Experienced team reports for 2007

Football is back on TV and the Aggies will take to the practice field for the first time in 2007 this afternoon. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop analyzes the 105-man roster.

You can breathe easier now, football season is officially here. The Steelers and Saints squared off Sunday night in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio and the Texas Aggie football team reported for August practices. It doesn't get any better for the football junkie.

The full team reported as expected with just a few exceptions. As had been previously reported, Japhus Brown did not meet academic requirements and will not join the team in 2007. Also, the last member of the Class of 2007 will also be one of the last to report as Utah's David Tufuga is finishing up summer school in Utah.

According to A&M head coach Dennis Franchione, Tufuga is expected into camp sometime near the end of the week. He does not expect any complications with Tufuga's transcript.

That doesn't appear to be the case with four-star prospect Brandon Williams from Beaumont Central, as he was not included on the team's 105 man roster.

"Brandon Williams is not in," Franchione said. "He's still working through Clearinghouse (NCAA) technicalities and problems maybe."

Being excluded from the 105 man roster means Williams will not be able to practice with the team prior to the start of the school semester even if he gets clearance from the NCAA. Overall, Franchione appeared pleased with what he's seen so far, which is an enthusiast and relatively healthy veteran group of players.

"Nobody has a pulled hamstring or difficulties like that," Franchione said. " We have a couple of tweaked ankles and small things, but all-in-all we're probably as healthy as we can ask to be." Franchione is also encouraged with the team's overall conditioning heading into preseason practices.

"I think we're in great shape," Franchione explained. "Coach Rod Cole (strength and conditioning) elevated everything this summer and did a marvelous job with our conditioning."

But it's the chemistry of the team, which is now made up solely of players he recruited, that has the veteran head coach excited about the upcoming season.

"They've had a good summer and they feel positive about their development," Franchione said. "The spirit of them as a team is really, really good." Franchione also expects to get a lot accomplished this preseason with such a veteran team that returns over 30 significant contributors from last year's 9-4 squad. The defense should also be more advanced with many veterans coming back for their second year under defensive coordinator Gary Darnell's system.

"We anticipate to go a little faster in installation, Franchione said. "We installed everything we needed to do on defense in the spring which is something we didn't do in year one, so hopefully it will be refined and ready after the twenty or so practices we have before our first game."

So just how experienced is this 2007 team? Frankly, it's rare to find a team at this level of college football with such a large number of significant contributors and upperclassmen throughout the roster.

Of the 22 projected starters on the latest depth chart after spring practice, only two are not upperclassmen, defensive backs Jordan Peterson and Jordan Pugh who both saw plenty of action as freshmen. Not only does the team return nine starters on offense and six starters on defense, but the Aggies have seniors like Mark Dodge and Henry Smith who were major contributors in 2006 who are simply moving up a notch on the depth chart.

There is also plenty of experienced depth on this club, with senior Joey Thomas at tight end and experienced juniors like Micheal Bennett, Travis Schneider, Arkeith Brown, and Howard Morrow who will certainly see the field and even challenge for a starting spot this fall.

The experience is especially notable on the offensive line, a unit many preseason publications rated as the best in the nation. Seniors Cody Wallace, Kirk Elder, Corey Clark and junior Yemi Babalola all return for their third season as starters, something that is almost unheard of at this level of Division I football given the current era of players leaving early for the NFL.

In addition, A&M has experienced backups on the line with junior Travis Schneider, who started over half of last year's games in place of the injured Babalola, and the highly-touted sophomore Michael Schumard who saw time in the trenches last season.

The season will also begin with a veteran junior quarterback returning for his second full season as the leader of the A&M offense. Stephen McGee begins his second year as the starter, and he'll do it at 100 percent after battling all of the 2006 season with an arm injury.

And finally, the summer offseason was very quiet off the field for this veteran group, a testament to the team's leadership and overall focus. There were no distractions and no incidents that put the team in the newspaper for the wrong reasons, something that was a problem for two of A&M's Big 12 South rivals.

There is a lot to look forward to for Aggie fans this season, although the road schedule for this team will be challenging. However, one only needs to look at the smile on Franchione's face and his more relaxed demeanor this summer to know that something could be cooking in Aggieland in 2007.

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