New quarterback has some weapons…
Quarterback Johnny Manziel (R-FR, 6-1, 200) is set to become the first freshman quarterback to start a season-opener at A&M since '44. That isn't exactly the best place you want to be in at the position, but the Kevin Sumlin offense is a quick and short throwing offense that will allow him to make easy throws and get comfortable.
When they aren't throwing the ball, bruising tailback Christine Michael (SR. 5-11, 220), a three year letter winner, will get the ball. Michael needs only 626 yards to become only the sixth Aggie all-time to reach the 3,000 plateau. He is also on the Doak Walker & Maxwell Award Watch List. Watch out for Trey Williams (FR, 5-8, 180) who has been a terror in his first fall camp on campus and is a speedy guy that can go the distance.
The air is where Sumlin like to be and he will try and throw the ball all over the yard. His top receiver is All-American candidate Ryan Swope (SR, 6-0, 206) who set a school record with 89 catches and 1,207 yards in '11. Swope is just 53 catches and 888 yards from being the Texas A&M career leader in both categories. Fellow Biletnikoff Award Watch List receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu (SR, 6-0, 194) is a three-year starter for the Aggies and has compiled 126 career catches for 1,754 yards and 12 TDs.
Swope is one of the best in the conference.
The Aggies will run mostly a three or four wide receiver set with a tight end involved in the three wide scenario. The first of two other receivers that will be counted on heavily are Mike Evans (R-FR, 6-5, 218) who redshirted a year ago and is making his Aggie debut against the Gators. Kenric McNeal (SR, 6-1, 184) has recorded 37 receptions during his three-year career, including a career-high 23 in 2010. Tight end Michael Lamothe (SR, 6-3, 235) is a versatile athlete that played in 37 games during his A&M career and garnered honorable mention All-Big 12 the last two years.
Line is one of SEC's best…
The Aggie offensive line returns four starters from a 2011 unit that was very good. They average 308 pounds across the front and have All-American candidates at three positions. This could very well be the best offensive line that Florida faces all season.
A&M's offensive line is led by left tackle Luke Joeckel (JR, 6-6, 310) who is a first-team Preseason All-SEC and on the Outland & Rotary Lombardi Award Watch Lists. He has 26 consecutive starts at LT. Right tackle Jake Matthews (JR, 6-5, 305) is a third-team Preseason All-SEC and on the Outland & Rotary Lombardi Award Watch Lists as well.
Joeckle is a premiere left tackle.
The interior of the offensive line is almost equally as impressive. Center Patrick Lewis (SR, 6-2, 312) is the most experienced Aggie lineman with 35 starts in 38 career games and is also on Rimington Trophy Watch List awarded to the nation's best center prospect. Right guard Cedric Ogbuehi (SO, 6-5, 295) started six contests in his redshirt freshman season in 2011. The novice of the line still has one start and Jarvis Harrison (SO, 6-3, 320) also saw action in 11 games as a RS freshman a year ago and is the biggest of the group.
Bottom line on offense
If the Aggies had a returning quarterback they would likely scare everyone in this preseason with the offensive personnel they do have returning. It actually starts up front and most would tell you to build an offense you have to start at the line of scrimmage, they may have the best front in the SEC.
However, they are exceptional all the way around at the skill positions and can hurt you inside-out with a stout runner and slick receivers. Florida may actually be a good match for this team because the Florida secondary should be one of the best they face. Either way, with so may questions about just what Sumlin and company will do on offense, the gators will have their hands full.
The defense is led by the linebacker unit that returns three starters. They should be solid in pass rush with the linebackers playing close and their leading sacker Damontre Moore also returning. They will have to rely on their front seven with what appears to be a suspect secondary that has to replace everyone from a unit that wasn't very good a year ago. The Aggies were tough against the run in 2011, finishing 11th nationally and allowing just 102 yards per game, but they were 109th nationally after playing the pass-happy Big 12.
Front should get some rush…
Rush defensive end Damontre Moore (JR, 6-4, 250) is the top pass rushing threat on the Aggie defense and has contributed 14 sacks in his first two years on campus. He is on the Butkus Award Watch List. Helping him out and just inside is the other returning starter on the line defensive tackle Spencer Nealy (SR, 6-5, 277) He is a high energy guy who started the final nine games of '11 and contributed 45 tackles, including eight for loss.
At the other end position is Gavin Stansbury (SO, 6-4, 270) who played in 13 games as a RS freshman a year ago, finishing with 15 tackles. Nose guard Kirby Ennis (JR, 6-4, 300) Played in all 13 games last year after missing all of the '10 campaign with injury.
Top notch linebackers with plenty of experience…
All three return as starters and appear to be the strength of a defense that will have to show a little more in 2012, especially in pass defense
The leader on defense is SAM linebacker Sean Porter (SR, 6-2, 230) who has made 195 tackles in his career including 79 last year. Porter is on the Butkus Award Watch List for the nation's best linebacker. WILL linebacker Steven Jenkins (JR, 6-2, 220) made 61 tackles with three pass break-ups a year ago. Middle linebacker Jonathan Stewart (SR, 6-4, 244) has racked up 133 tackles in three years, including a career-best 98 last year.
Porter brings the heat from his SAM linebacker position.
Rebuilt secondary has to be better…
The safeties will be the strength of the secondary starting two seniors. Free safety Steven Terrell (SR, 5-10, 193) has the most experience in the Aggie secondary with 39 career games and 78 total tackles. The other safety spot is manned by Steven Campbell (SR, 6-0, 201) has missed a lot of time with injuries during his time on campus but has 73 tackles in 28 career games.
The two senior safeties will have to help out the young corners. De'Vante Harris (FR, 5-10, 175) is a true freshman that will get his feet wet during the ator matchup. Deshazor Everett (SO, 6-0, 181) is young but saw action as a reserve in 12 games a season ago mainly on special teams.
Bottom line on defense…
The Gators are going to have to open it up some this week. The A&M numbers on rush defense a year ago could be masked by a pass-happy conference, but there is little doubt their defense was riddled through the air much more than on the ground. Florida needs to take advantage of that and probably pass a little more than they are comfortable with behind the second level of the defense where the Aggies seem to be their best. Play action will likely be their friend this week if they choose to use it.
Kicker Taylor Bertolet (FR, 5-9, 174) is making his Aggie debut against the Gators after redshirting a year ago. Punter Ryan Epperson (SR, 6-2, 195) has averaged 38.7 yards on 118 punts the last three seasons.
In the return game the Aggies have the ability to be explosive. Kick returner and freshman Trey Williams has been electric all fall and may be the fastest player on the team and a guy that can take it to the house. Punt returner Dustin Harris (SR, 6-0, 175) actually led the nation in punt returns a year ago over guys like Tyrann Mathieu of LSU and Joe Adams of Arkansas. He averaged 18.6 per return in 2011.
Bottom line on special teams…
It might be in the Gators' best interests to kick away from both of these guys as we know that Harris can be a game changer and the word in Aggie fall practice is that Williams is a game changer. Epperson doesn't kick them far and so the gators need to just worry about hanging on to the ball when receiving punts, because long returns aren't likely.