COLLEGE STATION, Texas – With spring practice set to begin Wednesday for Texas A&M, the Aggies are deep and experienced in several areas, thin and youthful in others.
The Aggies return 13 starters (five offense, eight defense) from last season’s 8-5 team. These imbalances pose key questions that need to be solved and create intense position battles at specific spots. Fortunately for A&M, they return several key starters who should be able to lead by example.
For the fourth year in a row, the Aggies will have a quarterback competition. A&M also welcomes nine early enrollees, several of whom are expected to compete for starting positions.
It will be an interesting spring in Aggieland, but there will be some questions that won’t be answered until fall camp.
The three biggest position battles
1. Quarterback: This seems to be a recurring theme, doesn’t it? As stated above, the Aggies will have a quarterback competition for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in six seasons. Three players will be at the forefront of the competition: senior Jake Hubenak (who started twice last season), redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and touted true freshman Kellen Mond, who enrolled in January. Starkel and Mond seem to be the favorites, but Hubenak cannot be counted out simply since he is the only player with experience. This is a competition that almost certainly will continue into fall camp.
2. Wide receiver: With just one returning starter, Christian Kirk, Aggies coaches have some voids to fill. Fortunately for A&M, it boasts some talented underclassmen – including four early enrollees – who will compete for the starting spots. The question remains whether the underclassmen can step in and perform at the caliber needed to compete against SEC secondaries.
3. Offensive tackle: With both spots open, there could be some shifting up front. There are numerous candidates, including junior Koda Martin and redshirt freshman Kellen Diesch. Three guys who played guard last season — juniors Connor Lanfear and Keaton Sutherland and sophomore Colton Prater — could be moved outside. There’s also junior Tank Davis; this spring may be a last stand of sorts for him. No player on the roster has started more than three games at tackle.
The three strongest positions
1. Running back: The Aggies return their top two rushers, Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford. Add redshirt freshman Rakeem Boyd to the mix and A&M looks good at running back. The key will be getting production from the run game despite questions almost everywhere else on offense.
2. Safety: A&M returns starters Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson, who will anchor the back end of the secondary as seniors. It also brings back Larry Pryor, who emerged as a key replacement when Watts was injured last season, and Clifford Chattman, a key special teams player last season as a true freshman.
3. Defensive tackle: Veterans headline this group as well. With senior Zaycoven Henderson possibly sitting out spring ball because of an injury suffered in the bowl loss to Kansas State, junior Daylon Mack could get increased reps. Mack has a high ceiling but had a disappointing sophomore season. Junior Kingsley Keke is a veteran who has proved himself. There also is senior Reggie Chevis. This is an important spring for redshirt freshman T.D. Moton, who has to show consistency to put himself in line for playing time in the fall.
Offensive newcomer to watch
WR Jhamon Ausbon: With wide receiver as thin as it is for the Aggies, Ausbon — a four-star recruit who enrolled early — will have an exceptional opportunity to compete for a starting job. His prototypical outside frame (6 feet 2, 220 pounds) is one A&M will use to its advantage as it looks to replace Josh Reynolds. Ausbon can really benefit from spring drills by getting accustomed to Noel Mazzone’s system and competing against a veteran secondary daily before he steps out onto the field as a true freshman this fall. Barring injury, Ausbon will play this season; how he performs this spring will go a long way toward determining whether he will play a key role in the fall.
Defensive newcomer to watch
LB Anthony Hines III: Hines possesses something the Aggies have been searching for at linebacker – pure tackling instincts. With openings on a unit that underwhelmed (again) last season, Hines (6-3, 220) — a four-star recruit considered one of the top three inside linebackers in the signing class — should compete for a starting spot. Like Ausbon, he benefits greatly from being able to participate in spring drills in hopes of being an instant impact player in the fall at a position of need.
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