Spring ball 2008: Keep an eye on...

What will the be the impact of Jorvorskie Lane moving over to fullback? Who will step in at the offensive line? Who will replace Dodge and Tupe at linebacker? Aggie Websider takes a look at key position battles just one day before the start of spring football practice.

In just under 24 hours, Aggie football takes the first step towards gridiron glory under the leadership of Coach Sherman with spring practice. While every team copes with filling roster holes and finding that new rhythm with new key players, this year is a little different.

This year the Aggies must not only fill the holes, including the chasm at offensive line as all five positions must be replaced, but learn an entirely new system, coaching style, and attitude. If A&M is to succeed under Coach Sherman, they will need to make great strides in these next couple of weeks leading up to the spring game, where the Aggies will need to show the fans, the big twelve, and most importantly themselves that they can transition smoothly to the new schemes and be a force for next year.

Positions to watch: Offense

Runningback:
Key Gains: Bradley Stephens (rFR)
Key Losses: Chris Alexander

The most intriguing position change of the spring for many might just be the switch for Jorvorskie Lane to fullback. The loss of Chris Alexander is a big one for Texas A&M, but Jorvorskie has the potential to do more than fill this loss, while at the same time provide a constant threat between the tackles. If Lane can show the same willingness to steamroll defenders without a ball in his hands, the Aggies will be in good shape. The real question though may not be about gumption but about consumption. Even at fullback, Lane will need to slim down, especially from Alamo Bowl form, to really be deadly and also to have a shot at the NFL after this year.

The most impressive newcomer will be freshmen Bradley Stephens. Redshirted all of last year, he compiled over 7,800 yards in his High School career, and could challenge Mike Goodson, Keondra Smith, and the rest of the Aggies' stable of running backs for playing time in the fall. Look for Stephens to get a shot at starting on one side for the Maroon and White Game.

Offensive Line:
Key Gains: Evan Eike (FR), Danny Baker (FR)
Key Losses: Corey Clark, Kirk Elder, Cody Wallace, Chris Yoder, Yemi Babalola

Not very often is a team asked to replace its entire offensive line in the same year, but with the dismissal of Babalola in December, A&M found itself in a position to do just that. The Aggies return just five players with any experience at all, juniors Robbie Frost, Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews, and Michael Shumard as well as senior Travis Schneider.

For the spring, look for Sherman to concentrate on the offensive line as a particular area of concern, and possibly juggle some players from the defensive side of the ball to complete his two deep. One thing is for sure, don't be surprised if you see a walk-on or either of the two new freshmen log significant minutes in the spring game.

Wide Receiver:
Key Gains: Chris Caflisch (rSO), Nick Trice (rFR), Jeffery Fuller (FR)
Key Losses: Earvin Taylor, Kerry Franks, Michael Corey

A&M's wide receivers only accounted for 1,116 yards last year, and 783 of those yards came from the seniors now leaving the team. If the Aggies can transform into the offense Sherman and the Aggie fans want, a game changing receiver must emerge from this group of underclassmen. One candidate is Pierre Brown, the only returning receiver that caught more than 10 passes last year. Other possibilities are senior Howard Morrow or sophomore speedster Roger Holland.

However, it is very possible that the best Aggie receiver may also be the newest, in mid-term enrollee Jeff Fuller. Rumor is this Boyd High School graduate has turned into one of the staff's favorite athletes, so look for him to make an impact as early as the spring game.

Positions to watch: Defense

Defensive Line:
Key Gains: Ben Bass (rFR), Michael Ebbitt (rFR), Cody Williams (rSO)
Key Losses: Red Bryant, Chris Harrington, Henry Smith

The Aggies lose three crucial pieces to last year's defensive line but, unlike the offensive line, A&M is in much better shape to reload at these positions. Considering Sherman's focus on team speed it would not be a surprise to see sophomore Von Miller start opposite senior Michael Bennett at the two end positions, with Kellen Heard and Cyril Obiozor anchoring the middle.

Other athletes that could see significant time include all three of the newcomers, Chris Smith, and two players that could possibly be moved to help the offense instead in Amos Gbunblee (to TE) and Lucas Patterson (to OL).

Linebacker:
Key Gains: Derrick Stephens (rFR), Matt Moss (JC)
Key Losses: Mark Dodge, Misi Tupe

If there is one iconic thing about the former Wrecking Crew defense, it is the play of the linebackers, and A&M hopes to start the journey back to that glory this spring. While Sherman has done an excellent job since his arrival at plucking speedy and aggressive backers from high schools around Texas, many of them will not be on campus until the fall semester. This means that for the spring practices, A&M could have as few as ten players listed at linebacker.

Luckily, of those few players, Anthony Lewis and Matt Featherston have significant game experience. In addition, Derrick Stephens is an athlete many projected to have the biggest impact of a newcomer in this upcoming season, and Matt Moss is a Junior College transfer that should see the field right away. Still, look for the fall enrollees of Ricky Cavanaugh and Kyle Mangan to perhaps help fill out this squad by earning immediate playing time in the fall.


Aggie Digest Top Stories