Texas A&M Fall Camp Review

The Texas Aggie football team concluded 2010 fall camp on Friday. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at the answers and the concerns coming out of the fall practice sessions. Sandhop also names his top 10 performers, top 10 newcomers, and top 10 most improved players.

At the beginning of fall camp, I published a story analyzing the six key storylines the Texas A&M football team needed to address and answer during the 23 practice sessions. With camp ending on Friday, I'm going back to these key storylines and seeing where the team stands in answering these six questions that are critical to the Aggies' success in 2010.


UNRESOLVED STORYLINES FROM FALL CAMP


1) Will Jerrod Johnson's changes to his throwing motion in the offseason improve his performance or cause inconsistency?

While Johnson had a breakout season and has emerged as one of the top five NFL prospects at the quarterback position, he worked hard in the offseason to change to a more upright motion with a quicker release and he also had a minor surgical procedure that forced him to skip most of spring practice. His camp performance was a question mark going into camp, and it still remains somewhat of a question mark at the end of camp. Don't get me wrong, Johnson had a solid camp with his decision making and ability to engineer and move this offense. The issue is his ability to accurately and consistently throw the long ball which historically has been his strength. He simply threw some clunkers in practice and his passes didn't seem to have quite the crispness from last season. QB coach Tom Rossley acknowledged last week that Johnson still wasn't quite 100%, but he was getting close.

2) Can the Aggies improve kicking and punting?

The special teams struggles in 2009 have been well-documented and too numerous to mention here. However, a good portion of the coverage problems were a result of short, low kicks and punts. Finding a kicker that can boom kicks into the end zone consistently and a punter that can get good distance and hang time won't solve all special teams issues, but it's a good start. The kickers and punters have teased observers all fall. There would be days when Randy Bullock was perfect and looked very strong and stable in live field goal drills. Then, over a two-day stretch he completely fell apart and looked lost. He has since regained his steady form, but it does make you think and wonder if he will lose it again in a critical situation. With the punting situation, the candidates have been inconsistent as well. Blinn transfer Jared Jaroszewski appears to have the strongest leg and he can kick some nice, high 50+ yard boomers. He will also kick a 25 yarder off the side of his leg but at this point I'd take the inconsistency to the consistent 34 yard low liner that Ryan Epperson and Ken Wood produced last season. With that said, the staff did not develop a clear answer to this question overall.

3) Can the Aggies find a two-deep rotation at the three defensive line spots?

The defensive line front has been a concern in recent years. The Aggies actually have a deep mix of veterans, JUCO transfers, and high school recruits to fill out the other defensive end spot and provide depth. Early in camp, it appeared that several defensive ends like Ben Bass and Jonathan Mathis were stepping forward to provide that depth, but they seemed to plateau in the middle of camp which has left the two-deep rotation in question. The first unit is set with veterans Tony Jerod-Eddie, Eddie Brown (nose guard) and Lucas Patterson (defensive end), but several candidates are still battling to separate themselves on the second team including Mathis, Bass, Stephen Barrera, Spencer Nealy, Kirby Ennis, Michael Ebbitt, and Ivan Robinson. The position is in much better shape than last season in terms of depth, but somebody still needs to step up and win the second unit jobs.


RESOLVED STORYLINES FROM FALL CAMP


1) Can defense adjust and improve under DC Tim DeRuyter?

Coach Sherman handpicked Tim DeRuyter in the offseason to remake his struggling 4-3 base defense into an aggressive, quick 3-4 base defense that puts the focus back on linebacker play. While the proof will be in the pudding this September, but most accounts the offense had a more difficult time moving the ball in practice than in the previous two seasons. What is known for sure is the defense will be faster and more aggressive, and with Von Miller and Demontre Moore coming off both edges in passing situations, the pass rush will be more formidable than last season. From all accounts, the defense will improve but how much of an improvement could be the difference between 7-5 and 9-3.

2) Will the highly-rated freshman offensive line class contribute immediately?

Sherman has been battling an empty OL pipeline since he arrived over two years ago. The offensive line is the toughest position to restock and it's uncommon to see many true freshmen crack the starting lineup. However, there's no doubt that at least two true freshmen will see significant playing time. I'll be the first to say I'm skeptical of 18 year-old freshmen playing immediately on a collegiate offensive line given the usual lack of physical maturity and knowledge of technique and blocking schemes. But, both Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are playing far beyond their years and proved it over 23 fall practices. They are better than anything A&M has put on the field at tackle in over a decade. So from that standpoint, the two fish represent a significant upgrade and they will contribute immediately. They did everything asked of them and more during the fall camp.

3) Can either Michael Hodges or Kyle Mangan emerge as a physical presence in the middle of the defense at inside linebacker?

A lot went wrong with the 2009 defense that surrendered well over 400 yards per contest. However, in the spring the defensive secondary took a major step forward and the unit is building some quality depth at cornerback. But, questions still remain with the front seven and there's no bigger question than at one of the inside linebacker spots where walk-on Michael Hodges and sophomore Kyle Mangan will battle this fall. Texas A&M must have a playmaking physical presence in the middle to compliment senior Garrick Williams. The knock on Hodges has been his physicality in the middle, and in the fall camp he used his additional 10-15 pounds of bulk to be a more physical force. On several occasions in goal line scenarios, Hodges was able to make the hit and drive the ball carrier back and away from the goal line. By the same token, I thought Kyle Mangan played better run support and was more aggressive pursuing the ball than he was last year. I'm not saying this spot is a team strength just yet, but I do think the pair of inside linebackers have developed enough to not hurt the defensive unit.


Top Veteran Fall Camp Performers

1) Von Miller
2) Lucas Patterson
3) Ryan Swope
4) Evan Eike
5) Terrence Frederick
6) Jeff Fuller
7) Christine Michael
8) Garrick Williams
9) Terrence McCoy
10) Brian Thomas


Top Newcomers in Fall Camp

1) Luke Joeckel
2) Jake Matthews
3) Demontre Moore
4) Nehemiah Hicks
5) Jonathan Mathis
6) Ben Bass
7) Domonique Patterson
8) Toney Hurd Jr.
9) Nate Askew
10) Jared Jaroszewski


Most Improved Players in Fall Camp

1) Lucas Patterson
2) Joe Villavisencio
3) Lionel Smith
4) Terrence McCoy
5) Brian Thomas
6) Von Miller
7) Coryell Judie
8) Jonathan Stewart
9) Hutson Prioleau
10) Matt Allen


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