Spring Football: Texas A&M
Courtesy: Big12Sports.com
          Release: 05/01/2010
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent


2009: 6-7 overall, 3-5 in Big 12.
Starters returning: Offense (8), defense (9)

Overview
In Mike Sherman's first season at Texas A&M, the Aggies won four games. Last season, they won six and played in a bowl game. If the improvement continues at a mathematical pace, Year Three should bring (at least) eight victories.

That two-game improvement likely is dependent on further improvement in the defense. With the retirement of veteran Joe Kines, Sherman hired Tim DeRuyter from Air Force to take over as defensive coordinator. DeRuyter spent most of the spring teaching his players the ins and outs of his 3-4 schemes. And senior linebacker/defensive end Von Miller, who led the nation in sacks, should again get plenty of opportunities to harass opposing quarterbacks.

The offense has the potential to be outstanding. Senior Jerrod Johnson is arguably the Big 12's top returning quarterback. His running and passing skill set, plus his experience, gives the Aggies an offensive lynch pin. Running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael along with wide receivers Jeff Fuller and Ryan Tannehill are key cogs in the attack.

The biggest question mark is the offensive line, which must replace three starters. Perhaps even more troubling is that some of the top offensive linemen during spring practice were freshmen. If inexperience leads to inconsistency in line play, the Aggies' play makers could be slowed.



Who's missing
Center Kevin Matthews along with tackles Michael Shumard and Lee Grimes must be replaced on the offensive line. Steady wide receiver Howard Morrow is gone along with safety Jordan Pugh.

Who's new
Luke Joeckel, a 6-6, 280-pound freshman who enrolled in January was one of the stars of spring practice. He's penciled in to be the starter at left tackle. Redshirt freshman running back Kalvin Guyton has intriguing talent. Freshmen D.J. Jones, Mister Jones and Ben Malena will add to the backfield depth. In addition to new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, the Aggies staff also includes former All-American linebacker Dat Nguyen.

You'll hear about
Special teams. The Aggies had some embarrassing melt downs last season. Texas A&M finished 104th in net punting, 91st in kickoff return defense and 49th in kickoff returns. The 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl turned on a series of punting gaffes. With more experienced players, the Aggies will emphasize using more front line players on special teams to try and eliminate mistakes and big plays by opponents.

Spring buzz
* Senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder after the bowl game. He was limited in spring practice. Johnson is expected to be completely healthy when preseason practices start. Ryan Tannehill, who will continue to work at receiver, worked some at quarterback but a majority of the snaps went to freshmen Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel. They could battle to be Johnson's backup.

* The Aggies went into spring practice confident that coach Mike Sherman's building plan was on schedule. "We had that trial year," linebacker/defensive end Von Miller said of Sherman's first season. "Then we got tested last year. It's time for us to put up this year, and we all feel that way. We all know the program, we all know Coach Sherman. It's time to put up now."

* There's a battle to replace tight end Jamie McCoy, who had 35 receptions for 367 yards last season. Redshirt freshman tight end Hutson Priouleau, senior Kenny Brown and sophomore Michael Lamothe are all in the mix. Priouleau, at 6-4, 253 pounds, has the best size. He also could be used at fullback in some formations.

Coach speak from Mike Sherman
"I hate to talk like this about a dang freshman. But at this point, if we were playing a game tomorrow, he would be the starting left tackle. … He's unflappable. He's a great athlete. And he does a good job most of the time. But the maturity of that kid just amazes me. I've never seen anyone like that at his age.... There's not a whole lot not to like about Luke."
- On freshman offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, one of the stars of spring practice.

"I feel like you match up better in this conference in the 3-4. We don't get a really strong dose of power football, so the length is more important than the actual size and weight those guys have who play those defensive end positions."
- On new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's philosophy.

"It's such an important position for me, because of the durability factor. We were fortunate this (past season) that we were fairly healthy. "I'm proud of the running backs who are here and how they competed and how they developed during the course of the season. But I did want to address the fact that we wanted to get some big guys to be able to run between the tackles."
- On his team's depth and talent at running back.

2010 Schedule
Sept. 4 Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 11 Louisiana Tech
Sept 18 Florida International
Sept. 30 at Oklahoma State*
Oct. 9 Arkansas (in Arlington, Texas)
Oct. 16 Missouri*
Oct. 23 at Kansas*
Oct. 30 Texas Tech*
Nov. 6 Oklahoma*
Nov. 13 at Baylor*
Nov. 20 Nebraska*
Nov. 25 at Texas*
* - Big 12 game
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