New Updated Depth Chart - Notes

The Texas A&M coaching staff released its first depth chart after the August preseason on Monday. Aggie Websider publisher David Sandhop discusses several interesting developments on the new depth chart as the Aggies prepare to face Montana State Saturday

New Depth Chart – Notes The Texas A&M coaching staff formally released the new depth chart coming out of preseason workouts, and with a veteran squad returning there are few surprises. However, there are a few new developments to discuss.

First of all, the publicly-released depth chart is not only an information tool for the media and fans, but it is a tool used by the coaching staff to motivate players in several ways. If they feel a veteran starter needs some addition motivation, they may add the infamous "or" next to his name to insinuate that he is not guaranteed the starting job and needs to take his game up another notch.

On the other side of the coin, the staff may not want to discourage a younger player who didn't win a starting spot but made good progress in August, and they'll put out a carrot in the form of an "or" to motivate them to continue working hard through the season.

The staff may want to build up the confidence level of a player at a certain position and name him the outright starter to see how he handles the role of starter on paper.

In reality, there are many other reasons why the staff sets the depth chart the way they do, and it depends on the specific dynamics of the individual players and the level of competition at each position. Based on the history of this coaching staff and publicly-released depth charts, one thing is certain and that the pecking order on paper is thrown out the window once the game starts and the coaches find the right combination of players for success. The staff will play the lineup that works for that particular game and that particular opponent.

Bottom line – the depth chart is a very fluid entity that is constantly changing and shifting due to internal and external dynamics. It is not an absolute piece of paper. Keep that in mind when going through the names and numbers at each position.

With that disclaimer in place, let's take a look at the depth chart prior to the season opener against Montana State and some names that stick out.

The first thing to notice is that the depth chart released is not an actual list of starting positions, as there are 13 positions listed on offense and the traditional 11 on defense. With so many multiple receiver sets in the game today, the staff included a third receiver position. In addition, the team will also utilize a two tight-end package significantly so they included a second tight end position on the charts.

If you add in special teams, there are a total of 60 different players listed on the extended depth chart. Of that number, 37 are upperclassmen. Only five freshmen are listed, including just two true freshmen, Billy Chavis at strong safety and Frank Avery at tight end.

That not only shows just how experienced this starting lineup will be come Saturday, but many of the second team backups are juniors and seniors as well giving the 2007 Aggie team an incredible amount of experience and depth that's rare in this age of college football where players leave for the NFL early. This point can't be emphasized enough with the brutal road schedule facing this team. It's more comforting to know that a well-seasoned and talented group of 21 and 22 year-olds will be dealing with a hostile crowd of West Texas tortilla throwers and the rowdy sellout crowds in Lincoln and Norman.

Looking at specific positions on offense, the competition at strong guard is still very heated between senior Chris Yoder and sophomore Michael Shumard and they are listed as co-starters. Expect to see both guards get plenty of action in Saturday's game as the staff is still evaluating those two. Also, while Kevin Matthews is listed behind Cody Wallace at center, Coach Franchione has talked frequently about moving Yoder over to center if something were to happen to Wallace.

While Coach Franchione mentioned at one point that veteran Travis Schneider was ahead in the battle for the starting quick tackle spot, it appears that incumbent Yemi Babalola has secured his starting role for the time being. That leaves the Aggies in a very strong position at both the tackle and guard spots with seasoned linemen with starting experience competing to keep their jobs. In the past, A&M had walk-ons and inexperienced newcomers in back-up positions on the line which kept coaches and fans alike holding their collective breaths every game.

Really, there are no major surprises at the offensive skill positions as everyone expected McGee, Lane, Goodson, Bennett, and Thomas to be at the top of the depth chart. There was some uncertainty at wide receiver heading into August, but veterans like Earvin Taylor, Kerry Franks, and Pierre Brown stepped up and won the starting jobs. Offensive coaches like to keep receivers fresh and there's a constant rotation of players at wide receiver especially in sets that spread three and four receivers out. Thus, six or more receivers will see the field in most ball games, so players like Howard Morrow, senior Michael Corey, Cody Beyer, and freshman Roger Holland will likely see plenty of action.

On defense, there were no surprises at linebacker. Based on previous practice comments from Coach Franchione, seniors Mark Dodge and Msi Tupe had secured starting spots with their play, and Matt Featherston and Anthony Lewis stepped up significantly to take the backup spots. With the emergence of Featherston and Lewis, a position that was a question mark coming out of spring practice is now a team strength. If a linebacker goes down, look for Derrick Stephens to get an opportunity to see action.

Going into August workouts, the question on the defensive line focused more on the interior and who would start opposite Red Bryant and who would provide that first wave of depth. It appears that senior Henry Smith has held off Kellen Heard, and recent transfer David Tufuga has shown enough in the past couple of week to make the rotation. Also, Coach Franchione has talked a lot about redshirt freshman Lucas Patterson, but it's interesting to see veteran Chris Smith still hanging in there fighting for the backup spot after shifting over from defensive end last year.

If Tufuga and Smith are playing well, then the Aggies should have little to worry about in terms of depth.

Throughout practice, Coach Franchione discussed the heated battles for starting spots in the secondary, especially at cornerback with Arkeith Brown and Marquis Carpenter challenging incumbents Jordan Peterson and Danny Gorrer. As of Monday, the incumbents have held off the challengers but look for the staff to take a close look at this position during these first two non-conference games.

The WHIP and safety spots seem to be stable with Jordan Pugh, Devin Gregg, and Alton Dixon clearly the starters heading into week one. While the staff has been pleased with the improvement of back-ups Kenny Brown, Stephen Hodge, Chevar Bryson, and freshman Billy Chavis, this is one area where the Aggies could be concerned with depth if a few injuries surface early in the year. Keep an eye on Chavis, who has really impressed the staff with his instincts and big play ability. He could be a major contributor by the time Big 12 conference play gets underway in late September.

On special teams, Matt Szymanski has really stepped up his game after leaving high school a year early to join the Aggies. Frankly, he was too young to handle the pressures of college football last year. He's hit a 52-yarder in a recent scrimmage and has won the placekicking duties outright. No surprises at punter as Justin Brantly is one of the conference's best and could be one of the nation's best.

While freshman Roger Holland worked at punt returner, it appears Jordan Peterson will retain his duties from last season. Pierre Brown and Kerry Franks are back as one of the best kickoff return duos in the conference.

While the release of the August depth chart is usually a big event with most Aggie fans looking for a glimpse into the future, this year's release is somewhat anti-climatic given the large numbers of returning starters and veterans on the 2007 team. It may not be exciting, but it's just what the doctor ordered for a program that has been patching up the two-deep with rookies and deer-in-the-headlight true freshmen for the past 5-6 years.

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