Big 12 Media Days Preview: Texas A&M

SAN ANTONIO - Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione was asked the question Tuesday - you know the question about how warm his buns get while sitting in his office in the Bright Football Complex on the College Station campus. Franchione was hired to put A&M back among the elite in college football, and while he hasn't done it yet he believes his team is set to make the move.

He did take a positive step last season leading the Aggies to a win over rival Texas in Austin. Just like it doesn't excuse the coach from the bun warmers that are in his desk chair, it does not do much to put the Aggies on top of teams on the 2007 schedule, at least not directly.

"I think it's a confidence builder," said Franchione. "Hopefully a little bit of momentum. Our guys didn't lack confidence going to play them any of the years. They believed they could play with them and beat them. But we got it done last year. And, again, going to Austin and winning in 5-0 on the road, all those things together, with the amount of experience we have coming back, lend to those guys going into the season, We're going to get this done or we can do this, we know we can. I'm not sure our guys ever lacked confidence, but when you actually do it I think it's a real boost to them."

The offense is in good shape with backs Javorskie Lane and Michael Goodson, tight end Martellus Bennett, some suitable receivers, and the best ingredient to the offense an even improved Stephen McGee at quarterback. Franchione's major worry is keeping his star quarterback from sticking his nose, head, body and everything else into opposing players whether blocking or running.

"I don't think I'm going to win the battle on him taking people on," started Franchione. "I've tried. That's Stephen McGee's persona. But with regard to his throwing, we don't spend time talking about injuries at our place. And one of the things that happened to Stephen in two-a-days, in the second day of practice (last year) he tore a muscle in the back of his throwing arm. He did not throw again until the week of the first game.

"So he essentially missed all the throwing during August camp, and as much as anything missed the pocket presence, the feel for the rush, how to move in the pocket. As a result I think as coaches we were probably trying to make sure that he didn't sit in the pocket and take a beating and take too many sacks, and we encouraged him to run with the football, which may have been a little part of him not finding a second or third receiver sometimes. I think that burden needs to go on us more than him and more the circumstances of not being able to throw all through the month of August, which is, as you all know, fall camp is such a pivotal time, especially for your first-time starter, essentially had he been a senior, wouldn't have maybe been as quite a big issue, but being as young as he was going into the season, it does have to have an impact on him.

"We all know Stephen McGee can throw the football. He's proven that time and time again. So protecting him and letting him know he worked very hard on finding second and third progressions and everything in spring practice. And I think we'll see him better in all those areas."

Oklahoma State fans never quite took to the 4-2-5 defense when coordinator Bill Clay was running it under Les Miles in Stillwater. Clay is now coaching at A&M where the 4-2-5 originator and OSU alum Gary Darnell is pushing the 4-2-5 and A&M fans, and for sure their coach, is on board.

"Coach Darnell did a masterful job last year being a defensive coordinator in transition and teaching the new scheme and never putting his players in a position of not being confident in what they were going to do," explained Franchione. "As a result, we didn't have probably as much in a game plan week in, week out as you would like to have had or maybe some days wished you could have had.

"Spring practice was a lot of change, a lot of addition, a lot of building and a lot more areas that we really were able to spend a lot of time on. And now he'll pare that down a little bit and decide how much to take into the fall. But I would say there's probably been another 25 to 30 percent added in spring practice that we were really not able to do a great deal with any confidence last fall.

"And then we lost Red Bryant those last two or three games, maybe four games, of the year. And Red is an outstanding player, but when you lose Red Bryant, you've lost a great person and a great leader on your team. Our players look to Red for leadership. And when he wasn't there, other people had to try to absorb that. And I don't know if anybody can absorb what Red Bryant meant to his football team, in losing him as a leader, as much as anything. And, of course, as a player, losing him, too."

Red Bryant is the player that had Jason Ricks' low PAT try in overtime hit his arm as the Aggies prevailed on Homecoming 2006 in Stillwater. Bryant says the Cowboys are tough and he looks forward to hosting the Cowboys in October. For Oklahoma State to leap frog toward the top of the Big 12 South they have to beat A&M and this time around it's in College Station and Kyle Field. A&M was 5-0 on the road last season, so maybe the stiff Kyle Field atmosphere won't be so difficult this time around.

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