That Will Be Better:
Since I’m bagging on units that I think will be worse I do think there’s some units that will be better. I think it starts with our offensive line. We lose our tackles but I think we’ll be fine with their replacements. Neither of those guys are getting drafted super high and doesn’t look like they’re going to play tackle at the next level so I think they’re replaceable. It’s not like we‘re losing someone named Joeckel, Matthews, Ogbuehi, or even Ifedi. There will be some shuffling of positions along the line it seems but I think we’ll settle on 5 guys that will be better than last year mainly because we had a lot of youth along the interior and those guys should be better this season.
I think we’ll be better at the running back position as well. We were pretty good last year but I think Keith Ford and Tray Williams will be better just having a full season under their belt. Hopefully we rely more on the run this year as boring as it might be. This is where I wish we had our starting quarterback already named so we would have some idea of what kind of offense we’d be running. With Starkel we’d have a more pro style/pocket offense and with Mond it would be more zone read. At least that’s what I’d assume. It would be nice to spend the entire off season knowing which way we should be working. If Mazzone plans on running the same offense with either QB we’re hosed. For our running backs I’d love for them to be able to spend the off season knowing if they’re going to be used in more direct hand offs or part of a zone read type offense. It’s not that big of a deal but I think it would help.
I also think our linebacking corps will be better. Dodson should be better and the addition of Hines and Marchiol add some needed talent and depth. They’re likely too young to have a major impact this season but they’ll add some talent and depth that we haven’t had in a while which will be an improvement. Assuming this unit stays healthy and improves with time it’ll be much better than last year’s unit. We will desperately need an improved linebacking corps since we won’t have any pass rush to speak of.
I think our secondary will be about the same as last year. Losing Justin Evans will hurt but as long as we have Armani and Donovan Wilson we still have major talent. Hopefully cornerback will be better as it can’t get much worse even though there’s talk Nick Harvey might be out for the season. Either way I don’t see a major drop off or improvement for our secondary as it’ll be much like last year I believe.
Bottom Line for 2017 and Sumlin:
With all of that being said I don’t see how Sumlin wins 8 games next year. The schedule is less favorable than last season. We lose our best offensive player in Trevor Knight and defensive player in Myles Garrett. We won 8 games last year losing the last 4 against major conference opponents. We got beat by Kansas State in a bowl game. Kansas State in a bowl game in Houston. Think about that. Kevin Sumlin in his fifth year got beat by 115 year old Bill Snyder in a bowl game filled with Aggies everywhere when he had almost a month to prepare. You think a new strength and conditioning coach is going to cure that and win at least 8 games again? I hope Sumlin proves me wrong but his data set is way too big for me to think otherwise. Plain and simple this team will be worse from a roster standpoint coupled with a tougher schedule than last year. I don’t know how 8 wins is even possible looking at it objectively but we shall see. Sumlin has 12 games to prove everyone wrong that he’s figured it out.
I’ll do a season preview in the next couple of months along with a list of potential new coaches after that. I don’t see 2017 being a very good season for Aggie football and I hope the higher ups are already doing their due diligence for if/when a change at the top spot is needed. Sadly I think this is the season where all of the shine for Kevin Sumlin comes off and the 2012 season seems like a distant memory.
I’ll be in the stands for every Aggie home game along with UCLA and Florida wearing my “Make Aggie Football Great Again” hat hoping for the moment it comes to fruition.