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Thursday, January 10, 2013
Matthews' return huge for Aggies

By Sam Khan Jr.

Texas A&M received a welcome bit of news when junior offensive tackle Jake Matthews officially announced Thursday that he's returning to Aggieland for his senior season.

Jake Matthews
Jake Matthews will return to Texas A&M and slide over to left tackle to protect Johnny Manziel's blind side.
Losing one tackle to the 2013 NFL draft -- junior left tackle Luke Joeckel declared Tuesday -- was a bit of a blow, albeit an understandable one with Joeckel being projected to go in the top five of the draft. If Matthews departed as well, it would have been an uphill battle to replace both stalwart tackles who were as much a reason as any for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's success in 2012.

But the return of Matthews is huge for the Aggies. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has already indicated that Matthews will slide over to left tackle. So the job of protecting Manziel's blind side will be done by someone who already had an All-American-caliber season at the other tackle position and someone with plenty of experience (Matthews has logged 33 consecutive starts dating back to his true freshman season).

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper believes Matthews stands to benefit financially, as he could see his draft stock improve significantly after a season at left tackle.

“Normally you want to see a good prospect take advantage of a good market for his skills and make the jump. And I do think Matthews could crack the late first round this year, or even better, depending on how he performed during the draft process," Kiper said. "But if he moves to left tackle in 2013 and shows NFL evaluators he can handle that role at a high level, he could become even more valuable, given the premium teams put on that position.”

Matthews also indicated the desire to play with his younger brother, Mike Matthews, who will likely be the starting center as a sophomore next season for the Aggies. Jake and Mike had the chance to team up before at Elkins High School in Missouri City, Texas, where Jake was the left tackle and Mike was the center.

If he moves to left tackle in 2013 and shows NFL evaluators he can handle that role at a high level, he could become even more valuable, given the premium teams put on that position.

-- ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper on Jake Matthews
This season, Mike Matthews played sparingly as a reserve to starter Patrick Lewis, normally coming in when the game was well in hand. Sumlin opted not to redshirt Mike because he wanted the younger Matthews to get at least a taste of what playing at the college level would be like before he stepped in for a full season of Southeastern Conference football as the team's starter. If all goes according to plan, Mike will be the team's starting center for the next three seasons.

The return of Jake Matthews solidifies the left side and gives the Aggies options on the right. Candidates to fill Matthews' starting spot at right tackle could include redshirt freshman Joseph Cheek, who played some this season, or true freshman Germain Ifedi.

The possibility of moving someone like right guard Cedric Ogbuehi to tackle is also a possibility. Should that happen, there would be plenty of competition at the guard position to start in place of Ogbuehi and the Aggies have plenty of depth at the position. Either way, the Aggies will have three returning starters on the offensive line (left guard Jarvis Harrison is the other), and that's good news for Texas A&M's offense.

However, protecting a quarterback's blind side is most important, especially when you have someone as talented as Manziel, the redshirt freshman wunderkind who took college football by storm this past season. Moving an experienced veteran like Matthews, who should be more than capable of filling the role, should provide a smooth and effective transition for the Aggies. That's what you want for a team that could start next preseason ranked in the top five of the polls and be a possible dark-horse BCS title contender.