Texas A&M Aggies: Florida Gators

Get ESPN 150 safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) in any competitive environment and you’ll begin to understand very quickly why he’s so coveted.

Take for example the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp in Allen, Texas, on April 7 when he set the tone in 1-on-1 drills by shoving a wide receiver three yards behind the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball.

Adams, the No. 23 player overall and No. 3 safety, isn’t naming any favorites. But we caught up with him to get a sense for where he stands with a few of the programs generally thought to be in the mix.

OLs from SEC could thrive at combine

February, 20, 2013
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 Luke JoeckelMatthew Visinsky/Icon SMILuke Joeckel could be the top offensive lineman selected in the NFL draft -- or first overall.

Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Offensive linemen.

Texas A&M Aggies


Texas A&M could have sent two tackles into the draft and both would have probably ended up as first-round picks. Luke Joeckel chose to declare, but Jake Matthews chose to return to Aggieland for another year. Joeckel, the Outland Trophy winner this year, will be rewarded as a possible top-five selection -- and possibly No.1 overall.

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No. 1 sophomore Stone talks offer list 

January, 11, 2013
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MILWAUKEE -- Sophomore center Diamond Stone (Milwaukee/Dominican), the No. 1-ranked prospect in the ESPN 25, and his father, Bob, sat down Thursday evening to discuss how Stone's game is progressing and where they are in the recruiting process.

Not surprisingly for the top player nationally in his class, Stone has an elite offer list a mile long but has a plan and is executing it to perfection.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Tuesdays aren't Spencer Nealy's favorite.

The Texas A&M defensive tackle doesn't always look forward to practices on Tuesday. But with Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country, on deck for a showdown with the Aggies on Saturday, his feeling was different.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Nealy
Fred Brooks/Icon SMITexas A&M defensive tackle Spencer Nealy said the Aggies are "jacked up" to play the Crimson Tide.
"We usually hate Tuesday practices and I'm pretty amped up right now," Nealy said Tuesday. "I don't like taking on those double-teams as much on Tuesdays, but today, we've got to get after them. I'm jacked."

Coach Kevin Sumlin has been adamant about having a consistent approach weekly and keeping the team's routine the same. But there's no denying that the feeling in the pit of the Aggies' stomachs is just a little different with the opportunity that awaits at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

When it comes to playing Alabama, the team that has won two of the past three BCS championships and annually produces numerous NFL draft picks, there's often a David-versus-Goliath feel. Coming into this season, that would have applied for Texas A&M, too, when observers looked at the schedule and saw the trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium coming as the third of a three-game SEC road swing.

Expectations for the Aggies weren't extremely high. A seven-win season would have been considered respectable by many pundits nationwide, considering the caliber of the league Texas A&M entered. The Aggies have already met that total and are looking at the possibility of a nine or 10-win campaign.

And what once might have been considered a sure Alabama win is now a game that could very well be anybody's come Saturday.

"It's a big challenge for us," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They've got a really good team on both sides of the ball. Really explosive on offense, probably the best offensive team in our league, especially in their presentation, and their quarterback has played phenomenally well for them. Very athletic and it's going to be a real challenge. I think it's a real challenge for anybody that plays against them."

Sitting at 7-2 and second place in the SEC West (4-2), the Aggies have been lauded for what they've done so far but might still be flying under the radar. They're behind three other two-loss teams (LSU, South Carolina and Oklahoma) in the human polls (No. 15) and also behind Stanford in the BCS rankings (also No. 15). They aren't considered juggernauts by any stretch of the imagination.

Part of that could be attributed to the fact that their two losses came at home to two teams that are now ranked in the top 10: Florida (No. 6 BCS, No. 7 AP) and LSU (No. 7 BCS, No. 9 AP). But make no mistake, the Aggies showed they were capable of going toe-to-toe with each.

In both instances, the Aggies led those teams by double digits. In the season opener against Florida, the Aggies took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. Against LSU, they jumped out to a 12-0 lead. Each team came back to take control, but the Aggies remained in the game until the final minute both times.

With a redshirt freshman at quarterback (Johnny Manziel) and receiver (Mike Evans) and two true freshmen starting on defense (defensive end Julien Obioha and cornerback De'Vante Harris), it hasn't always been perfect. There have undoubtedly been mistakes made, and that's part of the deal when you have young players in key spots, particularly when new schemes are installed, which the Aggies did on both sides of the ball this season. Turnovers were an issue against LSU. Against Florida, the offense stalled and there were many missed tackles on defense.

This is a different team now than it was in Week 1, or even on Oct. 20 when it faced LSU. Sumlin said the Aggies were able to take away something positive from both games.

"I think if there's anything out of it that we've gotten as a team, even though we were disappointed to lose those two games, I think that there's a little bit of confidence out of our football team from being able to handle the physical nature of this league," Sumlin said. "Understanding that Florida and LSU had a lot to do with the mistakes we made, but we can certainly play better. Our guys understand that.

"We haven't played a complete football game yet. I'm not talking about playing a perfect game, I'm talking about playing a complete game. Some of our games, our starters have been out in the third quarter. Other games we've turned the ball over and won or found a variety of ways to win, but we still haven't played a complete game yet. If we can do that, I think we can be dangerous for anybody."

Their past two outings have been resounding road victories at Auburn and Mississippi State. This Saturday's affair will be a completely different animal altogether. The Crimson Tide are the nation's best and right now are the gold standard in college football. Just the thought of the matchup has Nealy and his teammates fired up.

"We talked about it; we haven't played a No. 1 team ever [in our careers]," Nealy said. "Oklahoma State last year, we played them and they were No. [7], but it didn't feel like that. This is the No. 1 team. We've played the No. 5 team, which was cool. But this is big-time, and we need to come out there and shock the world."

Much learned from Aggies' SEC tests

November, 5, 2012
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Johnny ManzielAP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisJohnny Manziel had a great performance against Mississippi State, but was mostly bottled up against some of the Aggies better opponents.

Whether the opponent was a Southeastern Conference foe or an FCS team, Texas A&M has maintained all season that the most important game of the season is the next one.

This week, that approach rings truer than it has all season long as the Aggies will take on No. 1 Alabama.

"That's the biggest game of the season; it's the next game we have coming up," senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart told reporters after the Aggies' 38-13 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. "This game, it was the biggest game of the season until it's over. But it's over now, so we have to focus on playing Alabama. We know they're a great team and we're going on the road once again, we know they're a great team at home and the crowd gets fired up. They have a great head coach, great defense, great offense so it's going to be a great game and we're all excited for it."

Coming into the season, there would have been many observers willing to dismiss any chances the Aggies would have against the SEC's elite, such as Alabama or LSU.

But the No. 15 Aggies have exceeded expectations, jumping out to a 7-2 start and becoming a factor in the SEC West, where they are currently second (4-2) behind the undefeated Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC).

Their two losses, however, have come to two of their toughest opponents: Florida and LSU.

Neither loss was decisive. Both were games in which the Aggies led by double digits and were in the game until the final minute. So what can be gleaned from those two games as the Aggies face another high-caliber opponent in the Crimson Tide?

Positives:

Fast starts: In both games, the Aggies were strong offensively in the first half. Against Florida, they jumped out to a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Against LSU, the Aggies raced to a 12-0 lead at around the same time. In both cases, the offense was moving the chains and humming along relatively smoothly.

Good defense: The Texas A&M defense has kept the Aggies within striking distance in both affairs, even when the offense stalled. Against Florida, they yielded just 307 yards and against LSU, the total was 316. There were some big plays allowed in both games but overall, the defense was solid. Against Florida, the Aggies picked up eight sacks.

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Johnny Manziel, Kevin SumlinGetty Images, Icon SMITexas A&M, led by first-year quarterback Johnny Manziel and coach Kevin Sumlin, is 3-1 on the season.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In many areas, Texas A&M has shown improvement from its first game to its most recent one.

One can point to something as specific as penalties, as the Aggies committed nine in each of their first two games but have reduced that number to five combined in their last two games. Or something as abstract as quarterback Johnny Manziel's ability to make throws from the pocket, or the Aggies' ability to close out games -- two more areas where there has been significant improvement from Sept. 8 to now.

Most signs indicate an improving Aggies squad. Now that they're coming off a 48-point win over a Southeastern Conference foe -- even if it was against struggling Arkansas -- it's worth asking: How good can the Aggies be?

"I don't know," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We've got to continue to improve. If we continue to make steps, as I talked to our team about, it's not about our opponent, it's about us. We try to deal with ourselves every Monday and how we can get better and how we can eliminate mistakes and keep our effort level high and become a smarter team."

Playing smart has been a strength for this A&M squad so far. Not only have the Aggies significantly reduced their penalty count, they also have committed just one turnover all season. Manziel, a redshirt freshman who has only four starts to his name, hasn't committed one yet.

Manziel, who has been called "Johnny Football," among other nicknames, has seen his improvement parallel the team's. He struggled some in the second half of the Aggies' season-opening loss to Florida, and the offense as a whole appeared to stall.

Since then, the Aggies have produced points and yards at a high rate, averaging 58.6 points per game in their last three outings and 589.6 yards per game in that same span. Granted, their opponents haven't been as difficult as Florida, a team that's now 4-0 and ranked 11th in the country, but the offense -- and Manziel -- have shown progress nonetheless.

Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury feels Manziel has plenty of room to improve just four starts into his career.

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While redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense stole the show and filled the highlight reels in the Aggies' first win of the season, a 48-3 domination of SMU on Saturday, the other side of the ball had plenty of its own success.

When the Aggies' offense was struggling to move the football in the first quarter against the Mustangs, it was the defense that held SMU off the scoreboard in the meantime -- and out of the end zone completely.

"I think the story of the game is really how our defense played early," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "They kept us not only in the game, but gave us some energy, too. We weren't hitting on all cylinders and couldn't hardly do anything on offense. I thought our defense really played very, very well and turned it into a field-position game."

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesTexas A&M's defense has played well through two games under new head coach Kevin Sumlin.
One of Sumlin's statistical points of emphasis on defense is third-down conversion rate. It's no accident that as the Aggies have turned in two solid defensive performances in their first two games against SMU and Florida, that they've succeeded notably on third downs.

Against Florida, Texas A&M allowed only three third-down conversions in 12 tries. On Saturday against SMU, they limited the Mustangs to three conversions on 18 tries. Through two games, the Aggies are allowing teams to convert on third down a miniscule 20 percent of the time, good for eighth in the country in this young season.

Senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart attributes the success to what Texas A&M does before third down.

"Stopping the run," Stewart said. "Stopping the run on first down and they try to do a screen on second down, then its third-and-8-plus, it's easy for a defensive coordinator to call plays and it's tough for an offense. That was the key. Next week, if we're able to stop the run, we should have success like that again."

Last season,Texas A&M ranked 66th in the country, allowing opponents to convert third-down tries 40.4 percent of the time. Though early, the notable success this year has been a reason why the Aggies have allowed just 23 points in two games. The Aggies are allowing just 308 yards per game and 11.5 points per game so far.

Still, the players say there's room for continued improvement.

"(We're) a team that's improving," Stewart said. "Last week we made critical errors and it cost us the game. In college football, the game comes down to a handful of plays. Last week, Florida made those plays and we didn't. This week, it was the opposite. We just have to keep doing it and keep improving and keep getting better. To be a great defense we just have to do a whole bunch of little things right, just stack them all up on each other and then we'll be a very good defense."

Senior outside linebacker Sean Porter said it's early to read too much into the first two games.

"I think that once we get (further) into SEC play, we'll see how good we really are," Porter said.

"It wasn't perfect, but it was better. We still got a few little things to take care of. We didn't miss too many tackles from what I saw (against SMU). It's definitely an improvement and that's all you can ask for."

Stewart said the success on third down has to continue for the Aggies.

"We've got to do it again next week," he said. "We can't just be a one-hit wonder. We have to do it consistently."
Spencer NealyBrett Davis/US PresswireSenior defensive tackle Spencer Nealy anchored the Texas A&M interior along with junior Kirby Ennis.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Coming into the season, an area of concern for Texas A&M was on defense.

It was an area where the Aggies had their fair share of struggles last season. Of particular concern was the defensive line and its depth, since Texas A&M has made the switch to a 4-3 alignment after spending the last two seasons playing -- and recruiting to -- a 3-4 base defense under the previous coaching staff.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder didn't hide the fact that they were concerned about depth in that area. But in their season-opening 20-17 loss to Florida on Saturday, it appears that the defense as a unit, and the defensive line in particular, held its own against the Gators.

"I thought coming into the game our main concerns, which I think were everyone’s concerns, were our kickers, punters, snappers and our defensive line," Sumlin said. "You look at Saturday and you know what, our kickers made every kick, our net punt was 49-something and our defensive line really did a pretty good job of containing their running game."

The Gators finished with 142 rushing yards and while the Aggies might not have played shut down defense, they were certainly effective. They held Florida to just three yards per carry on the day and 307 total offensive yards.

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Notes: Kevin Sumlin happy with effort

September, 11, 2012
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A few days removed from the raw emotion of a 20-17 season-opening loss to Florida, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin noted several positives that he and his team could take away from the game, including effort and physicality. Sumlin said he was pleased with his team's effort on offense and defense and that he believed his team played physical. The fact that the Aggies did not turn the ball over was also a positive, but one of the negative sticking points he mentioned Saturday was repeated again on Tuesday: penalties.

"The three things we talk about going into every game: play hard, play smart and be physical," Sumlin said. " I thought we were extremely physical and I thought we played extremely hard. The intelligence part of the game, we did not. So when you're in a close game and you have nine penalties, for 78 yards, that's not going to cut it. I think Bill Polian, the NFL (executive) studied and said that there's a formula that every 10 yards of penalties is worth one point. So there's a lot of combinations into that. I think our players right now, after talking about that, they understand the importance of that part of the game also.

"And as I said, that was an emphasis coming into this year: turnover ratio and penalties. So we got one of them done on Saturday and really one of them, the other side, cost us the football game, which is a learning experience."

Familiar foe

With SMU on tap, it's an opponent Sumlin is plenty familiar with. While at Houston, Sumlin's Cougars met June Jones' Mustangs annually as they resided in the same Conference USA West division. This will be Sumlin's fifth year in a row to meet SMU.

"I have a lot of respect for June Jones," Sumlin said. "He's a guy who's taken SMU to a Conference USA championship game from nothing and really done a fine job with that program. June's a buddy. I think I asked him last time I saw him, if now he'll let me play in his golf tournament in Hawaii since we're not in the same league anymore. He said 'Well, we still play each other,' so I don't know if he's going to let me play in it."

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- These kind of losses became a theme for Texas A&M in 2011.

There's no getting around it: the Aggies had trouble holding leads. Six times last season, they lost a game in which they once had a double-digit lead.

Kevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipKevin Sumlin was left to wonder after his Aggies fell to the Gators despite holding a 10-point lead at one point.
On Saturday, in their 2012 season opener against Florida, the Aggies once lead the Gators by 10 at 17-7 and fell in the end, 20-17.

Is it a sign that, despite the changes in staff, scheme and some personnel, that things are still the same for Texas A&M?

"It's something that we've been addressing," said head coach Kevin Sumlin, who coached his first game for the Aggies on Saturday. "It's the elephant in the room. But it's like I said, when you have a game that is that close, the first thing that we have to fix is ourselves, from a penalization standpoint and from an execution standpoint. And then the other part, winning and closing out games, becomes a little bit easier."

Sumlin pointed out that while the Aggies might have once possessed a double-digit lead, it was a close game throughout. Texas A&M's halftime lead was a mere touchdown .

The players said that in some ways, Saturday's game felt similar to games from last year.

"Yes, in a way, I had a glimpse back," senior receiver Ryan Swope said. "It's hard...this is a whole new year, so I try to put that behind me. It's one game. We have a great group of guys, great coaches, we just have to prepare and put that one behind us."

Another senior, linebacker Jonathan Stewart, emphasized the Aggies' need to move forward from Saturday's result, and said that other than the final result, it didn't feel the same.

"The end result felt like last year," Stewart said. "But overall, we were confident. We had plenty of opportunities and unfortunately, we just didn't get the job done. The sun will come up in the morning, we'll wake up and move on to the next game and get ready for SMU. That's the great thing about football."

Sumlin said that while he's aware of the events that happened a year ago, he didn't think Saturday was similar.

"I've said it before, walking in in the spring, you could feel it," Sumlin said. "But it's something that based on this game today, which is the only game I've coached here, based on this game today, I didn't feel that. I felt like we just couldn't close or make plays in the fourth quarter, but we were still there. We had a chance to win the game, drive the ball and score or tie it up at the end. We failed to do that."

Emotions were raw after Saturday's loss, a game in which the Aggies hoped to make a statement to those who doubted their ability to compete in the SEC and one which was highly anticipated by the Aggies faithful, including the more than 87,000 on hand.

But if they want to avoid their 2012 season looking like 2011, they know they must turn the page.

"We have 11 games left," Stewart said. "We have to look forward to SMU. We can't hang our heads on losing to Florida and everything that surrounds it."

3 Up, 3 Down: Florida 20, Texas A&M 17 

September, 9, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With Texas A&M's Southeastern Conference debut in the books, let's take a look at some of the good and the bad from the Aggies' 20-17 season-opening loss to Florida on Saturday:

THREE UP:
1. Damontre Moore does some damage: The junior defensive end wreaked plenty of havoc on Saturday, tallying 10 tackles and three sacks. After 8.5 sacks last year, it looks like Moore's ready to take another step forward and at this pace, could be a premier defensive end in the SEC.

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Texas A&M didn't get a win, but it certainly didn't disappoint in its first outing as an SEC member. The Aggies gave No. 24 Florida all it could handle but ultimately succumbed in a 20-17 loss. Here's how it played out Saturday from Kyle Field.

It was over when: Clinging to a 20-17 lead with 1:30 remaining, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel raced for 21 yards on a bootleg to ensure the Gators would not have to give the ball back to the Aggies. Florida took over at its own 14 with 3:12 remaining and managed to grind down the clock on a seven-play drive consisting of all run plays.

Game ball goes to: Driskel. He was far from spectacular, but the quarterback was mistake-free in his first start for the Gators. Driskel was absolutely drilled to the tune of eight -- repeat, eight -- sacks. But he hung in to complete 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards, and while the Florida offense was far from fun to watch, Driskel took care of the ball and made clutch plays when he had to. In addition to the game-sealing run, Driskel connected with tight end Omarius Hines on a beautiful 39-yard throw to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Game ball, Part 2: That go-ahead touchdown came thanks to some inspired running from Florida running back Mike Gillislee. Racing around the right corner in the A&M red zone, Gillislee shook off a tackler and danced along the sideline into the end zone to put the Gators ahead. He was the only consistent part of the Florida offense for the second straight week, totaling 83 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.

Rising star: He didn't come out on top, but Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel had a heck of a debut in a raucous, SEC-worthy environment. Manziel completed 23 of 30 passes for 173 yards, and he led the Aggies in rushing with 60 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. What's more impressive, the freshman didn't have a turnover against a speedy, hard-hitting SEC defense.

What it means: A lot of people will point to the 17-7 lead Texas A&M held in the first half of this game and laugh. But this Aggies team looked far more impressive than the one that surrendered 17- and 18-point leads in 2011. Texas A&M went punch for punch with a good -- not great -- SEC squad and barely lost out in the end. Florida might not be on the same level as Alabama or LSU, but the Gators didn't appear to hold any advantages over the Aggies, and Texas A&M gave as good as it got.

For Will Muschamp and the Gators, it has to be encouraging to see Driskel play so effectively, if not spectacularly, against an SEC foe. Florida has a lot of work to do, but its young quarterback showed flashes in his first start. Unfortunately for Florida, the true takeaway from Saturday might be the injury report. The Gators saw four players go down, including star linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Through a half, Texas A&M has made an impressive Southeastern Conference debut, taking a touchdown lead over the Florida Gators at the half.

Kevin Sumlin's Aggies have moved the ball consistently and struggled on their first defensive drive, but have done better since the first few minutes by generating pressure on quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Stat of the half: It's easy to point to yards -- the Aggies gained a whopping 269 offensive yards in the first half to Florida's 101 -- but the real story is the number of plays. The up-tempo pace that Texas A&M runs under Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury yielded 47 offensive plays to Florida's 27. Texas A&M moved the chains consistently, with each of their first three drives consisting of double-digit plays and yielding scores. At this pace, the Aggies will run 94 plays.

Player of the half: Quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman, who is making his first career start and first career appearance, has showed almost no first-game jitters. He's been efficient in the passing game (16-of-20, 141 yards) and has been dangerous with his legs, using his speed and agility to gain 41 yards on nine carries, including an 11-yard touchdown run that gave the Aggies a second-quarter lead. He appears to have a tremendous feel for the game and though he has made a few mistakes, none have been of the major variety that have costed the Aggies.

What’s working for the Aggies: Tempo and balance has been key so far for Texas A&M. They've kept Florida's defense on its toes with a good mix of run and pass and all three running backs -- Christine Michael, Ben Malena and Trey Williams -- have contributed, combining for 60 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards.

What’s not working for the Aggies: The deep ball. Texas A&M has completed a lot of short passes but hasn't been able to get a lot of good looks downfield. The longest pass play was a screen pass to Williams, where he did most of the work to get 28 yards. Manziel almost connected with Mike Evans for a big pass play late in the half, but he was out of bounds. You figure the Aggies will have to stretch the field at some point in the second half.

What Texas A&M needs to do to win: Continue to pressure Driskel. The Aggies have done a good job defensively of generating pressure, led by defensive end Damontre Moore's 2.5 sacks. Driskel has been perfect when he has gotten the ball away, going 6-of-6 for 85 yards. The Aggies will have to disrupt that to keep the Gators from matching them on the scoreboard.

Five storylines: Texas A&M Aggies 

September, 6, 2012
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Texas A&M hosts no. 24 Florida on Saturday at Kyle Field in the Aggies' first Southeastern Conference game. Let's take a look at five storylines for each team as they head into their SEC tilt:

1. The Kevin Sumlin era begins
There's a lot of "new" around Texas A&M football and that includes a new coaching staff, led by Sumlin, the new head coach who spent the last four years at Houston. It also includes new coordinators and assistants and new offensive and defensive schemes. All of those things will be unveiled for the first time on Saturday.

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Aggies O-Line key against Florida, SEC

September, 5, 2012
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Texas A&M offensive lineAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTexas A&M's veteran offensive line is the strength of the Aggies' offense.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Several words have been used to describe Florida's defense and particularly, its defensive line.

Fast. Athletic. Big. Violent.

Texas A&M players and coaches appear to agree on at least one thing involving the Gators defense, including their defensive front.

"They're good," junior offensive tackle Jake Matthews said. "They're big guys, they're fast, they're talented. We're definitely going to have a challenge up front. We're really going to have to step up as a group and focus on the little details, making the calls and staying on top of everything. They have a lot of talented players, that's for sure, so it'll definitely be a good game."

Fortunately for the Aggies, their most significant strength is their offensive line. The quintet of starters --Matthews, tackle Luke Joeckel, guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi and center Patrick Lewis -- have combined to start 92 games in their respective Texas A&M careers.

For a team that will trot out a first-year quarterback, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, it's a benefit, especially against a team with the speed and depth that the Gators have.

"Our offensive line I think as anybody can see is probably the strength of our football program," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Whenever you have a young quarterback or you have a situation where a backup quarterback goes in, it's not necessarily about the quarterback as it is about the other 10 players that let him grow as a player.

"If you had your druthers and said you have an inexperienced line and an experienced quarterback, you'd lean toward having an experienced line and an inexperienced quarterback, particularly going into the league that we're going into. They give us a chance to be successful with their experience, their size and experience in big games."

That group will be a key for the Aggies throughout the season as they face large, athletic defenses similar to the one Florida will trot out, which was ranked eighth nationally in total defense last season.

After seeing them play Bowling Green, Aggies offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury came away impressed.

"They’re better than last year even, which is impressive," Kingsbury said. "Violent up front, a great D-Line, a secondary that can get down in your face and cover you up and attack. It’s going to be a great challenge.”

Could it be the best defense the Aggies have faced?

"I don't know. It's hard to say that," Joeckel said. "They look good on film. I'll be able to tell you after we play them. We have to play hard against them. Our offensive line, we've got an experienced group and we'll have to play our best game."

Matthews said these are the kind of matchups that excite him.

"I came here to play against the good players," Matthews said. "Now that we're in the SEC, we've got an even better chance of doing that, going against the teams that have been real consistent at winning and doing well every year. So, we want to play the best players, but it's going to be a huge challenge for us. That's what we look forward to, so we're excited for it."

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