College Station - Texas A&M, with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel leading the way, should be a top 10 team when the first preseason football polls start making their initial appearances this summer.
But the Aggies, as they prepare to start spring workouts on Saturday, are at their core a very young team as they try to better last year’s impressive 11-2 premiere in the Southeastern Conference.
Coach Kevin Sumlin released his first spring depth chart Friday. There are seven players listed on the two deep, most of them on defense, who enrolled in January.
“It’s a little bit out of necessity,” said A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder of the newcomers.
“Some of these guys should be going to prom in a couple of months,” Sumlin cracked.
The greenest spot of the team is at linebacker, especially with Steven Jenkins, the lone returning starter, missing the spring while nursing a shoulder injury.
Freshman Brent Wade of Kennedale is listed as the starter at weakside linebacker. The starter at strongside linebacker is Tommy Sanders, a junior college transfer. The two current backups in the middle are Shaun Ward, a juco-transfer, and Reggie Chavis, a freshman from Houston Sharpstown.
And for now, Nate Askew is Sanders’ backup. A&M fans will recognize Askew’s name — as a 6-4, 230-pound offensive enigma. Askew, a senior, has spent the past three seasons at split end.
“Nate’s been having to hold his weight down,” Sumlin said of Askew. “There are very few guys on this team who have the athletic ability he does. For whatever reason, it didn’t transfer at wide receiver.”
There also are four new starters at defensive line, although the situation isn’t as acute as linebacker. Two of those players — end Julien Obioha and Kirby Ennis — will miss the spring with injury. Plus, Ennis also is serving a suspension because of a recent arrest.
Sumlin gets a raise
A&M is rewarding its coaches. Sumlin will receive a $1.1 million annual raise starting April 1, bumping his yearly salary to $3.1 million, plus bonuses. In addition, he is allowed a $3.4 million annual salary pool to pay his assistant coaches. That’s a raise of $700,000 from a year ago.
To help pay for the raises, athletic director Eric Hyman announced this week that the price of season tickets will rise by $25.
Tailbacks generate buzz
Senior Ben Malena returns as starter at tailback. On Friday, he called A&M’s group of runners the best in the country.
Malena’s opinion may not be hyperbole. Transfers Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon) are now eligible to play after raising eyebrows on the scout team last fall.
Sophomore Trey Williams also will be vying for carries. But he’ll miss most of spring drills after undergoing surgery to repair a hernia. Sumlin said he expects Williams to be available for the last week of practice.
Battle to back up Manziel
Sumlin said the job of Manziel’s backup is “wide open.”
The opening came when Jameill Showers, who had been A&M’s No. 2 quarterback for the past two seasons, announced this week that he is transferring to Texas-El Paso. Showers still is in school at A&M and is on schedule to graduate. That’ll make him immediately eligible at UTEP. Conceivably, he could be starting against his old school when the Miners and Aggies play at Kyle Field in November.
Junior Matt Joeckel and redshirt freshman Matt Davis will compete for the second quarterback spot. Sumlin signed two quarterbacks in February, but incoming freshman Kohl Stewart might opt for a career in pro baseball. He’s projected as a first-round draft pick.