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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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Week 1 of spring practice: A&M looks to start fresh

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Freshman QB Conner Weigman (15) throws a pass during A&M’s game vs. LSU at Kyle Field on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (Jonathan Taffet/The Battalion)

On Monday, March 20, Texas A&M football began its first of 15 spring practices with some new and familiar faces to the maroon and white program.
Before their practice, coach Jimbo Fisher and graduate wide receiver Ainias Smith sat down with the media to recap the offseason and preview the upcoming schedule.
Here’s what they had to say:
Coaching Staff
On Jan. 4, then-Missouri State head coach and University of Nevada, Las Vegas offensive coordinator — for a few weeks — Bobby Petrino accepted the offensive coordinator position at A&M for the 2023 season.
Petrino averaged 27.4 points per game, 246.8 passing yards per game and called 27 more passing plays on first down than running plays in the 2022 season. Fisher said Petrino’s experience and resume are what landed him the job in Aggieland.
As far as play-calling goes, Fisher said he was open to transferring the duties to Petrino as time passes.
“We’ll go through that as we go,” Fisher said. “I plan on him making calls. I plan on him calling plays. I don’t have a problem with that at all.”
Regarding the players, Smith said he knew of him before he stepped foot in College Station, and he notices and appreciates the energy that the offensive coordinator brings to the locker room and practices.
“I knew he was the Arkansas coach. I knew he was at Louisville when Lamar [Jackson] was there,” Smith said. “You can definitely tell he’s eager, excited and ready to go. I’m ready.”
Other than Petrino, Fisher added then-Ole Miss running back coach Marquel Blackwell to the staff, along with Bryant Gross-Armiento — who was A&M’s defensive analyst a year before — to coach the secondary.
Both coaches have experience playing at the collegiate and professional levels at their respective, or somewhat similar, positions.
Gross-Armiento played safety at Rutgers University and at Wake Forest before serving as a graduate assistant for the Demon Deacons. Blackwell was a dual-threat quarterback at the University of South Florida from 1999-2002.
Despite going undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft, Blackwell played for the New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before playing the rest of his career in the Arena Football and Canadian Football Leagues.
As a running back coach for Ole Miss, Blackwell coached freshman running backs Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans to a rather impressive season on the ground. Judkins ended the season leading the SEC with 1,567 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Evans finished sixth in the SEC in rushing yards, just 64 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season.
Returning to A&M for another year is offensive line coach Steve Addazio. Fisher had high praise for the Connecticut native, as his offensive line last season was plagued with injuries from the left to the right side of the ball.
“Those guys, I think they’ll do a great job on our staff,” Fisher said.
Returners
Despite losing 28 players to the transfer portal according to on3.com, the Aggies return with a few dominant starters to the maroon and white roster. Especially a Missouri City native who will line up alongside receivers sophomore Moose Muhammad III and freshman Evan Stewart.
On Sept. 24, 2022, Smith left the Southwest Classic against Arkansas due to a leg injury that would keep him sidelined for the rest of the season and put an end to his extraordinary start.
The journey from the injury to the spring season has been a grind, Smith said, and if it weren’t for the major setback, the next time anyone would see him play again, it would most likely be at the next level.
“So, I mean, [the injury] definitely played probably the biggest role,” Smith said. “Really, I’m just trying to put the timeline together on when I’d be able to go full speed. Whether or not I’d be able to perform at my best in the combine or even on pro day, whether I had to push it back or not. There were a lot of things that played a role in it. Definitely, the injury was something that I had to go and attack, full speed. Especially, whether or not I was going to come back or leave. I just really wanted to go and get back healthy.”
From needing assistance to get off the field to being back with his teammates at spring practice, Smith said he is excited and ready to take on the new season with his team.
“I remember the first few weeks after I got hurt. I just wanted to walk,” Smith said. “Being able to come back and seeing their reactions to my decision to come back was definitely exciting to see.”
Smith said he is ready to take on the leadership role and help the new coordinator take the Aggies to the next offensive step and improve on last season’s struggles.
“Offensively, we had a lot of extra opportunities (last season) that we didn’t necessarily capitalize on,” Smith said. “This year, starting today, we’re going to make it important and necessary to set a different standard.”
Clean Slate
Fisher stressed a few important points at the start of the press conference. The significance of fundamentals and execution and that no job is safe, especially at the quarterback position.
“Every position is an open competition,” Fisher said about the quarterback position. “That’s what spring is about. Nobody has anything. You have to prove yourself each and every day.”
A&M will return multiple players to the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. However, Fisher said experience at the position won’t solidify a starting position come the fall of 2023.
“Experience is one thing, but you have to go prove it every day … It goes back to what you do each and every year,” Fisher said. “Availability and accountability. Those are the two biggest abilities that you’ve got.
“If you’re not available and accountable, the rest of it doesn’t matter,” Fisher said.
Injury Report
At the start of the press conference, Fisher announced the players who will be sitting out due to injury or because of involvement in another sport.
Those out for spring practice include sophomore offensive linemen Bryce Foster, Matthew Wykoff, Trey Zuhn III and freshman Hunter Erb. Besides the trenches, tight ends such as freshman Jaden Platt and graduate Max Wright will be absent from practice, along with sophomore Deuce Harmon, who is expected to return to practice before spring is over.

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