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Monday, March 4, 2013
What to watch for this spring for TAMU

By Sam Khan Jr.

Cameron Clear
With his size, tight end Cameron Clear would add a different dimension to the Aggies' offense.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M kicked off spring practice for the 2013 season on Saturday and with it comes new players in new roles, new expectations and plenty of other changes.

Many of those changes could be seen on the initial 2013 depth chart released by head coach Kevin Sumlin. There are some absent names because of injuries and there's a long way to go before definitive statements can be made, but it certainly gives us some players and things to keep an eye on moving forward. Among them:

Fresh faces at receiver: Of course, Mike Evans is the only returning starter at receiver and he will return to his outside receiver position where he led the team in catches and receiving yards a year ago. Plenty of other names worth watching are the three listed at No. 1 on the depth chart at the other receiver positions: Malcome Kennedy, Sabian Holmes and Derel Walker.

This spring will be about finding out who is good enough to be trusted on the field on Saturdays when Johnny Manziel drops back to pass. Kennedy has a jump start on most of the other role players because he played in some big games and caught some huge passes (see: Alabama) last season. Holmes was a true freshman last season but earned some playing time here and there. Walker also earned some spot playing time last year and the transfer from Trinity Valley Community College could be another one to watch.

Listed behind Evans at outside receiver is 6-foot-4 Edward Pope. As scout team player of the year, Pope is one who could have a breakout year as a redshirt freshman if he continues to practice like he did last fall. And don't rule out Ja'Quay Williams, the recruit from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. He looks to battle Walker this spring and has good size (6-3, 210) and speed.

Also keep an eye on the tight ends: Nehemiah Hicks (listed behind Holmes on the two-deep) and Cameron Clear (behind Kennedy). Clear is 6-6, 270 and could add a dimension to this offense that wasn't there a year ago.

Backup quarterback battle: Sumlin said the battle for backup quarterback is "wide open." The two top candidates for it will be junior Matt Joeckel, who is currently listed as Manziel's backup and redshirt freshman Matt Davis. Joeckel was the No. 3 quarterback last year behind Manziel and Jameill Showers (who transferred to UTEP) and Davis was a ballyhooed recruit in the 2012 class who redshirted last year.

New right guard: Last year's right guard, Cedric Ogbuehi, has moved to right tackle while Jake Matthews is now at left tackle. So the battle at guard is wide open with redshirt freshman Germain Ifedi battling junior Ben Compton. It's a size vs. experience battle here. Ifedi is bigger at 6-5, 320 (to Compton's 6-4, 307) but Compton has playing experience and was a backup guard last year. He also has the ability to play center, where he's listed at No. 2 behind sophomore Mike Matthews.

Damontre Moore's heir apparent: Tyrell Taylor has the edge here. He backed up Moore at the rush end position last season while Tyrone Taylor redshirted. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder acknowledged before spring that Tyrell is ahead of Tyrone, simply based on practice time a year ago.

The defensive line as a whole is a work in progress. There's not a lot of depth at defensive tackle [Kirby Ennis is rehabbing a knee injury and was also suspended for an offseason arrest] so young guys like Alonzo Williams and Polo Manukainiu are listed at No. 1 at the positions this spring. Gavin Stansbury is the most experienced of the healthy defensive ends returning as Julien Obioha, who started at defensive end last year, is missing the spring with an undisclosed injury. One question coaches are looking to see answered is whether Brandon Alexander will be an X-factor for this team this year. He redshirted last year and wasn't in the conversation despite his size (6-6, 255) and athleticism. If he can get into the mix, it would be a boost for the Aggies.

Youth at linebacker: With two seniors having departed, the Aggies are welcoming some new faces at linebacker, including freshmen. True freshman Brett Wade, a four-star recruit from Kennedale (Texas) High School, goes into the spring at No. 1 at weakside linebacker with senior Steven Jenkins recovering from a torn labrum and missing the spring. Junior Donnie Baggs, who backed up Jenkins last year, moves into the No. 1 spot at middle linebacker and Shaun Ward and true freshman Reggie Chevis are battling for the spot behind Baggs currently.

At strongside linebacker, two new faces appear at the position. One is a recruit -- Butler Community College signee Tommy Sanders, who signed with the Aggies in December, starts the spring leading at that position. The other is from the offense -- Nate Askew. A former receiver, Sumlin and the staff are experimenting by trying the 6-4, 225-pounder at linebacker. He played in 10 games last year but only caught three passes.

Ever-changing secondary: The defensive backfield shifted often last year and this spring, the Aggies are trying even more combinations. With senior Steven Terrell having graduated, a safety spot is open. Cornerback Floyd Raven is being tried out at free safety by the defensive staff.

Snyder said he thinks the shift could play to Raven's strengths better. Howard Matthews, who finished the year starting at the other safety position, returns, and Snyder called him "a leader."

Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris remain the starters at corner in the spring and Toney Hurd Jr., who is also developing into a leader, returns to his hybrid role of nickel cornerback and safety. Keep an eye on true freshman Alex Sezer, who is listed at No. 2 at cornerback behind Everett. He graduated high school early to join the Aggies in January as a 2013 recruit.