Thoughts on the 2022 Aggies

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged but I recently found some time.  I’m being cautiously optimistic on the 2022 Aggies.  2021 left a sour taste in my mouth.  If you look back there were a ton of factors.  More injuries than we realize and some coaching blunders along the way.

Calzada seemed to be the biggest factor but he’s just the most obvious.  Quarterback play is generally the biggest input into a team’s success or failure so that’s what people saw.  There were other issues leading to that 8-4 record though.

My biggest frustration in 2021 was Jimbo Fisher.  His inability to recognize what Arkansas and Ole Miss was doing with a 3 man front was really frustrating.  It also appeared some opposing defensive coordinators figured out how to make the Aggies one dimensional and Jimbo had no answer.

The entire offensive scheme simply got confused against certain defenses.  Jimbo has been pretty good at scripting plays and adjusting his offense in game but for much of 2022 he seemed like a willy nilly play caller.  He was just calling plays off a playsheet with no rhyme or reason.  Like a kid playing Madden.  Much of that was likely because he had no faith in Calzada but he didn’t do much to overcome Calzada’s issues.

Jimbo’s biggest issue in 2021 was sticking to what appeared to be a pre-determined running back rotation.  His greatest sin was not riding Devon Achane in the 4th quarter against Ole Miss.  He rides Achane late in that game and we likely end up 10-2 headed to the Sugar Bowl against Baylor.  I think a win over Ole Miss would have given us the momentum to beat LSU.  I could be wrong though.

Who knows what would have happened with our COVID mess in December so maybe it’s best we had to bow out of the Gator Bowl and not the Sugar Bowl.  The Lord works in mysterious ways…

Enough of 2021.  Let’s talk about the 2022 Fightin’ Texas Aggie football squad.

My biggest concern heading into 2022 is leadership.  More than experience. We’re a REALLY young team and lose our biggest leaders in Demarvin Leal and Kenyon Green.  These guys weren’t the most vocal of leaders but make no mistake they were the two guys everyone else looked up to.

The talent is there.  It’s still young but I think we’ll be a more talented team in 2022 than in 2021.  We just need some leaders to step up and guide this team. If we get leadership the experience will come a lot quicker.

Let’s get to the units on each side of the ball.

Offense:

Quarterback:

Seems like the new additions at quarterback leads to a lot of uncertainty with the new QB but I don’t think that’s the case.  Leading into the 2021 season there was talk of a quarterback competition between King and Calzada.  The reality is there never was one.  King was the guy all along.

I think that remains the same.  This is Haynes King’s team and Max Johnson and Connor Weigman don’t have the experience to overcome him in the off season.

I still have no idea what to make of King because he hasn’t played any meaningful minutes.  We all assume he can play at a solid level in the SEC.  We haven’t seen it though.

I’m not too worried about his injury because it was a bone break.  From what we can tell he’s been healthy his whole career except for that.  The guys you tend to worry about are the people that seem to have repeated tissue injuries.  Those seem to linger or manifest other injuries elsewhere.  Minor breaks don’t tend to be nagging.

Health wise he should be fine.  I just don’t know what to expect of him on the field.  I need to see SEC reps.  He seems to be extremely mobile.  I think that mobility in addition to experience in Jimbo’s system is what keeps him in from of Johnson and Weigman in the off season.

As for the other two I’m a big Max Johnson fan.  This dude is extremely talented from a throwing standpoint.  Those two touchdown throws against us weren’t his only great throws in his time at LSU.  The dude was good all things considered.  He was playing on a pretty crappy LSU team the last two season after their magical 2019 run.  It happens.  Just because his team didn’t win doesn’t mean he’s not a good quarterback. He’s pretty athletic and a lot more mobile than people realize. He doesn’t run nearly as well as King but he’s not a statue by any stretch.

I think of the three QBs on the roster Max Johnson will have the most productive NFL career.  He’s simply built like an NFL quarterback and has the mental aspect to go with it. If Max Johnson is your backup quarterback you’re in a good spot.  Actually, a great spot.

As for Weigman I know everyone thinks he’s Johnny Football 2.0 but let’s hold off on that a bit.  True freshman quarterbacks tend to struggle a bit.  Let’s let him simmer in Jimbo’s system for two offseasons and then see what happens.

I do think King will be on a semi-short leash.  He’ll have plenty of rope but I don’t think Jimbo will be afraid to roll Max Johnson out there if King just isn’t getting it done.  I hope it doesn’t happen but I could see a scenario where King doesn’t overly impress the first two games against much lesser opponents and then struggles the first half against Miami.  If that happens then I think you’ll see Johnson under center starting the second half.

I think we’ll be fine at quarterback but it’ll take a few games to figure out what we have and the true direction of the offense.

Running Back:

I can’t believe I’m about to write this but I am – I’m not sure how much the 2022 Aggies will miss Isiah Spiller.  That’s not a knock on Spiller at all.  The dude was a solid running back.  He ran hard for his 3 years in Aggieland and is a Top 10 all-time Aggie running back.  But, we may have something special on our hands in Devon Achane.

He’s had limited touches since Spiller took the brunt of the work the last two years but he’s been EXTREMELY productive in the work he’s received.  He has the highest yards per carry of any running back in Aggie history at 7.4 yards per touch.  That’s with 173 carries which is a pretty fair number to still have that average yard per carry.  No doubt that number is likely to go down as he gets more touches but that’s an impressive number for a running back in the SEC.

Achane doesn’t get a lot of attention because he’s not that imposing and he’s just so fluid of a runner.  He doesn’t get stuffed very often or take a big hit.  He just somehow churns out lots of yards in an unassuming fashion.  He reminds me a lot of Emmitt Smith and Mark Ingram but with a Tony Dorsett top gear.  He has legit Olympic sprinter speed with great vision and balance.  From a top end standpoint he’s probably the fastest player in college football.

If you need any reminding of his speed just watch his kick return in the 2021 Bama game. 

I contend this will go down as one of the most unheralded plays in Aggie history.  This kick return kept momentum on the Aggie side.  It was about to swing to Alabama but Achane kept it with the Aggies.  People want to talk about NIL money but there’s no doubt in my mind that win over Bama at Kyle Field got the recruiting momentum going.  That night was electric and the Achane kick return was the most electric moment of the night.  The recruiting momentum for the 2022 signing class started with this kick return.

With 55 yards to go Achane has cleared every bit of Alabama traffic and no one even comes close to him.  Not one Alabama player even comes close to Achane on this run.  Bama has the best athletes in college football and they’re all toast with 55 yards to go. It doesn’t even look like he’s running that fast but he’s flat out flying.  This is game changing speed.

It’s a big question mark who backs up Achane as it’ll be some combination of Amari Daniels, L.J. Johnson, Earnest Crownover, and Jacoby Mathews.  I think Daniels and Johnson will get most of the carries.  Daniels can flat out fly and Johnson is more of your between the tackles guy.

We certainly won’t have the experience we had with Spiller and Achane in 2021 but we’ve got some depth and talent so I think we’ll be fine.

I’m excited to see what Devon Achane does with a regular workload.  In limited experience he’s shown he can handle it.  He might even be on a level nobody sees coming.

Offensive Line:

Coming into the 2021 season this was my biggest question mark.  Turns out I wasn’t wrong.  Next to the obvious injury to Haynes King the lack of the offensive line ever turning into a cohesive unit was our biggest issue.  At least from a player standpoint.

They showed up in some games but in others they seemed to be overwhelmed.  Most notably the Arkansas and Ole Miss games where those defenses ran a three-man front.  For some reason this created utter confusion.

I do expect the 2022 offensive line to be much improved from 2021.  The loss of Kenyon Green isn’t easy to overcome but this line will be more talented and experienced compared to the 2021 unit.

The right side of the line will be as good as it gets in the SEC.  Duece Fatheree was by far the best freshman tackle we’ve seen since Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.  Layden Robinson at right guard was second team All SEC.  We’re in good hands with these guys.

At center Bryce Foster returns.  He did outstanding as a true freshman in the SEC.  Like Fatheree, Foster was a Freshman All SEC and All American.  This kid is loaded with talent and I see no reason why he doesn’t take a major step forward with one season under his belt.

The left side has question marks mainly because we replace likely first round pick Kenyon Green at left guard.  Right now it looks like Blake Trainor will be replacing Kenyon Green.  That’s a tall order but this guy is coming into his fourth season in Aggieland.  He’s a little short on in game experience except for one game – He started at left tackle in the Bama game.  He more than held his own in that game.  I thought he actually should have started the rest of the season in place of Jhamir Johnson but Jimbo and Josh Henson didn’t see it that way.

At left tackle it looks like Trey Zuhn will get the nod.  He’s a redshirt freshman that saw limited experience last season.  I’m a little cautious about a freshman with limited experience starting at left tackle but I’ll defer to Jimbo and his new offensive line coach Steve Addazio.  I don’t think he can do worse than Jhamir Johnson from last season.  I wasn’t impressed with Jhamir Johnson at left tackle last season at all so I think improving from him will be pretty easy.

Speaking of Addazzio this seems like a great hire to replace Josh Henson.  This guy has a ton of coach experience and is an offensive line coach at his core.  We’ll find out soon enough but I do feel this could be addition by subtraction.  Nothing against Henson as he did a decent enough job but the resume of Addazzio for an offensive line coach is pretty amazing.

There may be shuffling along the left side of the line between now and SEC play but I think we’ll find a solid unit.  I’m not nearly as worried about this unit coming into 2022 as I was in 2021.

Wide Receiver:

It appears we lost the twin Bigfoots in Demond Demas and Baylor Cupp.  Heard all about them but never actually saw them.  I can’t recall a pair of guys that had more hype as legit game changers and we never saw a thing from them.  Demas had the one touchdown catch against New Mexico and that’s about it from them.  They’re gone and we’re moving on but man those two had some serious hype with a big bag of nothing on the field for the Aggies.

Ainias Smith is back for his fourth year.  I think it’s in everyone’s best interest.  He seemed to take a step back last season but that I think that’s probably due more to our quarterback and line play.  I have no issues with this guy and expect him to have a big 2022 as I think he’s going to be used all over the field creating matchup problems.  We need to get the ball in this guy’s hands and let him do his thing.  He’s probably going to see some time in the backfield which is fine by me.  He’s dynamic and needs to be used all over the field.

The practice reports on Evan Stewart sound positive.  This guy enrolled in December dripping with talent.  He was one of the best receivers in the country in the recent signing class.  Seems he’s got the work ethic to match his talent and he’s going to be seeing a lot of the field.  If you want a comparison think what Christian Kirk did his first year in Aggieland.  If that’s what we get I’ll take it.

As for the rest of the receivers we’ve got some names we know but none have separated themselves.  Caleb Chapman is hurt again so he’s a guy you can’t really rely on.  Plus, I contend he’s more of just a true deep threat than an all-around receiver.

Jalen Preston is back for his fifth season.  He hasn’t flashed yet but he’s a guy that has the talent if something could just click for him.  He’s had some solid moments in games but nothing super consistent.

My hope is that Moose Muhammad finally breaks out.  He showed up last year in some non SEC games with spectacular grabs.  Maybe the third year is the charm for him as he has the talent.

The rest of the receivers are names you’ve heard before and no clue if they’ll ever be major contributors.  Chase Lane, Devin Price, and Hezekiah Jones.

Two names that could break out are Yulkeith Brown and Chris Marshall.  Yulkeith saw limited action last year but could potentially be a deep threat.  Chris Marshall is still in high school but he too has the speed to be a deep threat.  We just won’t know until he’s on campus and playing in games.

I hope something finally happens with this group.  This has far and away been the worst unit under Jimbo.  It’s been a long time since we had a guy that was even of Josh Reynold’s caliber.  That was the 2016 season.

To the best of my knowledge Christian Kirk was the last wide receiver drafted in the NFL and that was after the 2017 season.  We’ve had 4 seasons where not one Aggie wide receiver has been drafted.  You can’t have that in today’s college game.

Let’s hope that changes this season where Ainias Smith starts another trend of Aggie receivers getting drafted.

Tight End:

Normally I lump these guys with the receivers but I’ll note them separate for this piece.

The loss of Baylor Cupp is definitely disappointing.  I was really hoping he was going to finally get healthy and live up to his talent.  By most reports from spring practice he was doing just that.  Then one day he appeared in the portal with nobody really knowing why.  Just another chapter in the Baylor Cupp mystery.

We should be just fine here.  We’ve got two of the best tight ends in the country coming to Aggieland.  Jake Johnson and Donavan Green were two of the highest rated recruits at their position last year.  Depending on the service they were the best.  Johnson is already on campus practicing and Green comes in this summer.

Don’t forget Jaylen Wydermyer came in as a true freshman and contributed right away.  No reason to think these guys don’t do the same.

We’ve got Max Wright back as the blocking tight end that will catch 5-10 passes.  He’s not the most dynamic receiving threat but he’s long on experience and willing to block.  He’ll serve his role.

We’ve also got Blake Smith and Fernando Garza who rated pretty highly as recruits.  We’ve also got the Norwegian kid coming in this summer but he’s going to need a couple seasons acclimating to American football.

Truthfully I’m hoping 2022 is the first season under Jimbo where a tight end isn’t the main receiving threat.  Nothing against these guys but it’s time for the receivers to carry the passing game and the tight ends to just add a dimension that makes the offense tough to defend.

Overall:

I feel good about the offense in 2022.  We need some positions to grow and stabilize but I think that will happen.

2021 had a quarterback and offensive line that Jimbo couldn’t trust and that really affected his play calling.  At least that’s what I hope happened.

We’ll find out in 2022 if Jimbo completely forgot how to call plays.

Defense:

New Coordinator:

Anyone that reads my blog knows what a fan I was of Mike Elko.  Despite some defensive lapses last year’s defense was really solid.  I hate to pick on one guy but Jaylon Jones didn’t make plays late in the Mississippi State and LSU games that could have really turned the outcome.  If he makes two plays we’re likely 10-2 with a totally different feeling for the season.  That didn’t happen and we move on.

I thought what Mike Elko did in 2021 was outstanding.  Sure, the record doesn’t show it but what I saw on the field was a defense that routinely held it’s own if not dominating.  They played their asses off while the offense was just out there sputtering around.

The best example of this was the Auburn game.  Auburn wound up not being a very good football team after us but our defense completely shut them down.  The defense scored the only touchdown that game.  You can’t ask for much more.

We were in a LOT of games last season thanks to our defense.  We might have been staring down a 6-6 season without this defense.

I hate to lose Elko but Jimbo went out and got one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.  What Durkin did with the Ole Miss defense down the stretch last season was remarkable.

They shut down Malik Willis who might be the first quarterback taken in this year’s draft.  We saw what Ole Miss did to us with a bunch of nobodies.  They kept Mike Leach’s offense in check in Starkville and then the Ole Miss defense was the only reason Ole Miss had any chance against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.

That Ole Miss didn’t have much talent but Durkin did an outstanding job scheming and getting his guys to play within that scheme as the season wore on.   That’s usually the mark of a good coach.  In addition, he’s had highly ranked defenses in his time as defensive coordinator at Florida and Michigan.  I’m confident the dude can coach defense.

Durkin is definitely on par with Elko as a defensive coordinator in my mind.  I’ll miss Mike but I’m ready to change my adoration to Durkin.

Defensive Line:

We lose Demarvin Leal who’s been the heart and soul of this team for three seasons.  We also lose Michael Clemons, Jayden Peavy, and Tyree Johnson who started and played most of the games on the defensive line last year.

That’s usually a bad thing but Jimbo has recruited the defensive line better than any position on the team.  We’re a little short on experience but we’re loaded with talent here.

Looks like we’ll have Fadil Diggs, Shemar Turner, McKinnley Jackson, and Tunmise Adeleye starting for us.  All of these guys are legit football players.

This is McKinnley Jackson’s third season and he’s logged significant playing time.  He’s flashed at times and if he’s really committed he can be one of the best defensive tackles in the country.  The talent is there.

Shemar Turner is short on playing time but long on talent.  This guy could take right over from Leal playing up and down the line depending on the offense and situation.

Diggs should be able to bring some pressure off the edge and Adeleye will serve as the strong side defensive end in likely running scenarios.

Behind them is a cornucopia of talent.  Guys that have logged significant playing time like Adarious Jones and Isaiah Rakes.  Then there’s highly recruited guys like Jahzion Harris, Anthony Lucas, Braedon Mowry, Elijah Judy, Marcus Burris, and Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy who are on campus.  Some of these guys have been or are hurt and not practicing but the depth and talent on campus is pretty amazing.

Lucas and Brownlow-Dindy are part of the amazing 2022 recruiting class but we’re still waiting on Enai White, L.T. Overton, Shemar Stewart, and of course big Walter Nolen.  Those four guys alone would make up an amazing recruiting class.  We’re loaded before they’re even getting to campus.  Unreal.

2022 won’t be the year we completely dominate the defensive line of scrimmage but it’ll be the start.  Some of these guys won’t pan out but life is a numbers game and I LOVE our numbers along the defensive line right now.  

Linebacker:

We still need some serious talent and depth at linebacker but this isn’t the major issue it has been for some seasons.

Part of that is running a mostly 4-2-5 defense where we only use two linebackers.  That helps in only needing two linebackers.  We’ve got some decent talent and experience at those two starting spots.

Andre White returns as a starter along with Edgerrin Cooper.  Cooper got quite a bit of playing time last season and looks like he could be a stud.  He’s got speed and loves to hit.  He also tends to be in the right spot.  VERY important for a linebacker.  I wouldn’t classify White as a stud but sandwiched between the defensive line and secondary he’ll be just fine.

Looks like they’re going to try Donell Harris at linebacker.  He came in as a defensive end.  This makes sense due to his size and the numbers along the defensive line.  He only weighs around 220 but he’s got serious speed.  I think we’ll see him as a pass rushing outsider backer on obvious passing downs.  I’m good with this.

Tarian Lee and Chris Russell have seen the field so they have some experience.  Ish Harris is a true freshman and looks like he can play ball but he needs to put on some weight.  Hopefully he can put on the “Freshman 15” in straight muscle.  Martrell Harris will join in the summer and he has a lot of promise.

I’ll classify linebacker as the “weakest” link of this defense but that’s only because the line and secondary are so good.  Linebacker is not the liability it used to be which is a good thing.  We just need to continue adding some more talent and depth in future recruiting classes.

Secondary:

This unit used to be a MAJOR liability.  We’ve had a good run of safeties but prior to Jimbo’s arrival and early in his tenure we couldn’t find corners to save our lives.  Decent receivers would just torch our secondary.  Not even good receivers.  Decent receivers would have a field day against our corners.

That’s slowly changing thanks to Jimbo’s recruiting.

I’m going to start with our two studs in the secondary – Demani Richardson and Antonio Johnson.  Thankfully Demani returns for his fourth season in Aggieland.  This guy probably won’t ever start in the NFL but he’s a damn good college safety.  I fully expect him to take over Demarvin Leal’s role as leader of this defense.  If he does that’s going to be a great thing.

Antonio Johnson was second team All SEC in his first year to start.  This kid is a STUD.  It remains to be seen if he’ll continue to play the role of Nickel close to the line or if he’ll take over Leon O’Neal’s spot at the back of the secondary.  Wherever he plays he’s going to be fine and the Aggie defense will be better for it.

As for the rest of the secondary nobody knows how it’s going to shake out including the coaches.  They’ve got numbers and talent which is a good problem to have.  At the other safety it’ll be someone between Bryce Anderson, Jardin Gilbert, Deuce Harmon, and Jaylon Jones.  There’s also Jacob Mathews coming this summer.  Harmon and Jones have traditionally played corner but I think they’ll get looks at Nickel due to the amount of talent we now have at corner.

Seriously.  We have an amazing crop of defensive backs either on campus or coming in.  We used to clamor to have one or two of these guys on campus and now we don’t know who’s going to start and play.   It’s a damn good problem to have.

It appears Jaylon Jones and Myles Jones are working with the first team at corner this spring but I don’t think that’s going to last.  We’ve got a TON of young talent at corner that probably overtakes those two at some point next season.  The early returns on Denver Harris are he’s everything he was recruited to be.  Tyreek Chappell was freshman All SEC and All American.  I think these two guys are the most likely to take over from Jaylon and Myles.

We’ve got Brian George who’s been on campus for a couple of years.  I don’t think he’s as good as some of the younger guys and tends to get injured but he’s some nice depth.  Myles Jones goes all the way back to the Sumlin Administration (seriously) and he’s returning for his 6th season.  He really came on late in 2020 but spent all of 2021 hurt.  Similar to George I think he’ll eventually get beat out by the younger guys.  Crazy as 6-7 years ago we would have loved to have guys of their caliber starting for us even with their injury history.

I mentioned Denver Harris but we’ve got some other great corners in this signing class.  Marquis Groves-Killebrew is a four star out of Georgia.  Bobby Taylor is a four star out of Katy and the biggest reason for this recruiting class from a player standpoint.  Smoke Bouie is another four startout of Georgia.

We’ve got some older guys with solid experience and some younger guys with amazing talent.  Much like the defensive line it’s a good problem to have.  Enough guys will shake out where this unit will be really damn good.  It won’t be without hiccups as growing pains occur but I’ll take that over just not having the talent.

What Does All of this Mean?

I’ll get to my season prediction at some point this summer.  I’m really torn what all of this means for the 2022 season record wise.  There will be enough talent to win every game and a national championship.  I don’t think the experience will be there though and we’ll likely lose a game or two we shouldn’t.

More than anything I hope this 2022 signing class is similar to the Herschel Walker trade that will prove to be a springboard for a run of National Championships.  Hell, I don’t even need multiple.  I just want at least one to prove all the haters wrong the Aggies can’t win it all.

We absolutely can and the talent we have on campus or coming will be enough to do it.  We’ll just have to wait and see if it develops.

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