Texas A&M Aggies: 2012 Position Grades

Grading the positions: Special teams 

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we conclude the series with a look at the special teams:

[+] EnlargeBen Malena
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesTexas A&M utilized players such as starting running back Ben Malena to find success on special teams.
Highlights: The first thought that might come to the mind of many Aggies when thinking about special teams is the inconsistency in the field goal department. But special teams is more than field goals, and there was a lot of good about Texas A&M in the third phase in the game. As a team, the Aggies ranked ninth in the nation in net punting (40.3 yard net average per punt). Punter Ryan Epperson didn't have enough punts to make the FBS leaders, but if he did, he would have ranked in the top 30 in gross average per punt (42.8 yards). The Aggies also were good covering kicks and punts. They ranked 17th in the nation in kickoff return yardage defense and 27th in punt return yardage defense. And senior Dustin Harris finished 11th in the country in punt return average (13.1 yards per return) and the Aggies ranked 12th as a team in the category.

Lowlights: The biggest lowlight was the aforementioned field goal struggles. Redshirt freshman Taylor Bertolet hit just 13-of-22 attempts, making field goals at a 59.1 percent clip. He was good inside the 30 (8-of-9 attempts) and from 50 or longer (3-of-4). It was from 30-49 yards that he was at his worst. He hit 2-of-9 attempts from that distance (1-of-6 from 30-39 yards; 1-of-3 from 40-49 yards). The inconsistency was frustrating for Aggies observers, especially considering his ability to hit from long range (he had a long of 54). On the bright side, he was good on kickoffs, recording 61 touchbacks on 96 kickoffs.

Grading the positions: Defensive line 

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
10:30
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the defensive line.

GradeHighlights: This was the group that garnered the most questions from observers going into the season. At SEC media days and during fall training camp, questions about depth -- particularly at defensive tackle -- lingered as the Aggies moved around the pieces. The front four responded resoundingly, becoming one of the bright spots, if not the bright spot, on the defense. Defensive end Damontre Moore was dominant virtually all season, finishing tied for third in the nation in sacks (12.5) and tied for fifth in tackles for loss (20) and leading the Aggies in tackles (80). Spencer Nealy, who transitioned to defensive tackle from defensive end, received high praise from the coaching staff for consistently taking on double teams and having an impact. Kirby Ennis was effective in run defense and true freshman Julien Obioha made an impact despite his youth.

Lowlights: The biggest struggle the Aggies had up front came against LSU. Early on, the unit performed well but the Tigers ate up chunks of yardage on the ground as the game went on and finished with 219 rushing yards, the most any team compiled against Texas A&M all season.

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Grading the positions: Linebackers 

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
4:45
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the linebackers.

GradeHighlights: This was one of the most experienced position groups on the team, with seniors (Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart) and a junior (Steven Jenkins) starting. Stewart led the group in tackles with 72 (good for second on the team). Porter was a leader and a playmaker (5.5 tackles for loss) and brought a sense of urgency to the defense and the team, which was important to the Aggies' success. Jenkins (70 tackles, five tackles for loss) was also a playmaker who came up big on several occasions. Sophomore Donnie Baggs, who played in 11 of 12 games and started one, was a capable reserve who earned the trust of the coaching staff. He collected 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in part-time duty.

Lowlights: Jenkins was suspended for a game for a "violation of team rules" over the summer. He ended up sitting out the Louisiana Tech game. There were some games where stopping the run was an issue (the Aggies yielded 219 yards on the ground to LSU, 165 to Louisiana Tech and 159 to Mississippi come to mind).

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Grading the positions: Receivers 

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
12:00
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the receivers.

GradeHighlights: Redshirt freshman Mike Evans was a pleasant surprise this season for the Aggies. He led the team in catches (75) and receiving yards (1,022), becoming just the third Texas A&M player to haul in 1,000 or more receiving yards in a season. He's big (6-foot-5, 218 pounds), fast and physical, rarely running out of bounds voluntarily. Senior Ryan Swope recovered from a few early-season games with low statistical outputs to become one of Johnny Manziel's most trusted and consistent target as the year progressed. Swope was second on the team in receptions (64) and yards (809) and had a team-high seven touchdown receptions and made some huge catches down the stretch. Senior Uzoma Nwachkwu also had a nose for the end zone, catching six scores. Sophomore Malcome Kennedy emerged throughout the the season as a reliable target and caught the memorable touchdown pass against Alabama that served as Texas A&M's final points in the upset win.

Lowlights: The lack of production early in the season by receivers not named Mike Evans wasn't necessarily their fault. As head coach Kevin Sumlin often said, "Guys were open; we just weren't finding them." Much of that had to do with Manziel getting used to and comfortable with the offense while taking care of the ball since the coaches were adamant about him not being reckless and turning it over. Thomas Johnson was a bright spot in terms of the ability he showed as a true freshman but his brief disappearance near the end of the season leaves questions about his future. Sumlin has said only that Johnson is with his family in Dallas and has not commented on Johnson's future with the team.

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Grading the positions: Cornerbacks 

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
1:30
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the cornerbacks.

GradeHighlights: In the biggest game of the year, it was a cornerback (Deshazor Everett) that made the biggest play, coming up with an interception of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron in the Aggies' 29-24 upset win over the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala. That play, in the context of that game, seemed to be a fitting sign of the cornerbacks' growth all season. There were some bumps in the road (big pass plays were yielded that allowed the Crimson Tide to stay within striking distance) but when the chips were down, the group made plays. Senior Dustin Harris morphed into a leader for the group and led the team in pass breakups with 10. Everett, who played in 11 of 12 games, had the task of going back and forth from corner to safety and handled it well, finishing with seven pass breakups and two interceptions. True freshman De'Vante Harris started seven games, a huge task for a true freshman at any position in the SEC and nickel cornerback Toney Hurd (who also spent time working at safety) played well when lining up at corner and tied with safety Steven Terrell to lead the entire secondary in tackles with 58.

Lowlights: There were some struggles early in the season when it came to tackling (defensive coordinator Mark Snyder called it "ankle-biting") that could be seen against Florida and in a big pass play or two against Arkansas. The Louisiana Tech game was a struggle as Aggies yielded a season-high 450 passing yards that day. As mentioned before, there were some big plays given up in the Alabama game as the Crimson Tide tried to stage a comeback. Some might point to the Aggies ranking 79th nationally in passing yardage defense as a sign of struggles, but it's worth noting that they had large leads on many teams early and some of those yards were compiled against reserves or in the midst of blowouts when the game was decided.

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Grading the positions: Running backs 

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
1:00
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the running back position.

GradeHighlights: Junior Ben Malena emerged as the go-to back this season, leading the running backs in rushing yards (752 yards on 130 carries) and adding 100 receiving yards 16 receptions. He was not only an asset with the ball in his hands but also without, doing well with blitz pickups in pass protection and even playing on special teams, covering kickoffs and punts. The 5-8, 195-pound junior proved to be a good fit for the Aggies' offensive scheme. Senior Christine Michael led the backs in rushing touchdowns with 12 and true freshman Trey Williams showed flashes of his ability when he got the ball, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and leading the running backs in receiving yards, (171 on 12 catches). Williams also handled kickoff return duties.

Lowlights: Michael's senior season didn't turn out as originally envisioned. He started two games (the opener and the regular season finale) and missed one because of a suspension (violation of team rules). He finished with 88 carries, second among the running backs but did lead the team in touchdowns. While all three backs saw action this season, there were some early-season struggles as the backs and the offensive line adjusted to thenew scheme. Eventually, the Aggies got it going.

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Grading the positions: Safeties 

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
10:30
AM ET
In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the safety position.

GradeHighlights: Senior Steven Terrell was the only safety to play and start all 12 games for the Aggies this season and was solid from start to finish. He tied for fifth on the team in tackles for the season (58), had four tackles for loss and two interceptions, both of which came in the Aggies' 58-10 win over Arkansas. He also had five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Late in the season, Howard Matthews came on strong and cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and Toney Hurd proved capable of playing the position during the times they were shifted back there.

Lowlights: There was hope that this was going to be a strong senior year for Steven Campbell, but it wasn't to be. A career that was marred by injuries was cut short by midseason. He appeared in two games this season and started one. He missed one game due to a suspension for violation of team rules and missed the Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana Tech games because of what Kevin Sumlin called "recurring headaches" and called it quits at that point.

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Grading the positions: Quarterbacks 

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
1:30
PM ET
In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we begin with quarterback.

GradeHighlights: Two words -- Johnny Football. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel provided more highlights than probably even the most optimistic Aggie could have imagined, breaking Cam Newton's single-season SEC total yardage record with a 4,600-yard year. Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 68.3 percent of his passes. He ran for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns, giving him 43 scores for the year. Backup quarterback Jameill Showers proved capable of moving the offense when he played his limited minutes, completing 61.4 percent of his passes (27-of-44) for 319 yards and two touchdowns. Third-stringer Matt Joeckel saw only a handful of series this year, making 11 pass attempts.

Lowlights: Manziel was great and is Heisman Trophy worthy, but he wasn't perfect. The roughest game of the year came at home against LSU, when the Tigers held him to a season-low 27 rushing yards. He was picked off three times (though not all three were his fault) and had no touchdown passes. He also had a rough go at Mississippi, turning it over three times, but regrouped to lead a comeback from a double-digit deficit. Showers' only rough showing was against South Carolina State when he was 2-of-10 passing with one interception, but in his other six outings the redshirt sophomore performed well.

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