The return of college football is less than 100 days away. Until the cracking of shoulder pads and the yells from the student section fill the air, how will you fill the void?
Over the past week-plus, SEC Country has gone through the Texas A&M depth chart, breaking down the talent position by position. In this post, we take a look at the depth chart as a whole. Follow the links below to read through the series by individual position.
Stability has been lacking at the position over the last two seasons, but Trevor Knight is just the man to bring some much needed consistency. The graduate transfer may only be around for one season, but it gives ample time for freshman signee Nick Starkel to learn the ropes as the third-string quarterback while accumulating a year of SEC experience.
If the learning experience ends up taking an extra year, Knight’s backup Jake Hubenak already has a year in coach Kevin Sumlin‘s system and would be a great fit to lead the Aggies as a senior in 2017. Conner Mcqueen is back for his senior year and is available at quarterback as well as the primary holder in the kicking game.
There’s no issue with quantity at running back, but that’s nothing new for A&M. In 2014, a three-man rotation was utilized in the Aggies’ backfield before the majority of carries fell into the hands of Tra Carson last season.
Now in 2016, a cast of familiar faces looks to take on added duties. James White and Kwame Etwi were expected to shoulder more of a load last season before the injury bug intervened, but there are plenty of carries available for them should they stay healthy. Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford will reunite with Knight in the A&M backfield, though he sat out the spring game with injury. By the time conference play rolls around, look for Ford to be the majority shareholder for carries in the backfield.
This unit is not only the deepest on the team in terms of talent, but arguably the best in the entire country. Taking a closer look at the depth chart, NFL-caliber receivers have their names scattered throughout the roster.
Freshman Christian Kirk was one of the most dominant first-year talents in the NCAA last year, catching 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns. With a knack for making opponents miss at the line, Kirk would typically attract multiple defenders on Saturday’s. With the Aggies, that’s a lot easier said than done.
Joining Kirk in the starting spot is Ricky Seals-Jones, a towering redshirt junior who has improved by the year and is a threat to end up in the end zone on any given play. The school-record holder for receiving touchdowns in a season, Josh Reynolds, is back for his senior season and a serious weapon on the outside. In a four-wide set, throw in Speedy Noil to give defenders that much more to worry about. The junior is suspended for the opening game of the season, but will quickly become part of the game plan for opposing coaches upon his return.
A less prominent position in Sumlin’s system, it’s still an unknown for what to expect from tight ends at A&M this season. The team has plenty of options that have service time on the roster, such as Greer Shetler and Tanner Schorp, but have accumulated plenty of talent in the offseason as well.
Luke Laufenberg joins the Aggies as a preferred walk-on, while Kalvin Cline joins the team as a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech with two years of eligibility remaining. The idea has also been floated that 2016 commit Aaron Hansford could move from outside linebacker to tight end and help out in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone‘s scheme.
A unit returning just 19 games of experience, the offensive line is the biggest question mark for the Aggies this season. Jim Turner replaces former coach Dave Christensen after just one year on the job, but he already has familiarity with the gig. His last stint with the Aggies, which came during the Mike Sherman era, was highlighted by his impressive recruiting abilities. In addition to loading the offensive line with future first-round talent, he also is credited in pushing for the recruitment of former A&M star wide receiver Mike Evans.
On the line, seniors Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor should receive starting nods at left tackle and right guard respectively. Koda Martin has been the subject of much praise over the offseason and will help replace one of three departed starters from 2015. Freshman Erik McCoy will likely find his home as the starting center, while Connor Lanfear should work left guard.
Boasting what defensive coordinator John Chavis believes to be the best pair of defensive ends in the country, Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall headline the D-line.
On the inside, Daylon Mack will show how far he’s progressed as a likely starter. Zaycoven Henderson is the likely candidate to grab the other tackle spot, but sophomore Kingsley Keke could lobby for starting consideration as the season progresses. Qualen Cunningham and fellow junior Jarrett Johnson will see snaps at end, while Hardreck Walker wraps up his college career working from the tackle position.
Like running back, health will play a big role in the success of this position in 2016.
Otaro Alaka kept a year of eligibility after taking a medical redshirt for his early injury in 2015, while Shaan Washington and Dwaine Thomas are expected to lineup at outside linebacker.
Richard Moore played like one of the top freshman defensive talents in college football after his midseason debut, and another year under Chavis only stands to further his development.
This could be the surprise unit for the Aggies.
Loaded with talent standing 6-foot or taller, the A&M defensive backs are fast, physical and ready to attack. Their abilities were limited last season due to constantly crashing the line to assist with holes in defensive coverage, but fans should see exponential improvement along with the interior line and linebackers.
Chavis has likened junior nickel Donovan Wilson to Tyrann Mathieu from his days with the LSU Tigers, and he also has emerging talent at corner such as Nick Harvey and UCLA transfer Priest Willis
Senior safety Justin Evans had a successful first season with the Maroon and White after joining A&M last year, and could also see sporadic duties in the return game on special teams.
It will be up to Shane Tripucka to fill the void left behind by Drew Kaser, one of the top punters in school history. Tripucka recorded the first punts of his college career during the 2015 season, and followed with a strong showing in the Texas A&M spring game. On kicking duty, Daniel LaCamera takes the torch from Taylor Bertolet and should be safe to pencil in as the starter on kickoffs and field goal tries.
Taking a look at the special teams return unit, Kirk is expected to remain the primary return man on both kickoffs and punt returns. In addition to all he accomplished at wide receiver, he took two punts back for touchdowns last season while tallying 726 total return yards as a freshman. Noil was the poster-child of a sophomore slump, but is certainly capable of being among the top returners in the conference when he’s on his game.