Month: July 2019

What Has Brent Venables Meant to Clemson?

As college football becomes bigger and bigger key elements are becoming more and more known.  One of the biggest factors in modern college football is how important the offensive and defensive coordinators are.  The reality is coordinators have always been a big thing but 20 years ago most people didn’t care or realize how important they were to a program.  It’s a little different today.

A look back in history can show just how important a coordinator was to a head coach’s success.  Gary Patterson probably had more to do with Dennis Franchione’s “success” than Dennis Franchione himself.  It’s no coincidence that Mack Brown’s only two B12 titles and national championship game appearances came with Will Muschamp and Gene Chizik as his defensive coordinators.  Speaking of Chizik, in six seasons as a head coach he had three winning seasons.  All three of those were when Gus Malzahn was running his offense.  Throw in Cam Newton with Gus Malzahn and Chizik wins a national championship.  Not sure how much Chizik himself had to do with winning it all.

The list of coordinators being the key to a successful football program is long.  I wanted to look at Brent Venables as he’s the defensive coordinator for Clemson.  Prior to taking the Clemson job, Venables was the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma.  Venables is widely regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football but I wanted to take a dive and see if there’s information that bears it out.

Venables was in Norman for the start of the Bob Stoops era in 1999.  Not to steer from Venables but most people don’t realize Mike Leach was Stoops first Offensive Coordinator at OU.  Stoops was the DC at Florida while Leach was the OC at Kentucky prior to Stoops getting the OU job and hiring Leach.  They had gone head to head for two seasons so they were familiar with each other.  Leach would serve as OC for one year before getting the head job at Tech.  Just a bit of trivia for you.

Back to Venables – Venables served as co-defensive coordinator with Bob’s brother Mark from 1999 to 2003.  Mark Stoops was listed as the Defensive Coordinator and Venables with the “co” title.  In speaking with Oklahoma fans over the years the arrangement was basically that Mark Stoops got the players fired up and Venables handled the Xs and Os of the game plan each week.  It worked well as Oklahoma was really successful during that era even.  They played in two national championship games winning one while also winning a Rose Bowl game as well.  This period is when Bob Stoops got the moniker, “Big Game Bob.”

Starting in 2004, Brent Venables took over the sole responsibility for the Oklahoma defense after brother Mike took the head job at Arizona.  Venables would hold this spot through 2011.  At the end of the 2011 season Venables decided to leave Oklahoma for Clemson.  According to Venables, he decided he needed to do something different.  Bob Stoops was bringing back his brother Mark to help with the Oklahoma defense.  Venables claims that wasn’t a factor and he just wanted to try something else.  Dabo Swinney gave Venables the hard sell he was what Clemson was missing.

Whatever that reason was, Venables took the job and helped ensure a different path for each program from a defensive standpoint.   I went back and looked at the total defensive rankings for each time in the period Venables was at Oklahoma and Clemson.  I took these rankings from www.sports-reference.com.  It lists the season stats for each team and ranks them.  I’m sure there’s other sites that may rank total defense a little differently but for this exercise I felt these rankings listed would give a good idea on how these defenses fared with and without Brent Venables.

Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson program halfway through the 2008 season.  2009 was his first full season.  If you go back and look at the season records for Clemson from 2004 to 2011 they’re pretty similar.  They generally won around 8 games a year during that period.  I feel comfortable comparing Clemson during that period with Oklahoma as the there’s not a dramatic difference between Tommy Bowden and Dabo Swinney during that span of time.

Here’s the data in table and graphed:

2004 2018 Defensive Ranks

2004 2018 Defensive Ranks Graphed

As you can see during the period that Venables was at Oklahoma the Sooner and Tiger defenses weren’t terribly far apart for the most part.  There were some hiccups for each team in a couple of seasons and the Clemson defense was generally ranked higher but they were both pretty solid defenses in the grand scheme.

In 2011 the Clemson defense took a serious tumble which l assume lead to Dabo Swinney looking for a new defensive coordinator.  His defensive coordinator for that 2011 season and the two seasons prior was Kevin Steele.  Steele would later serve as linebacker coach at Bama and then to LSU for one season as defensive coordinator.  Steele is currently serving his fourth season as Auburn defensive coordinator.  Kevin Steele is not a great defensive coordinator but he’s not terrible either.  He’s pretty average in my mind.  Clemson had a decent but not great defensive coordinator in the three years before Venables got there.  Venables certainly wasn’t having to rebuild a terrible defense.

In Venables first three seasons he made SERIOUS progress with Clemson’s defense taking it from the 81st ranking in 2011 to the 3rd ranking in 2014.  That’s the year Clemson DESTROYED Oklahoma 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.  The 2015 Clemson defense took a slight step back falling to the 24th overall ranking but Venables took on Oklahoma again in the first round of the CFP holding Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma’s offense to 17 points.

In 2016 the Clemson defense held a Top 10 ranking.  That’s the season Clemson won its first national title.  Making things more impressive for that season is Clemson completely shut out Ohio State in the first round of the CFP.  Clemson destroyed Ohio State 31-0 before beating Alabama for the title.

In 2017 and 2018 Venables would have his best seasons yet from a statistical standpoint ranking in the top 2 each season.  In 2018 Clemson would add it’s second national title beating Notre Dame and Alabama in the CFP.  They held Notre Dame to 3 points and held Alabama to 16 points.  That was Alabama’s lowest point total all season.  Alabama hadn’t been held under 20 points all season and had only been held under 30 points two other times.

Needless to say, Venables made his mark on the Clemson defense and the team as a whole in his 7 seasons at Clemson.  Clemson likely doesn’t see the same level of success without the hire of Brent Venables.  No doubt Dabo Swinney can recruit but Venables knows how to coach.

Meanwhile in Norman, brother Mark is back coordinating Bob Stoops’ defense and things look completely different.  In Mark’s first season the Sooner overall defense rank jumped from 32 in 2011 when Venables left to 51 in 2012.  They would have some decent defenses in 2013 and 2015 but outside of those seasons the Oklahoma defense wouldn’t be ranked in the Top 50.  In seven seasons since Venables left the Oklahoma defense has been ranked outside the Top 50 in five of those seasons.  In 2018 they fell to a jaw dropping rank of 101.  That’s 100 spots away from where Venables’ Clemson defense ranked in the same season.

Along with those rankings there’s some pretty bad bowl losses as OU got blown out by Texas A&M in 2012 and Clemson in 2014.  They’ve also failed to win a CFP semi-final game in three tries.  They have a couple nice wins over Alabama and Auburn in the Sugar Bowl but overall their bowl record has not been impressive since Venables left.  That’s 2-5 in bowl games since Venable’s departure.

Some people might argue the rankings are skewed because the B12 conference is an offense focused conference.  Defenses are going to give up yards and points because the B12 offenses are so advanced.  I think there’s certainly some merit to that argument.  There’s no doubt B12 offenses for the most part focus more on putting up yards and points and really hope to just win in a shootout.  Defense is an afterthought.

To try and balance this argument I looked at Oklahoma and Clemson’s out of conference record against Power 5 schools.  I wanted to see if there’s any major difference in the wins and losses for those games with and without Venables.

This isn’t a perfect exercise as prior to 2012 the Power 5 conferences didn’t exist.  The Big East was considered a decent football conference so I counted that conference as a “P5” similar conference.  In addition, teams from P5 conferences can vary in talent but I feel it’s a reasonable comparison to check out of conference success.

Here’s that data:

Out of Conference Record

Venables time at OU and after OU isn’t terribly different at 10-6 with him and 7-7 without.  It’s much closer than you think if you count losses against TCU, Boise St, and BYU during Venables time at OU.  Those were legit football teams at the time OU played them.  That would take it to 10-9.  During the time without Venables there’s a loss against UH that could take that record to 7-8.  Either way, you can argue Venables departure hasn’t meant much for OU’s out of conference record.

For Clemson though Venables arrival has a MAJOR impact on Clemson’s out of conference record against P5 opponents.  Prior to Venables arrival Clemson was 8-11 in the time Venables was defensive coordinator at OU.  It could be worse as Clemson lost to TCU and South Florida before Venables arrival.  Both solid football programs at the time Clemson lost.  That would be 8-13.

Since Venables arrival, Clemson has gone 18-5 in non-conference P5 games.  You can gripe about the ACC not being competitive but when you win 82% of the games outside your conference that’s damn impressive.  Two of those losses are to Alabama.  Needless to say, Clemson is competing at an elite level with Venables as their defensive coordinator.  Two national titles help prove that but 18-5 shows it wasn’t a couple flukes.

I’m not saying Oklahoma wins a national title with Venables still at coordinator.  That’s impossible to say as there are too many variables to make that comment.  I do think it’s safe to say Venables is a BIG reason Clemson has two national titles.  Dabo Swinney is an outstanding head coach.  However, without his hire of Brent Venables in 2011 I think it’s safe to assume Dabo wouldn’t be talked about as the heir to Nick Saban as the best in college football.

Next time you see a coordinator getting a big contract there’s a reason for it.

Will the Aggies Be More Talented in 2019?

As we look upon the 2019 season here are my thoughts on the position groups for the Aggie football team.  Overall, we’ll be more talented but we will be VERY young.  We may only start one senior during much of the season.  That will be Michael Clemons.  He’s not even a senior due to missing last season to an injury but he’s listed as a senior on the Aggie football website.  We’ll go with that for now.  Colton Prater will likely start the season on the offensive line but he’s going to be in a battle all season to hold his spot.  I don’t think any of the senior DBs will start very long if they start at all.  Having two senior starters out of 22 should tell you how young this team will be.  Don’t mistake youth for talent though.  There will be talent.

We lose key starters at Center, Running Back, and Linebacker.  Not only were these guys talented but they were VERY experienced in the SEC.  All of them were three-year starters in the SEC and that’s tough to replace.

From a comparison standpoint I don’t think we’ll see the same drop off in talent/leadership we saw from 2012 to 2013 though.  That was Johnny/Sumlin’s first and second year where we lost some key people on the defensive side of the ball and didn’t realize it until the season was underway.  I don’t see 2018 to 2019 as being close to the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

We’ll probably see some hiccups early on as the younger guys get adjusted to playing full time.  I think by the end of the season the 2019 team will be better overall than the 2018 season.  At least I hope.

I believe Jimbo sees this season as a building year for 2020 and beyond.  That doesn’t mean he won’t try and win as many games as possible but I think he’s going to be focused more on developing his guys than worrying exactly about wins and losses.  That doesn’t mean we go 6-6 but I think 10-2 would be a stretch based on the lack of experience.  Jimbo has his method and he’s going to stick to it.  I think we all know 8-4 is the expected record for 2019.  Compete in every game and wind up with an 8-4 record and we’ll know things are on track.  Let’s not worry about the record just yet though.

As I talk about these guys nothing is meant to be personal.  They’re all Fightin’ Texas Aggies and damn glad to have them on the team.  I’m just trying to look at them objectively in how they match-up with the rest of the SEC and past Aggies.  I’m not trying to pump people full of maroon kool-aid and just trying to offer one person’s objective analysis for the position groups.

This is really long at 12 Word Doc pages so it’ll take some time to get through.  I’ve broken it into sections as much as possible so there’s natural stopping points.  Hopefully that allows you easy start and stop points as I don’t think many will be able to read it all at once.  If so, hopefully you don’t get too far behind with your daily work requirements.

With that, let’s get going…

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’ll start with the offensive line.  I always feel this is the most crucial unit to any football team.  If your OLine can’t hold their own at the line of scrimmage it doesn’t really matter how good the rest of your offense is.  An offense can score points without an effective offensive line but it won’t be able to sustain drives.  Winning football games is about sustaining drives.  That starts with the offensive line.

We have a MAJOR departure along the offensive line in Erik McCoy.  McCoy was probably the best center we’ve had in the last 2 decades of Aggie football.  He might be the best center of all time considering his competition.  Patrick Lewis is up there but I think McCoy is the best one we’ve had.  You don’t just plug someone in his place.

Ryan McCollum is all set to take over at center.  By all accounts he’s done a great job this off season.  He started a handful of games last year at guard along with filling in for McCoy a couple of times.  He’s a two-year letterman with experience.  If the reports are true I’m not terribly concerned but there’s no way he’s matching McCoy’s production.  There will be a step down at center.  Those are just big shoes to fill.

Guard worries me the least as we’ve got decent talent and depth here.  Right now, I’d say Jared Hocker and Colton Prater are the penciled in starters.  They’re going to face serious heat from Tank Jenkins and maybe even Kenyon Green.  Jenkins is probably more talented than both but doesn’t have the experience.  Hocker can probably hold onto his spot but Prater is in question.  I hope Jenkins takes the other spot as he appears to be really talented.  Nothing against Prater.  All things being mostly equal I’d rather see talent get the nod over experience this season.  Either way there’s going to be some battles in summer practice and even during the season which is not a bad thing.  I think we’ll be okay at the guard spots.

At tackle I have my concerns.  We currently have Dan Moore Jr at left tackle and Carson Green at right tackle.  Green is serviceable but neither of these guys are great at pass blocking.  Moore especially struggled last season.  He’ll be a three-year starter but I just don’t think he has the raw talent.  There’s not much talk of this guy other than he’s our starting left tackle.  Seriously.  He’s just kind of our left tackle by default.  In the SEC you need a stud at left tackle.  The SEC is loaded with guys that love to rush the blind side of the quarterback.  Your left tackle must be able slow them down.  I don’t have the exact stat but I’d wager half of Mond’s sacks last year were guys Moore was assigned to.  He just didn’t develop much all season.  He even got owned in the Gator Bowl until we started running the ball and ran it away from his side.

Maybe these two guys develop but I just don’t see it happening to the level we’ll need.  I’d be okay with Kenyon Green taking over the left tackle spot if Moore struggles.  I think it hasn’t been talked about because Kenyon didn’t go through Spring Ball.  There’s no idea how he’ll adapt to the next level.

There’s been talk of him competing at guard in 2019.  If that’s the case I’m of the mindset to just groom him at left tackle from the get go.  If he’s as good as advertised he should be starting at left tackle going into next year.  Let’s see if he responds.

Maybe Moore changes my mind but I just don’t see it happening based on what I’ve seen from him so far.  He reminds me of all the tackles we had before the run of Joeckel, Matthews, and Ogbeuhi.  There’s a difference in superior talent and I don’t think he has it.  Name me one really good tackle in the last two decades beside those three guys.  Moore just seems to be in that group you can’t name.  That won’t work very well in the SEC.

As far as Jim Turner’s departure I’m not too concerned about that.  Much like Jeff Banks I think Turner’s reputation got built up by message boards because of how he looked and acted.  This would have been his fourth season as OLine coach and we have minimal talent and depth.  He deserves some blame for not recruiting and developing enough talent over the last 4 years.  Based on what we’ve seen Josh Henson is doing a pretty good job on the recruiting trail.  We now get to see what he can do developing talent.  Something tells me Turner’s departure was a mutual one and didn’t catch Jimbo by surprise.  Coaching doesn’t bother me on the offensive line coming into 2019.  Talent and depth does.

Running Back:

Like the offensive line we lose a MAJOR presence at running back coming into 2019.  Trayveon Williams was a complete stud in 2018.  He was solid in 2016 and 2017 but he took it to a different level in 2018.  He showed discipline waiting on plays to develop along with improving his pass blocking as the season wore on.  He really was a complete back by the time it was all said and done in 2018.  It would have been great to have him back.  He had nothing else to prove at the college level so I hope he continues on his development path at the next level.

Jashaun Corbin looks like a solid enough replacement.  No way he has the year Williams had in 2018 but I don’t think it will be a major step down.  Corbin isn’t as fluid as Williams searching for holes but he’s more explosive.  In his time in maroon and white he’s shown he can fill most of Williams’ shoes.  I’m okay with him at starter.

The biggest issue at running back is who backs up Corbin.  There’s lots of names but also unknowns.  The Vernon Jackson neck injury is out there.  Jacob Kibodi has flashed potential but also very inconsistent when it comes to protecting the ball.  Cordarrian Richardson is a big back and was decent at UCF but hasn’t seen a snap in the SEC.  Deneric Prince had two carries last year.  These guys have potential but none of them have produced anything other than Corbin.

My hope is Isiah Spiller comes in and repeats what Trayveon and Jashaun did which is prove they belonged on the field as true freshman.  Corbin is going to get the brunt of the carries so we don’t need much depth but we certainly need some.  If Spiller can repeat what Trayveon and Jashaun did their freshman years along with Richardson proving to be an occasional hammer I think we’ll be fine here.  Jimbo has done a nice job recruiting talent and depth at this position.  We just need to see some consistent production by someone with a different last name than Corbin.

Tight End:

We lose our most productive receiving threat across the board in Jace Sternberger.  Sternberger didn’t just lead tight ends in receiving.  He lead ALL RECEIVERS in yards and touchdowns.  Production wise he’s a lot to replace.

If Baylor Cupp is as good as advertised I think we’ll be fine.  What I’m about to say on Sternberger is not a knock.  He’s an exceptional athlete and clearly a great worker.  However, I think Sternberger was as much a product of scheme as it was raw talent.  He found himself wide open a lot of times due to great play design.  Sternberger certainly did a lot after the catch but I think his efforts can be replicated due to Jimbo knowing how to leverage an athletic receiving tight end.

Remember Sternberger’s experience prior to A&M was Kansas and some JUCO in Oklahoma that’s not even a big name.  He did just fine in one year in the SEC.

I believe Cupp can do the same by the end of the season.  I think Cupp is more talented than Sternberger but he’s going to have some growing pains in his first couple of games.  He’s a true freshman.  Cupp had a nice touchdown in the M&W game but it was not the coming out party Sternberger had last Spring.  Sternberger made his presence known in the M&W game.  Cupp didn’t.  By the second half of the season Cupp should be doing the same thing Sterberger was.  It might take a few games before Cupp really gets going but I think he’ll replace Sternberger just fine when it’s all said and done.

Trevor Wood is gone as the blocking tight end but Glenn Beal looked decent as a true freshman.  We don’t expect a lot of blocking from our tight ends so it’s not a big a deal but Wood was definitely used to help our tackles out last season.

Jalen Wydermyer has the talent to be somewhere between Cupp and Beal.  We’ll just see how he adapts to playing tight end in the SEC.  He may not get the attention Cupp does so it might work to his advantage.  He may find himself open a few times because no one’s focused on him.

This group has me the least concerned for replacing major production from last season.  It would have been great to see Sternberger come back but we should be fine.  If Cupp can live up to his talent potential I wouldn’t be shocked to see him exceed Sternberger’s receiving production in 2019.  Jimbo’s coaching and recruiting so far shows he knows what to do with tight ends so I’m not too concerned.

Wide Receiver:

For whatever reason I think I’m in the minority when it comes to this position group.  I’m not impressed with any of these guys at all.  I don’t think they pass the eyeball or statistic test.  Eyeball wise I certainly wouldn’t put any of these guys up with the names like Evans, Kirk, Swope, Reynolds or even Fuller and Ferguson if you want to go back quite a few years.  They make plays at times but they’re just not that consistent.  They certainly didn’t take over any games in 2018.

Before I talk about these guys individually look at this chart showing the cumulative stats for the 2019 Aggie receivers.  Hopefully it opens your eyes a little:

Number Player Games Catches Yards Avg TDs Long Per Game
81 Sternberger, Jace 13 48 832 17.33 10 53 64
1 Davis, Quartney 13 45 585 13 7 37 45
14 Buckley, Camron 13 34 474 13.94 1 69 36.46
2 Ausbon, Jhamon 9 31 375 12.1 0 26 41.67
13 Rogers, Kendrick 12 27 336 12.44 5 30 28
5 Williams, Trayveon 13 27 278 10.3 1 38 21.38
9 Jones, Hezekiah 13 15 134 8.93 0 18 10.31
7 Corbin, Jashaun 12 10 85 8.5 0 16 7.08
6 Paul, Roshauud 13 6 70 11.67 0 25 5.38
12 Gillaspia, Cullen 13 5 52 10.4 0 21 4
80 Wood, Trevor 13 2 17 8.5 0 9 1.31
22 Etwi, Kwame 8 1 16 16 0 16 2
10 Preston, Jalen 8 1 14 14 1 14 1.75

Believe it or not Quartney Davis was our most productive receiver last year from a statistical standpoint.  Even then that was only 585 yards and 7 touchdowns.  That’s a decent amount of touchdowns but that’s a terribly low amount of yards for your leading receiver that’s not a tight end.  There should be someone surpassing 800 yards and even pushing close to 1,000 yards.  Hopefully there’s two of those guys.  I think that chart shows just how productive Trayveon was.

I know Jhamon Ausbon missed 4 games but even if you extrapolate out his numbers he’d have under 550 yards receiving with no touchdowns.  That’s supposed to be your number one receiver.  I know he’s a Michael Irvin style possession guy and he’s great at getting 6-12 yards but that’s it.  He doesn’t seem like a guy that can go down the field and win one on one battles.  I like him as a roster guy as he provides needed talent and depth in a key role but he’s not making the All SEC receiving team at any level any time soon.

Cam Buckley had the longest reception for 69 yards last season.  No other receiver caught a pass longer than 37 yards.  Trayveon had a screen play for 38 yards that was longer than any receiver not named Sternberger or Buckley.  I’m sorry but that’s not going to cut it in the SEC.  Especially if you want to compete with the elite teams in the SEC.  You need a dominant one on one receiver that can stretch the field.  Ideally you have a dominant one on one receiver and a true deep threat to compliment that receiver.  Right now I don’t think A&M has either of those.

I know everyone is high on Kendrick Rogers but I don’t see him more than a red zone target.  I’ve said it before if he’s not running downfield and just facing the quarterback he’s an outstanding receiver.  He really struggles to run downfield routes.  If he’s having to take steps forward AND look for the ball he doesn’t have the same set of hands.  I want him in the red zone no doubt but the rest of the field is a major question for me right now.

Jalen Preston was supposed to be as talented as they come but he didn’t do anything in 2018.  He had one catch for 14 yards.  Even in the SEC if you’re going to be a great player you’re making plays your true freshman year.  Look at what Christian Kirk did his true freshman year.  Nobody on this roster comes close to that guy right now.  Not a single guy can be even remotely compared to Christian Kirk.

From a recruiting standpoint we’re bringing in some nice guys from the 2019 class but I think they’re more of the same.  They’ll need some time to develop.  Dylan Wright might be the exception as he’s got the height and speed to be a downfield threat.  We’ll just have to see how he adjusts to the SEC.

I just don’t see the overall talent for this to be anything more than an average unit.  It’ll be productive at times but I don’t see this unit dominating the SEC at all.  To their credit some of it’s by design as Jimbo wants to control the ball and time of possession.  I know some will blame Mond but if you watch these guys run routes it’s just an average receiving corps for the most part.  There’s nothing super impressive about anything these guys do other than Rogers catching balls in the end zone.  Davis will flash from time to time.  Ausbon will get you a first down when you need 5-6 yards.  That’s all good stuff but there needs to be more.

I really believe the best collection of receiving talent tied to this program is the three guys that are our verbal commits for 2020.  Demond Demas, Muhsin Muhammed, and Troy Omeire will be in the 2020 two deep the moment they’re on campus.  A couple if not all three will either be starters or logging significant minutes in 2020.  Those guys are outstanding but in no way should three true freshmen come in and take over starting spots.  I honestly think it could happen if this current group doesn’t take a massive step beyond what they did in 2018.

Caleb Chapman could be a wildcard here as he could be the deep threat we need if it’s not Dylan Wright.  He missed pretty much all last season with a leg injury.  Can’t remember if it was his knee or ankle.  He’s around 6’5” and appears to have the top end stride speed that deep threats must have.  Think Josh Reynolds.  I’m not saying Chapman will be Josh Reynolds but physically he has the same characteristics.  If Chapman can emerge as a guy that’s even close to what Reynolds did then he could change the entire outlook for this receiving corps.  He may not show it statistically but if he can keep safeties looking back it will help open the middle of the field for the other guys to make some plays.

I REALLY want this unit to step up and be much more productive.  Based on what my eyes and the stats tell me there’s a LONG ways to go.  I’m just not sure they can get there.  I certainly hope they prove me wrong.

Quarterback:

I’m not going to spend too much time on Kellen Mond.  It’s like talking politics.  Everyone has their opinion and you’re not likely changing anyone’s mind discussing it.  I’ve never seen an Aggie quarterback so polarizing.  It really feels like half of Aggie fans support him and the other half don’t like him.

It’s kind of obvious but Kellen Mond will be the reason this team gets to the 9 and even 10 win level in the regular season.  He’ll have to improve his game by a large margin from last season.  At Houston Coach’s Night Jimbo mentioned he felt like he was speaking Chinese to Kellen much of last season.  Jimbo believes Mond has digested their first year together and he’s ready to go to the next level.  Maybe its coach speak but if Kellen can advance his game beyond last year that’s going to cause the Aggies to take a MAJOR step forward in their building plan.  I’m talking wins and losses in that regard.

Kellen is obviously talented enough to do it.  He’s made some outstanding reads and plays but he’s also made some questionable reads and plays.  He’s all about being more consistent in understanding plays and executing them.  We won’t see Kellen in the Heisman talk and that’s okay.  What I want to see at worst is the Aggies competing in every game with Kellen leading the charge to victory no making mistakes.  If Kellen can do that consistently he’ll change a lot of doubters.  I could be wrong though.  People may just always dislike Kellen like the President they didn’t vote for.

As for the backup losing Starkel hurts but I think it’ll be okay.  If Mond stays healthy he’s Jimbo’s guy.  Nobody else stands a chance to take snaps.  No need to have Starkel hanging around if that’s the case.  As for who will be the backup I think it’s Calzada.  Blumrick and Foster seem to be okay but Calzada appears to be a step above them talent wise.  He had a decent M&W game so he just needs to keep getting reps.

I believe Jimbo’s ideal scenario is to have Calzada back up Mond for two seasons and then be ready to step in as the starter in 2021.  If Mond falters then throw Calzada in there and see what happens.  Calzada certainly looks like he has the physical talent to be a top-flight quarterback so let’s find out sooner than later.  Kirby Smart went to a national championship game with Jake Fromm as a true freshman.  Sometimes you just have to find out if a guy can play or not.  I’m fine with Calzada seeing the time behind Mond.  It could also potentially free up a couple of scholarships if Blumrick or Foster want to transfer knowing they’ll always be on the outside looking in at getting snaps.

Overall Offense:

I think this offense can be just as good as last season and maybe even better.  I don’t think it will look the same and that’s fine.  I don’t think there’s anyway we have the same run game as last season.  Trayveon and McCoy were just that good.

I think it will still be very much focused on winning time of possession and total number of offensive plays.  That means a lot of running plays which is fine.  There will still be plays designed to set up other plays through the air.  It won’t be the inconsistent offense we’ve seen under previous staffs.  Those would either strike quickly or go three and out.  That’s not Jimbo’s style and I’m good with that.

It’s possible we don’t miss a beat on the ground with Corbin and the offensive line.  If that happens along with Kellen Mond and the receiving corps taking a big step forward from last year this could be a really potent offense.  I hope the receiving corps proves me wrong and I hope Kellen proves that half of Aggie fans that question him wrong.  We all just want to score more points than the other team in every game.  I believe we can all agree on that.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

Outside of McCoy and Trayveon there’s no doubt the defensive line was the shining part of this team last year.  They likely were more valuable than those two guys.  They were tremendous all damn season.  The defensive line kept our linebackers clean and limited the exposure of a shaky secondary.  I think we were 3rd against the run in all of the NCAA last season in a run first conference.  The defensive line last year was just legit.

We lose a lot with Keke, Mack, and Durham.  Those guys played amazing ball all season.  Despite their departures I believe the defensive line will be better.  We have some experienced and talented guys coming back.  We also have some talented youth to add in the mix.

The defensive line will start with Justin Madubuike at defensive tackle.  This guy is a legit playmaker.  He’s disruptive like Daylon Mack and he can make plays.  His stats basically mirrored Mack’s last season so I think we’ll see them progress as he gets more playing time.  He’ll probably wind up leaving early and in many ways I hope he does.  That’ll mean he had an awesome junior year.  We’ve got depth to cover him in 2020.  Go ahead and set yourself up as a first rounder, Justin.

I think Bobby Brown will kind of play the role of Kingsley Keke last year moving inside to play a lot of defensive tackle depending on team and formation.  Bobby Brown is a giant man that can move.  He came in as a defensive end but has grown into a defensive tackle for the most part.  Brown may move out to defensive end against run heavy teams and certain formations but I think he’ll spend a lot of time inside with Madubuike wreaking havoc.

Jayden Peevy will rotate in quite a bit with Madubuike and Brown while Josh Rogers and Mohamed Diallo provide some really nice depth.  Peevy is no slouch but I think on pure talent Madubuike and Brown can be as good as any pair of defensive tackles in the country.  They should see a lot of snaps together.

At defensive end we’ll likely see Michael Clemons and Tyree Johnson starting.  Clemons is coming off missing all last season but appears to be healthy.  He’s loaded with talent so if he’s healthy he’s going to be outstanding.  Johnson is coming off a good freshman season.  I suppose there’s some question marks of what these guys look like starting over a full season but I’m not terribly worried.  They should be really damn good.

Backing them up will be a host of guys.  Jeremiah Martin brings the most experience and DeMarvin Leal brings the most talent.  Leal missed the spring with a knee injury but the reports on this guy is he’s a physical specimen.  Jimbo really feels he might have been the best recruit in the country last season.  If he’s healthy and lives up to his potential he’s going to be a big contributor in 2019.  We’ll just have to see.

Beyond those guys there’s also Max Wright who was a four start recruit. He’ll find his way onto the field for playing time but how much will be dictated by his development along with the health off the guys above him.  Having Max Wright as your 5th defensive end is a major luxury.  He’d likely be starting on most teams in the country.

This defensive line may not get the press of Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, or whoever else.  Make no mistake if they’re not on the same level they’re not far behind.  I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say this defensive line could be the best in the country.  It certainly could be in 2020.  There’s some serious talent here.  It just needs to develop and stay healthy.

Linebacker:

This position is my greatest fear for the 2019 Aggie football team.  I don’t think most people realize how fortunate last year’s team was in keeping Alaka and Dodson healthy all season.  They missed a little time here and there but they never missed a full game from what I remember.  They certainly benefited from the defensive line but those two guys were unsung heroes making plays right behind the defensive line all season.  They could be sorely missed as there’s just no depth and real experience at this position.

Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines are penciled in as their replacements.  Johnson has two years experience but never as a starter.  I also think he’s not quite as talented as Alaka or Dodson.  He’s not terrible but he’s got some big shoes to fill if we’re to not miss a beat losing those two guys.

Anthony Hines is VERY highly rated but has no real experience.  He’s battled the depth chart and injuries his entire time at A&M.  He has the potential but just hasn’t done much.  If he lives up to his talent and stays healthy he’ll be fine filling the role of Dodson or Alaka.  I just have to see both before I can get excited about what he offers.

Beyond those two guys it becomes a major crap shoot.  Braden White has the size but I’m not sure he has the ability.  He may wind up being the 12th Man and I don’t really want a walk on playing linebacker.  Sure it makes for a great story but Cullen Gillaspia got moved to fullback because he couldn’t cut it at linebacker.  There’s not really a precedent for the 12th Man playing linebacker at a high level.

Andre White showed some potential in the M&W game but he’s a true freshman.  True freshman don’t wind up doing very well at linebacker in the SEC unless they’ve killed a bear with their hands.  I don’t think he’s done that.  Aaron Hansford moved over from receiver after playing some linebacker in high school.  He certainly has the athleticism but does he have the instincts?  Instincts tend to matter more than talent at linebacker.  Ikenna Okeke has some potential but had his entire season cut short by an injury last season.  He’s another unknown.

We’ve got some other true freshman coming in at linebacker.  I think Chris Russell and KeShun Brown who have the desired size might add some depth.  I just don’t see them contributing a lot as true freshmen.  You know my bear theory and I don’t think these guys have killed bears with their hands either.

There are certainly several bodies to try and throw at the linebacker position.  We’ll see if it works out with raw numbers.  I’m afraid it won’t totally work out with talent.  We still need help with future development and recruiting.

I hope some guys step up and fill the shoes of Alaka and Dodson.  I’m just fearful they won’t and this will look like the 2018 secondary.  The real test is how many 5 to 15 yard runs the opposing offense rips off against us.  That’s the real test of the linebackers.  When running backs are getting an additional 5-10 yards beyond the defensive line that’s because the linebackers aren’t doing their job.  They’re either blocked or out of position.

I also don’t want to be in a position where the safeties are forced to stop the run game.  In the SEC you need linebackers that can help shut down the run.  If not, teams will expose you up the middle.  We’ll just have to see if this group can step up and match last season’s production.

Secondary:

The 2019 Aggie secondary will be a good attitude test for people.  You’ll likely either see a glass half full or a glass half empty.  The 2018 Aggie secondary was far and away the biggest Achilles heel of last year.  Time and time again it was either burned through the air or failed to make a play when it mattered most.  We would have likely won the Clemson and Auburn games had the secondary made one key play in each game.  They wouldn’t even have been amazing plays.  There were a couple of plays in both of those games where the secondary was just completely out of position to defend a pass or didn’t take down a receiver with the ball at contact.  They make one of those plays and we have another win last year.  They make two plays in each game and we have two more wins.

The good news is if you compare this year’s secondary to last year’s it can’t get any worse.  You can see the glass half full.  If you compare this year’s secondary to where it should be you’ll see it as half empty.  They’re going to make a few mistakes.

From my standpoint I don’t want to see anyone in the secondary from last season starting other than Leon O’Neal.  It’s not a knock on them personally but they’re just not that good.  I don’t see how it’s possible they make a serious leap from last year to this year.  Because of that, I don’t see any point in them logging serious minutes.  I’m fine with guys like Derrick Tucker, Larry Pryor, Jr, Keldrick Carper, Myles Jones, Debione Renfro, and Charles Oliver logging minutes but there’s more talented guys that need to get experience sooner than later.  One of those guys can regularly play the nickel but that’s about as far as I want it to go.

If Jimbo’s recruiting, player development, and coaching are on point then Elijah Blades and Erick Young should be our starting corners.  At least by mid-season for both.  Blades is a highly coveted JUCO transfer so I’m really hoping he’s starting the first game.  We need serious help at corner.  Blades locking down a spot to start the season would go a long way to improving the 2018 performance.

Young is a five-star recruit.  He’ll certainly have a learning curve but at worst he should have a Leon O’Neal year where he shows improvement every game and by the end of the season shows he’s ready to take over the position.  I think his development should be advanced as the sooner he gets reps the better off he’ll be long term.  There’s no red shirting this kid so let’s see what he’s got.

At safety Leon O’Neal clearly has one spot locked down and he looks like he’s the real deal.  He should only build on where he ended last season.  At the other spot I’m hoping Demani Richardson or Brian Williams can establish themselves in the other spot.  They’re both really talented.

I’m probably being too ambitious so I’m guessing the real secondary will be a combination of Blades and O’Neal with the best of the rest filling out the other corner and safety spot.  Even if that’s the case I can’t imagine how this secondary is any worse than last season.  With the talent and experience they bring to the table in 2019 those guys will be better than any group we started last season.  At least they better be.

This secondary will still make mistakes giving up plays they shouldn’t.  It should be better to the point where it’s a serviceable unit as opposed to a vulnerable unit like last season.  I’m still shocked anyone tried to establish the run on us last season.  What Elko and Jimbo did defensively last season with that weak of a secondary was remarkable.  It really was.  Mike Elko and his defensive staff were the true MVPs of the 2018 season.  We’re likely 6-6 without them.

Overall:

Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines will be the key to any defensive improvements in 2019.  If they can stay healthy and come close to the production of Alaka and Dodson this defense will see big improvement.  As crazy as it is to say I think the defensive line will be the biggest improvement over 2018 once they figure out their true roles and rotations.  That 2018 defensive line was the best we’ve seen in some time.  That’s a major statement to make but I believe the 2019 defensive line will be better when it’s all said and done.

The secondary should be vastly improved at two positions if not more.  Maybe the youngsters don’t need to be thrown to the wolves right away but O’Neal and Blades starting should be a major boost.  The 2020 secondary should take another major step so the 2019 secondary should be a preview of things to come.

We’re also still missing a serious pass rush specialist like Myles Garrett or Von Miller.  I think the defensive line will be disruptive enough by creating schemes where someone will consistently be in the backfield forcing the quarterback to throw sooner than later.  It won’t be one guy but a mix of guys applying pressure.  I think we’ll be fine there.

It’s all about filling those linebacker spots.  Cross your fingers.

Special Teams:

Punter:

Not much to say about Braden Mann.  He led the NCAA with a 51 yard per punt average last season.  We all saw what he did.  He’s the best punter at A&M since Shane Lechler and is probably better.

I can’t say enough about this kid.  The statistics bear it out but he’s just special to watch.  His ability to kick different punts at key times is uncanny.  The dude can sky it, angle it, and most importantly he has this booming liner.  I’ve never seen someone punt a ball like him where it’s a low trajectory screamer that’s covering 60 yards in the air.  It’s like watching Tiger Woods and John Daly drive golf balls in the late 90s.  Nobody else can do what he does.

Multiple times last year he completely flipped the field.  I’m talking we’re snapping the ball from our 20-yard line and the other team winds up snapping the ball from their 20.  It wasn’t complete luck either.  He could just put the ball in a spot where the punt returner couldn’t get it and watch it roll.  The returner would wind up chasing it down while the punt coverage team was able to get down and convene around the returner limiting the return.

I assume he can repeat 2018 and that’s all I ask.  I don’t need improvement.  He just needs to do the same thing he did in 2018 and nothing more.  He’s one of the rare punters that is truly able to keep points off the scoreboard.  Enjoy him while we can.  Guys like this don’t happen very often.

Kicker:

Seth Small is the incumbent at placekicker.  He’s pretty good but needs to develop some consistency.  He was 19 of 26 with a long of 52.  That’s a bit shy of 75% so he’s got to be better than that.  He was 3-3 in games against Bama and LSU so pressure doesn’t seem to bother him.  He was also 34-34 on extra points.  Extra points appear automatic.  Hopefully he improves his accuracy to at least 80% if not better.

Caden Davis is a true freshman coming in and apparently has a major leg.  He hit a 57 yarder in high school.  He also hit a 76-yard field goal practicing on July 4th.  If Seth Small struggles at least we have a guy with a big leg backing him up.

Let’s just hope Seth Small improves his consistency.

Returners:

I know a lot of people don’t like Roshauud Paul because he’s not Christian Kirk but I like the guy.  He’s REALLY good about catching punts.  Most importantly he seems to have that knack for knowing when to fair catch and knowing when there’s safe room to run.  Guys like Kirk returning kicks don’t happen along every season.  If you don’t have a Kirk then you better have someone that’s good at catching punts.

Nothing changes momentum like a fumbled punt recovered by the punt team.  Think back to the 2011 Texas game when Dustin Harris fumbled the punt in the second quarter.  Texas ran a trick play on the next play and scored a touchdown.  That was a major momentum swing letting Texas back in the game.  I don’t like fumbling punts.  There’s no Christian Kirk on this team that’s a threat to take it to the house.  Give me the guy that can catch the damn ball and doesn’t get cute trying to do too much.

As for kick returns I’m not sure who all we’ll have doing this.  Corbin did it last year as the backup tailback but I don’t see him doing it this year as the starting tailback.  I’m confident Jimbo and his staff will find two capable guys to do this.

Summary:

I’m certainly high on the talent for Texas A&M for 2019.  The experience and depth at a couple spots give me some concern on how that looks for wins and losses.  The ultimate judge of any season is actual wins and losses.  Moral victories are okay but in the end they’re still losses.  Nobody likes losing.

I’ll do my season prediction in the next blog but I think A&M is going to be better as a whole compared to the 2018 team.  Jimbo has done an outstanding job of bringing in depth and talent in just two recruiting classes.  There’s still a way to go but the 2019 Aggie football team will have more talent and ability across the board than the 2018 team.  I feel confident about that.

If Mond and the receivers take the next step and the linebackers do what was done last year this team can compete with anyone in the country.  There’s only one way to find out and that’s to snap the ball.  Labor Day Weekend can’t get here soon enough.

 

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The Ultimate Aggie Grill:

Aggie Grill small

At the 2019 Houston Coach’s Night the ultimate Aggie grill was on display.  Chaz Hammonds ’13 with Soul Fit Grill has created a maroon kamado grill.  As someone who has one of the big name kamado grills I can tell you this thing is on par quality wise.  It’s comparable in size to the XL of the big name brand for much less.  For $899 you get the grill, side boards, and stand.  If you’re in Houston he’ll even deliver for free.  If you’re in the market for a kamado grill give Chaz a look.  You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a link to his website:

http://www.soulfitgrill.com/grills/the-legend-kamado-by-soulfitgrill

He also has a smaller grill if you’re looking for a smaller one:

http://www.soulfitgrill.com/grills/r4enfujd21dlcgtzq64zbkkbw8lyqe