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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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New team ready to tackle season

Football+Preview.jpg
Football Preview.jpg

The offseason of the 2022 college football season marked a season of changes for Texas A&M. Head coach Jimbo Fisher reeled in an extensive recruiting class that beat out all others, scoring the No. 1 recruiting class of all-time.

A&M secured a slew of young talent including the No. 1 defensive lineman and tight end, the No. 2 wide receiver, quarterback, safety and kicker and the No. 3 defensive lineman, wide receiver and interior offensive lineman, among many others.

Fisher said the freshmen group has done a good job of adapting and understanding how the team practices and some players feel like they have been with the team for a long time with how strong the buy-in has been.

“Their body types, the size, speed of these guys [is different than freshmen were five years ago],” Fisher said. “You still [have] to play the game. ‘Where my steps are, where my hat is, how tough am I, can I give effort, am I mentally focused on everything I do …’ That’s what we have to do now and develop these guys.”

A few spots across the depth chart could provide the young players, especially wide receivers, the chance to play early. Evan Stewart, a freshman from Frisco and the No. 2 wide receiver in the high school Class of 2022, has been able to impress early on in the process.

“His speed, when you’re watching it on video or live on the field, it’s there,” James Coley said, A&M’s offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. “He’s explosive, he’s fast in short areas and fast with long speed. That all helps route runners get open … he’s a prideful kid who takes a lot of pride in being prepared and having his toolbox [and] his skillset ready to go for practice.”

Another young group is the Aggies’ defensive line. With athletes like Jayden Peevy, DeMarvin Leal, Micheal Clemons and Tyree Johnson leaving for the NFL over the offseason, the path is paved for the next group of players to get their shot.

“I think the most important thing when getting young guys is teaching them the small things, the ordinary things,” Elijah Robinson said, A&M’s assistant head coach, running game coordinator and defensive line coach.

Robinson said the process of coaching up the young recruits often works indirectly through the veterans on the roster. Robinson said many of the team’s returning players along the defensive line — including juniors McKinnley Jackson and Isaiah Raikes and sophomore Shemar Turner — have been coaching up the younger players. Having played behind the departing talent and having the opportunity to watch them work, the new group of veterans can pass along that knowledge.

Though much attention has gone toward the new guys, Fisher said that more needs to go toward the older guys and their improvements as well. He said upperclassmen and experienced players need to set an example for the younger players while taking the proper steps to get to the next level.

Among these roster veterans include a few stars from the 2021 season, senior safety Demani Richardson and Ainias Smith. Richardson was the first player named when Fisher was asked which older guys have stepped up so far. Smith also received praise from Coley for his involvement in practices.

“He’s involved in every play,” Coley said. “He’s there chirping and talking, that’s the way he approaches the game. For him, it’s a mental edge … and he’s been huge for the young guys, he’s always talking to them. He’s huge for the older guys because he’s talking to them too. He’s got the right mindset.”

One of the aspects that makes A&M’s 2022 football season so intriguing is the balance of the old and the new. While many of the team’s top performers departed for the pros, the Aggies still added a lot of young talent across the board. Even in-house, a lot of talent that had been waiting in the wings are finally getting their chance to fly.

Across the offense, there is expected to be a quarterback battle between freshman Conner Weigman, redshirt sophomore Haynes King and junior LSU transfer Max Johnson. Catching passes, the aforementioned Smith leads a crew of Stewart, junior Chase Lane, redshirt sophomore Moose Muhammad III and redshirt senior Jalen Preston.

The offensive line was also revamped with young talent. Redshirt junior Layden Robinson leads an inexperienced unit of redshirt freshman Trey Zuhn III, redshirt sophomore Jordan Spasojevic-Moko, sophomores Bryce Foster and Reuben Fatheree II.

“We’ve got the weapons, we’ve got the skill, we’ve got the ability to be an outstanding offense,” offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Darrell Dickey said. “To be explosive, to be able to grind it out, to be able to do all the things coach Fisher wants to do from an offensive standpoint. We just got to figure out who’s going to be doing the bulk of it at each position and I think the competition is going to carry out throughout the season. The younger guys are hungrier.”

Another major key to a potentially explosive A&M offense is junior running back Devon Achane. Having been playing behind now-Los Angeles Chargers running back Isaiah Spiller for the last couple of seasons, Achane got to show fans a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing.

In 2021, Achane toted 130 carries for 910 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, adding on 24 catches for 261 yards and an extra touchdown. Spiller’s absence vacates 179 carries, some of which will likely be redirected to Achane as a potential workhorse back. However, Spiller never received more than 188 carries or 29 catches in a season, meaning the Aggies may look to incorporate sophomore Amari Daniels, redshirt freshman LJ Johnson and redshirt junior Earnest Crownover more than in the past.

The change in Aggieland doesn’t stop with the players, however. Over the offseason, Mike Elko, who served as A&M’s defensive coordinator from 2018 to 2021, left for a head coaching opportunity at Duke. In his place, Fisher brought in D.J. Durkin from Ole Miss, known best for his time as Maryland’s head coach.

“I feel like this program and coach Fisher’s vision, proven track record and things he does, I think everything lines up here to really be able to do something special,” Durkin said. “We acquired great talent, great players and now getting to meet everyone, we have great people most importantly. Talented team and talented staff, it’s a good place to be.”

Durkin said his defensive philosophy differs at every stop he’s made. Durkin has been a part of nine different organizations since 2001. His goal with A&M’s defense is to build his scheme around the players and create buy-in from the athletes.

Coach Robinson, while not new to the team, is new to his position as assistant head coach. He came to A&M in 2018 after stints with Baylor, Temple and his alma mater Penn State.

“I always passed [College Station] on my way to go recruit, and every time it grabbed my eyes,” Robinson said. “I always passed this barn that had white paint that said, ‘Gig ’em.’ I had no idea what that barn was. I always drove past and wondered what College Station was like. When I had the opportunity to work for coach Fisher and be in the SEC, that was something I couldn’t turn down.”

As A&M enters the 2022 season, they currently sit with a ranking of No. 6 on the AP Poll, despite an 8-4 season in 2021 that ended with the Aggies being unranked. This season, with talent apparent across the roster, Fisher and the rest of his crew will have to put the pieces together to have a chance for a successful season in the SEC.

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