Texas A&M Aggies: Mike Matthews

Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 9-4
2013 SEC record: 4-4, third in the Western Division
Record all time against Alabama: 2-4
Last meeting: Lost 49-42 in 2013

Starters returning
Offense: 6; Defense: 10; Kicker/punter: 2

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hill, or whomever takes over as the Aggies QB, will have plenty of weapons available.
Top returners
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, C Mike Matthews, WR Malcome Kennedy, CB Deshazor Everett, S Floyd Raven

Key losses
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans, OT Jake Matthews, RB Ben Malena, WR Travis Labhart, NG Kirby Ennis, LB Nate Askew, CB Toney Hurd

2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Johnny Manziel (923 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel (4,114 yards, 37 TD, 12 INT)
Receiving: Mike Evans (1,394 yards)
Tackles: Steven Jenkins* (96)
Sacks: Shaan Washington*, Gavin Stansbury (3)
Interceptions: Howard Matthews*, Nate Askew (3)

What they're saying
"No doubt, our safety play has got to improve and our D-line play has got to improve. We will have more depth up front, but we'll have more pieces. We just have to get the right pieces in place and get them ready to go,” said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin

Three things to watch:

1. Johnny ain’t the problem: Forget Johnny Manziel for a moment. Believe me, we’ll have time for him later. Finding his successor at quarterback isn’t the biggest problem Sumlin faces in 2014. Instead, it’s the defense, the one that looked utterly lost against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and finished 109th in the country in total defense (behind four other Lone Star State schools: North Texas, Texas State, Texas and Texas Tech). There were injuries, sure, and there were a lot of young players on the field, but there’s no excuse for giving up 32 points per game. The secondary was porous, the tackling terrible and the pass-rush non-existent. But this year is supposed to be better, right? Well, maybe not. Offseason troubles have thrown a huge wrench into a defense that was supposed to be a year wiser and more matured. Two starters (Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden) were dismissed from the team, and a third starter, defensive end Gavin Stansbury, got himself arrested on assault charges.

2. Back to Johnny: We weren’t going to make you wait that long to discuss the loss of Manziel. A lot of Alabama fans should be relieved to know he’s gone. His theatrics won’t stress the Crimson Tide any longer. But even as his Heisman Trophy and 5,037 total yards of offense head to Cleveland, the offense he leaves behind in College Station shouldn’t be overlooked. Even with starting wideouts Mike Evans and Travis Labhart gone, there is more than enough talent on campus for Sumlin to cobble together a formidable offense, whether the starting QB is sophomore Kenny Hill or the freshman Kyle Allen. The Aggies are loaded at running back with three talented options there (Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams). And at receiver, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Veterans Malcome Kennedy and Edward Pope are just the tip of the iceberg. Freshmen Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil are the real weapons. Seals-Jones is a clone of Evans, a 6-foot-5 giant who will tower over defensive backs. Noil, the No. 1-rated athlete in the ESPN 300, looks like the SEC’s next Percy Harvin, a terror with the ball in his hands. Johnny is gone but with so many weapons and a strong offensive line (thanks to Cedric Ogbuehi’s return), the Aggies shouldn’t miss a beat.

3. How to break through: There’s an argument to be made that Texas A&M is the most overhyped program in the SEC. Yes, Manziel was a revelation. And, yes, the Aggies were competitive the minute they joined the league. But nonetheless, the wins simply haven’t been there. You’ve got to finish higher than third in your own division before you start becoming a power in the conference -- or nationally, for that matter. It’s Year 3 under Sumlin, which means it’s time to start capitalizing on potential and turn it into production. Sumlin realizes this. This spring he told ESPN, “It's kind of hard to have a target on your back when you finished third in your own division. I think the reason people would say that [we've got a target on us] is because we had unexpected success. But we're trying to go from third to first.” Sumlin knows, “We haven’t arrived in this league.” But they could soon. With the shadow of Johnny Football no longer looming, it will be interesting to see where the program goes next. The offense should be more balanced and run-oriented, a fact that should help the defense stay off the field. If Mark Snyder can turn things around on that side of the ball, then things could get really interesting. The West will still be an uphill battle for the Aggies, but it might be enough to bridge the difference between potential and production.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 20, 2014
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The SEC unveiled a 12-year rotation of nondivision opponents through 2025, and while Alabama returns to Georgia next season, we have to wait until 2019 to see Auburn and Florida play again. For more on the schedule and other league news, check out Tuesday’s lunch links.
In their two seasons together at Texas A&M, Mike and Jake Matthews had distinct roles and personalities.

Jake was the cagey veteran, a quiet leader and productive offensive tackle who helped anchor one of the best units in the country. Mike was the up-and-coming center, the younger brother was a little bit louder and "rowdy," according to a teammate.

[+] EnlargeMike Matthews
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsAs his brother Jake heads off to the NFL, center Mike Matthews is preparing to lead what looks to be another strong line at Texas A&M.
Now that Jake Matthews is preparing for his professional career as a projected first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Mike Matthews continues to make significant strides as the Aggies' center, finding a comfort level as he enters his junior season.

"I think I'm just a lot more comfortable with this offense and the guys here," Mike Matthews said. "I just enjoy it, go out here every day, I'm not nervous. ... Now I feel comfortable with what I'm doing -- I feel confident."

He should. Having played only part-time as a freshman in 2012, the 2013 season was his first as a full-time starter. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin elected to have Mike Matthews serve as the backup center in his first season rather than redshirt behind then-senior Patrick Lewis so that Matthews would get a taste of SEC life: the travel, the opponents, the whole nine yards.

That helped prepare the younger Matthews for the starting role once Lewis graduated. While there were some bumps in the road in his sophomore season, he looks poised for a strong 2014 based on what Texas A&M offensive line coach B.J. Anderson saw in spring football.

"Mike has total control of the offense," Anderson said. "He's got as much freedom as any center I've ever coached. He's got it all. He can change whatever he wants to change and I trust him that much. Guys around him trust him."

For the Aggies, that's huge. In their uptempo, no-huddle offense, communication is critical, especially when it comes to protection calls for the offensive line. Anderson said Matthews can handle that responsibility well and on top of it, he continues to be a high-energy presence in all facets of the program.

"He's doing exactly what we need him to do," Anderson said. "He's really a leader for us up front. Great energy guy, outspoken guy, he brings the juice to practice, brings the juice to the game, brings the juice to the meetings. He's a big piece of that puzzle."

The 6-foot-2, 285-pound (depending on the day) Matthews is one of four returning starters on the Aggies' offensive line. Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and guards Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi join him to bring plenty of experience as the Aggies look to match or exceed their performance from a season ago.

"I think just approach every day like it's our last day," Matthews said. "Go out there and work hard, not take any plays off. I think if we do that, we're going to have a good chance to be just as good as last year."

While Anderson praises Matthews' physical strength, he continues his effort to keep his weight up. Matthews hovered around 283 pounds during spring practice.

"You can get him up, but then he'll go into [the weight room] with [strength and conditioning coach] Larry Jackson and Larry will run him and lift him and do that stuff, and next time he weighs in, he'll be down," Anderson said. "The key is don't get too focused on the weight because he's one of the strongest -- if not the strongest guys -- in my room. He plays with great leverage. We're going to keep working on the weight, but we're not chasing number. He's very effective at the weight he's at."

Anderson said Matthews' energy is contagious to those around him and it's helpful. Since he arrived on campus, Jake Matthews has noted Mike's constant chatter, but as he continues to develop into a leader for the Aggies, it's a safe bet that those around him are listening and enjoying it.

"It's a job, but at the same time, you don't want to come in here and hate it," Mike Matthews said. "You want to have fun and on the field, [so I'm] just being loud and making noise and getting guys to run up to the ball after every play and staying on guys. That way we can have high energy."

Lessons from spring: OL is deep

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The last two seasons, Texas A&M hasn't had to tap deep into its offensive line because the Aggies have had good fortune health-wise at the position.

In 2012, the Aggies had the same starting five offensive linemen for all 13 games and in 2013, they had the same starting five for 11 of their 13 games, missing only tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for two games in the middle of the season.

But with left guard Jarvis Harrison sitting out the spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Aggies were able to see that they do have quality depth on their offensive line should they need it.

Harrison's absence made way for two players to find their way into the lineup with the first team this spring: Garrett Gramling and Joseph Cheek.

Texas A&M returns four of five starters from 2013: Ogbuehi, Harrison, center Mike Matthews and right guard Germain Ifedi. The right tackle spot is open for competition and though the spring began with junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor competing for the position, the majority of the spring saw Ifedi manning that spot.

With Ifedi shifted over and Harrison out, that left the two guard spots open, which both Gramling and Cheek ably filled during spring drills.

Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson made it clear during spring football that "we're not earning any jobs right now" and that his players were focusing on technique and fundamentals. Still, Ifedi established himself as a candidate to be the future right tackle and Gramling -- who started at left guard the two games Ogbuehi was out while Harrison played left tackle -- has positioned himself to compete for a starting guard job.

"I've got Joe Cheek over at the right guard and Garrett at the left guard and you add Jarvis to that mix and there's three guys for those two positions," Anderson said. "We'll find out who wins it in fall camp."

Eluemunor spent most of the spring working at guard and Gennesy at tackle and Anderson wanted both to get comfortable in their new surroundings. He also noted that both were training at both right guard and right tackle.

"I think that's important," Anderson said. "They need to do be able to do both in case we get into an injury scenario."

Ogbuehi, who played right tackle last year, spent the spring getting acclimated to the left side of the offensive line. He felt good about his progress from the first spring practice to the last one on April 5.

"I feel a lot better," Ogbuehi said. "I feel better than I was last year at right tackle."

Matthews, who is entering his junior season at center, will be a steady presence for the Aggies in the middle.

"Mike has total control of the offense," Anderson said.

The standard this group has to live up to is a high one. The last two seasons, the Aggies have been considered one of the country's best offensive lines, paving the way for a top-10 offense and protecting quarterback Johnny Manziel. It's a unit that produced the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft (Luke Joeckel) and likely will produce another top-10 pick next month (Jake Matthews). Even SEC fans are picking the Aggies to be the league's best unit this season.

Though it remains to be seen how this group develops, there certainly is no shortage of options for the Aggies up front.
Maybe it's a surprise to some, and maybe it shouldn't be. Either way, Texas A&M's offensive line will be the cream of the crop in the SEC in 2014, according to the fans.

More than 17,000 people voted in our SportsNation poll last week, and the Aggies were a clear winner. They received 34 percent of the vote. LSU was second with 23 percent and then Auburn with 16 percent, Alabama with 14 percent and South Carolina with 13 percent.

The Aggies will have a bit of a new look up front offensively in 2014. Senior Cedric Ogbuehi is moving from right tackle to left tackle and is another in a long line of outstanding tackles to play at Texas A&M. Luke Joeckel was the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Jake Matthews is being projected as a top-10 pick in May's draft, and Ogbuehi also has the makings of a first-rounder when the 2015 draft rolls around. He got a first-round grade from the advisory board this past year but decided to return for his senior season.

Ogbuehi is one of four returning starters up front for the Aggies, who should also have more depth next season. Senior left guard Jarvis Harrison was out all spring with a shoulder injury, and senior Garrett Gramling worked with the first team. He played well enough that he could work his way into the starting lineup. Every good offensive line is stout right up the middle, and junior Mike Matthews returns as one of the top centers in the league. He has excellent command of the offense in terms of all his checks and calls.

The right tackle job is the big question, although sophomore Germain Ifedi worked there this spring after playing last season at guard. The 6-5, 330-pound Ifedi is a mammoth individual, but seems to move well enough to play outside at tackle. Junior college tackles Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor will benefit from having gone through the spring, and junior Joseph Cheek got a lot of first-team work at guard this spring.

The big surprise coming out of the SportsNation poll was that South Carolina received the fewest votes. The Gamecocks also return four starters and have three players -- tackles Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell and left guard A.J. Cann -- who are likely to be drafted. This also will be their third season playing together. When it's all said and done, here's betting that the Gamecocks are as good as anybody up front offensively in 2014.

We'll see how it all plays out in the fall.
Editor's note: This is the fifth and final part of a weeklong series looking at five players to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M.

There have been several reasons for Texas A&M’s early success in the SEC. Many point to the Aggies’ history-making quarterback, Johnny Manziel, the coveted head coach, Kevin Sumlin, or myriad other factors.

[+] EnlargeCedric Ogbuehi
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherWith Cedric Ogbuehi returning for his senior season, Texas A&M will return four of five starters on the O-line.
But considering that college football’s premier conference has long been known as a line-of-scrimmage league, there’s no denying that the Aggies’ offensive line the last two seasons has been as meaningful to their success as perhaps any other group.

In the 2013 NFL draft, the Aggies produced the No. 2 overall pick in tackle Luke Joeckel and in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft, offensive tackle Jake Matthews appears to be a surefire top-10 and perhaps even top-five selection.

The next tackle who could be in line for lofty draft status is one who bypassed the chance to be chosen this year -- Cedric Ogbuehi.

Though he was recruited to Texas A&M as a tackle, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Ogbuehi spent his first two seasons in Aggieland playing guard. In 2013, after Joeckel moved on and Matthews shifted to left tackle, Ogbuehi kicked out to right tackle. After a successful junior season at the position, he had the chance to enter the draft and said he received a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory board but chose to return to College Station for his senior season.

This fall, Ogbuehi has a chance to follow Matthews’ plan, switching from right tackle to left, making him one of the most pivotal players to watch during Texas A&M’s spring practice.

Ogbuehi knows how to play tackle but the challenge is switching from right to left. While the techniques are similar, the adjustment in footwork is perhaps the biggest challenge.

When Matthews went through the switch last year, it took a lot of work to adapt. Texas A&M offensive line coach B.J. Anderson described last season the challenges Matthews faced upon making the switch, which provides insight into the challenge Ogbuehi faces.

“When you play guard on one side of the ball and you bump out to tackle [on the same side], your stagger is still the same. It's a different set, but your left foot is still your base foot and your right foot is still your kick foot,” Anderson said. “Now Jake had to go over and learn a new stagger. It's just a comfort deal. It's like anything else: after a couple thousands reps at it, it starts to become comfortable.”

Considering Ogbuehi’s athleticism, which is good for the position, it stands to reason that he’ll be able to adapt. It simply will take time and work to get it right.

If the transition is smooth, it will pay big dividends for the A&M offense. The Aggies return four starters on the offensive line: Ogbuehi, guards Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi and center Mike Matthews. Look for junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor to battle for Ogbuehi’s right tackle position in the spring.

But with that many returning starters, the experience across the line should help what will be a young offense in other areas, particularly at quarterback and receiver.

The Aggies have had offensive line success in recent years and if Ogbuehi’s move to the left tackle succeeds, this could be another good year up front for Texas A&M.

TAMU to-do list: Find the leaders

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Editor's note: This is the second part of a week-long series looking at the five most pressing concerns Texas A&M faces this offseason.

Strong player leadership is something Texas A&M has been fortunate to have in Kevin Sumlin's first two seasons.

During the 2012 season, players such as linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, center Patrick Lewis and receiver Ryan Swope were among those cited by coaches and teammates as carrying that responsibility.

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsSoon-to-be senior Malcome Kennedy, who caught 7 TD passes last season, could be called upon as a leader on the Texas A&M offense.
As those players and others tabbed as leaders moved on, the Aggies looked to guys such as running back Ben Malena, left tackle Jake Matthews and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., among others. And certainly, the team's two best players, Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel, set a standard with their level of play.

As we continue our look at the offseason to-do list for Texas A&M, it seems appropriate that finding the next wave of leaders is high on the list, because all of those above names are gone via graduation or the NFL draft.

The Aggies will be young on both sides of the ball with underclassmen playing in several key positions, potentially even at quarterback. Offensively, senior tackle Cedric Ogbuehi could be one of the players the Aggies turn to.

Ogbuehi, who passed up a chance to enter the NFL draft early to return for his final season, has 30 career starts and has been an integral part of the Aggies' successful first two seasons in the SEC.

Soon-to-be senior Malcome Kennedy, the returning statistical leader among the Aggies receivers after the departure of three starters at the position, is another possibility. Going into 2012, receivers coach David Beaty applauded Kennedy's work ethic and improvement in the offseason and Kennedy emerged into a reliable target for Manziel throughout the season.

On defense, could Deshazor Everett -- who will be a senior -- be one of those candidates? He has 22 starts under his belt, all of which have come in the last two seasons, and he has been a linchpin in the Aggies' secondary with the ability to move between cornerback and safety. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder lauded Everett's willingness to do so when the Aggies were trying to mix and match players in the defensive backfield.

Younger players could be candidates as well. Players such as center Mike Matthews and running back Trey Williams, who will both be juniors, have received playing time in each of the last two seasons and are players to keep an eye on. Before a December arrest in which he was suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Darian Claiborne -- who started in nine games as a true freshman at a new position, middle linebacker -- seemed to be a potential candidate, though how he responds from his legal incident will be worth watching.

As the Aggies progress through offseason workouts and head into spring football in a couple months, there will almost certainly be players step forward and emerge as naturals in these roles.

Earlier to-do list posts:
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — In last Saturday's 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel recorded a career-low 11 rushing yards.

Nursing an injured throwing shoulder, Manziel recorded only four official carries, which also was a career low. There were no designed running plays in the game plan for him, Manziel said, and coaches noted that they wanted to be smart about not putting the Heisman Trophy winner's shoulder in harm's way.

But throughout his college career, Manziel's scrambling ability has become a signature trait, something that has helped make him one of the most electrifying players in the country. His combination of speed, agility and decision-making have made him a challenge for opposing defenses, but it also took some adjusting for the Aggies' offensive line last season, when he rushed for 1,410 yards. (Manziel has 497 so far this year.)

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel's unique abilities required a lot of adjustment for his offensive linemen at Texas A&M.
"It just takes a while," offensive line coach B.J. Anderson said. "We came in last season and -- it's not just the linemen, it's the coaching staff, too -- I've learned a lot. I remember the Florida game last year [to open the season]. If you look at our offense then as compared to our offense now, now it looks like it's built around our quarterback. Then it looks like it's built around Case Keenum. And that's just the truth of it."

Keenum was the record-breaking passer at the University of Houston, who enjoyed tremendous success under Kevin Sumlin and the Cougars' offensive coaching staff, many of whom followed Sumlin when he accepted the Texas A&M head coach job. Keenum, now starting for the NFL's Houston Texans, wasn't a statue in the pocket, but he wasn't quite the athlete that Manziel is. Few quarterbacks are.

Because of Manziel's ability to extend plays from a traditional three, four or five seconds, the Aggies' offensive linemen must block longer and be smarter, because they never know when or where Manziel might take off and run. Look at his signature play from the 2012 season: a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Swope against Alabama. On that play, Manziel collided into Jake Matthews, who was playing right tackle, before gathering himself, recovering a near-fumble then scrambling away to throw the pass.

Even 21 games into his career, the veterans up front say it's still a process.

"There's still times where you feel like you're adjusting because you never know which way he's going to dart out of that pocket," offensive tackle Jake Matthews said. "Sometimes he's right behind you and you think he's going under you. It can get kind of confusing sometimes. But he makes so many plays for us that we're willing to go the extra mile and block that much longer for him. It's a little bit of a challenge, but you've got to love it."

And Manziel has helped matters by being open about what his preferences are when the play breaks down.

"He's such a football nut," Anderson said of Manziel. "He'll tell you, 'I don't want to run up in there [pointing to a specific area]. There's too much [going on] in there. It's not clear to me. I want to run around people.

"So that's why you've seen all these packages of us pulling everybody around and there goes Johnny. We're not geniuses, but what they're good at, we want to do."

Starting center Mike Matthews says he pays keen attention to where his defender is going, which is what many linemen do anyway because the defensive linemen are chasing after the quarterback. But when the defender takes off abruptly, it can get tricky.

"When [Manziel] rolls out sometimes, it's kind of hard because you're blocking a guy and next thing you know, he sprints straight to the sideline," Matthews said. "I'm assuming Johnny rolled out, so I just start running after him."

Anderson said he believes his group has made significant strides in learning and adapting to their quarterback based on film study and practice time. Opponents try several different tactics, but the Aggies seem to handle them well. The key, Anderson said, is to finish blocks.

"You've got to maintain blocks unlike you've ever done," Anderson said. "Most quarterbacks, you know where they are the whole time. Johnny, that's just part of his game.

"We work awfully hard at finishing blocks, putting pressure on guys -- A, so they don't jump and knock balls down; and B, in case he's right beside you, a guy can't yank him and bring him to the ground. We're going to get to our spots, our intersection points in the passing game, cover people up and apply pressure and let Johnny make us right."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — After losing a left tackle who was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft and a center who was a two-year starter at the position and a four-year starter overall, it was easy to believe that there would be a drop-off in performance from the Texas A&M offensive line.

Through six games, the No. 7 Aggies can safely say all is well up front. Even with two newcomers and some shuffling by moving returning starters around, the unit is again performing at a high level and is one of the reasons Texas A&M's offense continues to be one of the best in college football.

While it's difficult to replicate what the Aggies had last season, when all five starters last season played multiple seasons together, it's easy to see how well this year's group is doing. All it takes is watching quarterback Johnny Manziel drop back and sit comfortably in the pocket for five, six and sometimes seven seconds looking for a receiver or deciding to use his scrambling ability to gain yardage.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJake Matthews is playing well at left tackle after playing right tackle in 2012.
And in the Aggies' victory over Arkansas on Sept. 28, the line paved the way for two second-half touchdown drives that consisted of all running plays. Texas A&M had more rushing yards than passing yards.

"Offensive line has played really good, with the exception of one game," offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. "I think those young guys in one of those six games -- I think it was SMU -- had some struggles. But for the most part, they've played great."

Against SMU, there were some penalties and self-inflicted errors that the Aggies needed to clean up. Their performance against No. 1 Alabama was strong and they've been consistent, for the most part, the rest of the year.

The transition began back in spring, moving Jake Matthews from right tackle to left tackle to replace Luke Joeckel. To fill Matthews' void, right guard Cedric Ogbuehi kicked out to right tackle. Jake's younger brother Mike Matthews stepped in as the starter at center and redshirt freshman Germain Ifedi slid in at right guard. The only player still in the same position last season is left guard Jarvis Harrison.

Behind that quintet, the Aggies are putting up 586.5 yards per game (No. 3 in the country) and have allowed only seven sacks, which puts them in the top 30 statistically in the country. They're 20th in rushing yards (224.6 yards per game) and sixth in passing yards (361.8 per game).

"They're getting better every week," senior running back Ben Malena said. "It's hard to compare this year's group to last year's because they're only six games in, but I can tell you every week they are getting better."

The biggest question marks coming into the season centered around the first-time starters. So far, they've answered the questions.

"I'm really pleased with the young guys," offensive line coach B.J. Anderson said. "I think they've made some strides. They've played in some atmospheres where we had to communicate. Mike's done a really good job. I've changed protections on him a couple games. ... I'm really pleased with where he's at, and the same way with Germain. He's getting better every game and we're fixing some things that need to get fixed and we'll just keep working."

Anderson noted that they're not holding anything back from Mike Matthews, who is just a sophomore, when it comes to game-planning and protections. That's critical considering the vast array of defensive looks Anderson said opponents have thrown at the Aggies.

"If you had told me that I had that flexibility back in August, I'm not sure I would have believed you," Anderson said. "But he's got the kitchen sink right now. I'm not doing anything that I didn't do with Pat Lewis, who was a senior. He's able to make all the adjustments I need and I'm really pleased with the mental work he does during the week, preparation-wise."

The "older guys" -- senior Jake Matthews and juniors Harrison and Ogbuehi -- have also shined. Matthews' adjustment to left tackle has been smooth, as has Ogbuehi's to right tackle. Harrison has impressed Anderson with his effort week to week.

"Jake's Jake and Ced's doing a good job and Jarvis Harrison is playing his tail off -- as well as he's played since I've been here," Anderson said. "He's playing with great effort. It shows on tape and I'm happy with those older guys."

Manziel's progression and mastery of the offense in the second season in the scheme has helped as well. Players say they notice Manziel has tried to stay in the pocket more often.

"I feel more this year that he hasn't scrambled as much and he has been more patient," Ogbuehi said. "He looks to throw more, too. He's always looking to make a big play with his arm, and that's good."

Perhaps the best aspect of this group is it has stayed healthy. The Aggies were fortunate to keep all five starters healthy last season, and that's been the case this year, too. It isn't a perfect group, but it is a smart, talented one that continues to improve every day.

"This year, we're still trying to get there but so far we're getting there," Ogbuehi said. "It's exciting so far what we've done in the little time we've had together."

Q&A: Texas A&M C Mike Matthews

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — After an off week of rest and recuperation, No. 9 Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC) hits the road to take on Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2) on Saturday night. The Aggies' offense has been prolific this season, averaging 586.4 yards per game (third-best in the nation) and 49.2 points per game (fourth). Laying the groundwork for that success is the Aggies' offensive line, which had three returning starters and two new faces, one of which is starting center Mike Matthews.

[+] EnlargeMike Matthews
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsCenter Mike Matthews (56) has helped the A&M offense average 586 yards and 49 points a game.
Matthews, who is the younger brother of A&M starting left tackle Jake Matthews and the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, has shined in his first season as a starter. The sophomore got playing time as a backup last season behind then-senior Patrick Lewis, but has stepped in and helped the Aggies' maintain their rapidly-paced attack.

Earlier this week, Matthews discussed his progress this season, his thoughts on the Aggies' offense and what they're expecting from Ole Miss' defensive front:

How would you grade yourself; how do you feel you've played so far this year?

Mike Matthews: I've had a couple of dumb mental errors with false starts but physically, I feel like I've played really well. We'll have to see where it goes from here, try to fix my mistakes and get better at what I'm doing.

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?

Matthews: I guess the false starts. That bothers me because it was stupid stuff. I wasn't focused in and I've got to focus on that and get the play started. I was out there thinking about what I needed to do on that play, I wasn't focused on just getting the ball to the quarterback and initiating the start of the play.

Have the coaches yelled at you for not being fast enough in terms of tempo?

Matthews: No (laughs). We're really emphasizing it this week, because we're trying to get back to it. I think we've done a pretty good job of staying fast. Every week we're trying to go faster because you can always go faster. We're trying to get faster and faster every single game.

What do you like best about the way the offense is playing right now?

Matthews: Just how many points we put up. I feel like we're unstoppable. We're always driving down the field, making big plays and guys are just really playing great. Every time we step on the field, we expect to put points on the board, whether it be field goals or touchdowns -- but we're looking to put touchdowns on the board.

You guys had a couple scoring drives against Arkansas where every play was a run. Is that just happiness for an offensive lineman?
Matthews: Oh yeah. As an offensive lineman, run game is first. You just want to go out there and pound the rock. For us to go out and do that -- we're known as a passing team -- but for us to go out there and pound the rock, it's pretty nice to know that we can still do that.

What do you expect to see from the Ole Miss defensive line?
Matthews: They're very versatile. They have big dudes that will go and run you over and they have elusive dudes that will beat you with speed. As an offensive lineman, you just have to be ready and waiting for a guy to come bull [rush] you or be ready for a dude to try to beat you with speed. You have to be on your toes and be ready to see what happens.

For yourself personally, how has reality been as the starting center been through five games compared to what your preseason expectations were?
Matthews: I think before the season, I expected to come in and just do good things. I knew I would have some mess ups here and there. But I think as the season has played out, I've kept my standards and played pretty solid.

You often hear stories of quarterbacks taking out their offensive linemen to dinner. Has Johnny Manziel had the chance to take you guys out?
Matthews: He took us out to dinner [before the Alabama game] and it was really nice, a good place. He let us eat a lot. I got a steak and it was amazing. Usually we'll do it whenever we feel like we need to come closer as a team and an o-line and as a unit, whenever it needs to be done.

Helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
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FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Texas A&M pulled out a 45-33 road win over Arkansas on Saturday night to improve to 4-1, 1-1 in SEC play. Let's look at some of the key performances and hand out some helmet stickers:

A&M offensive line: This group was stellar on Saturday. They paved the way for 523 offensive yards, including 262 rushing. They helped A&M dominate the second half and anchored two scoring drives that consisted of all running plays. They protected quarterback Johnny Manziel well, allowing only one sack, which was more of a result of an extended scramble than it was protection. Trey Williams, Tra Carson, Ben Malena and Brandon Williams combined for 203 rushing yards behind the front five. After having some mistakes and penalties last week, the quintet of Jake Matthews, Jarvis Harrison, Mike Matthews, Germain Ifedi and Cedric Ogbuehi cleaned those things up and put together a strong effort.

Deshazor Everett: The junior defensive back is establishing himself as the best player on this A&M defense, and he came up with the biggest defensive play on Saturday night, a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown on Arkansas' first drive of the second half. It helped A&M extend their lead to 31-20 when the Razorbacks could have gone down field and taking their first lead. He has done whatever defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and secondary coach Marcel Yates have asked of him, and his move to safety is helping the back end of the defense immensely.

Mike Evans: He caught a 51-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage and caught two first-half touchdowns, including a jump ball in the end zone where he came up limping. The injury didn't keep him out of action long though; Evans came back to play the remainder of the game and even appeared on special teams. Last season he toughed out many a game with a hamstring injury, so it shouldn't be surprising that he didn't stay off the field long. He finished with six catches for 116 yards.

Aggies say Bama 'just another game'

September, 9, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — If you thought Sept. 14 marked the first game of Texas A&M's 2013 football season, you're forgiven. Considering all the hype, buildup and anticipation for the rematch between defending BCS champions Alabama and the only team to take the Crimson Tide down last year it wouldn't be difficult to overlook or even forget that the Aggies had two games prior.

All summer long, as the college football world discussed the Aggies or its star quarterback, Johnny Manziel, the conversation would inevitably lead back to Sept. 14. Never mind that the Aggies opened the season on Aug. 31 against Rice or had another game a week later against Sam Houston State.

This is the game that college football fans have waited for.

The Aggies coaches and players could not and did not take that approach. As expected, their focus has been on their opponent that week -- and only that week -- at least according to their words.

"It's just another game for us," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said. "We're coming into it with the same mindset we came into it [against] Rice. It's one week at a time, one game at a time. We'll take it one play at a time starting Monday in practice. We'll just get ready and get prepared."

Walking around campus and listening to others outside of the Bright Football Complex build up the game well before its arrival was a challenge at times, though.

"Especially with family, fans, they're always like, 'Man, two more weeks,'" center Mike Matthews said. "Just in class the other [day], someone was talking about the [Alabama] game and I was like, 'We have Sam Houston first.' We've been taking it one week at a time but I guess it has been a little hard with these [first] two games. Everyone else has had their eyes on Bama."

By now you know the history: Texas A&M went into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset then-No. 1 Alabama 29-24 in front of a stunned crowd. Manziel engineered the Aggies to a 20-0 first quarter lead and cornerback Deshazor Everett stopped Alabama's last offensive chance, intercepting quarterback AJ McCarron on fourth-and-goal with fewer than two minutes remaining.

With Alabama starting this season at No. 1 again and Texas A&M coming into this season with Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, returning, a preseason top 10 ranking and discussions of being an SEC West, SEC and perhaps dark horse BCS championship contender, it has all the makings of landmark clash.

Even Manziel, at least publicly, downplayed the significance.

"Feels like another game," Manziel said. "Feels like Week 3 of the season. Gotta continue to get better as a team and continue to get better in every aspect: offense, defense, special teams. Having a full roster of guys back that have been out will be nice, but for us, we'll just continue to get better like we did last year, week-by-week continue to get better and just see how things go."

With an unprecedented amount of media and attention coming to College Station for this battle, there will be plenty of outside distractions to chew on. What will coach Kevin Sumlin do to keep his team focused?

"Same thing we always do," Sumlin said. "If you're around here a bunch, it ain't going to change."

Matthews brothers relish opportunity

September, 4, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As Jake and Mike Matthews settled in to watch the BCS championship game this January, Jake thought deeply about his future and whether to stick around Texas A&M for one more season, perhaps to make a run at playing in the type of game the two were about to watch on television, or declare for the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeMike Matthews
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsMike Matthews is playing on the O-line with his brother Jake for the first time since high school.
Naturally, Jake sought advice from his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer and Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews. The two spoke on the phone at length about Jake's options before Jake decided it was best to finish out his Aggie career.

Once his parents knew, the next person he told was Mike, now a sophomore center for Texas A&M. His reaction?

"'Alright, cool,'" Jake recalls Mike saying, nonchalantly. "And then watched the game. That's just way he is."

Now the two embark on a unique opportunity, brothers playing only two spots away from each other on the No. 7 Aggies' offensive line.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Jake is now a senior who spent his first three seasons at A&M playing right tackle. But after 2012 Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel declared for the 2013 draft and joined the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drafted him second overall, Jake is now manning Joeckel's old left tackle spot.

Mike, a 6-2, 285-pounder who backed up starter Patrick Lewis at center last season, played late in games when the Aggies held comfortable leads in 2012, so the two didn't have a chance to play on the field at the same time last season. With Lewis having graduated and Mike next in line to start at center, the chance to do so existed.

"It's one of the main reasons I wanted to come back and finish up my senior year here, just the opportunity to play with him," Jake said. "… It's always something real special to play with your brother, especially a sport like this and especially playing on the o-line, just because it's such a close-knit group."

The pair had the chance once before, under similar circumstances. When Jake was a high school senior and Mike -- then known as "Mikey" -- was a sophomore at Missouri City (Texas) Elkins High School, they spent a season starting at left tackle, and center, respectively.

Fast forward four years and the pair are playing together on a top-10 team and blocking for one of the country's most explosive offenses, which includes Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel.

Jake has established himself as an elite tackle. He was a first-team All-SEC selection last season, was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers’ Association of America and was projected by many to be a first round pick in the 2013 draft, had he elected to enter it. That will still likely be the case when 2014 arrives.

Mike, in his first year starting for the Aggies, has already impressed the coaching staff. His debut as a starter on Saturday in a win over Rice yielded positive results, according to Coach Kevin Sumlin.

"He handled [adjustments] very, very well," Sumlin said. "Really, after the first series, he played extremely well. I think that was evident by our ability to rush the football effectively."

For Jake, there is an adjustment phase in moving from right tackle to left tackle.

"It's definitely different," Jake said. "I played left tackle throughout high school but playing college football three years at right tackle you definitely get some tendencies. That's been a little bit of a challenge, getting used to flipping everything, your feet and all that stuff."

Sumlin calls Jake, one of the Aggies’ team captains, a classic "low maintenance, great player," the same compliment he used on Joeckel.

Outside the whistles, their personalities are distinct, according to coaches and teammates.

"I would say Mike Matthews is the more rowdy guy and Jake is more quiet," senior running back Ben Malena said. "I think with [Mike] playing the position that he does, by him being vocal it helps him a lot."

Mike agrees.

"I guess I am a little loud," he said. "[Jake] always tells me I'm annoying because I don't shut my mouth. I do a lot of talking. When I get on the field, I start yelling around a little bit. I'm kind of hyper."

Jake even compared Mike's personality to that of a former Texas A&M defensive lineman who was known for his outsized personality.

"He's like the new Spencer Nealy," Jake said. "He's always been like that growing up. You would think we were raised by different parents. He's always yelling and excited and stuff. It's fun to have someone like that on the team because he picks up the energy and gets guys excited. I'm not sure where he gets it from though."

Jake has his share of fun, too, though. Though Mike seemingly shed the "Mikey" nickname once he left high school, Jake has done his best to keep it alive.

"Everyone calls him Mike and I call him Mikey," Jake said. "It is kind of funny, because now half the guys on the team call him 'Mikey,' and it's kind of funny to see it. [Quarterback] Matt Joeckel does it the most and makes fun of him with it. It's second nature [for me] to call him Mikey, I've been calling him that since we've been running around like little kids."

Jake doesn't escape ribbing however. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney has gotten in a jab or two.

"I always tease Jake and tell him he's the fourth-best center in his family," said McKinney, referring to Bruce, Kevin and Mike Matthews who have all played center. "He'll be a guy who leads us and we're definitely happy to have both of those guys be a part of this program."

The pair aren't the first of the Matthews men to don the maroon-and-white, though. Their older brother Kevin Matthews, who spent three years with the Tennessee Titans and spent time in Washington Redskins camp last month, also played for the Aggies.

With Bruce being a Hall of Famer, Kevin having played in the NFL and Jake next in line, Mike said he wants to follow in his elders' footsteps. The bond he shares with Jake is a strong one.

"We spend a lot of time together," Mike said. "He's like a best friend to me and every single day we have basically the same schedule. We go to class, go to football practice, hang out there, go home, watch TV together, hang out, joke around, just like any old brother relationship."

While Mike was a big reason that Jake returned for one final season in Aggieland, there were a few others too. Jake, a university studies major in A&M's Mays Business School, is on track to earn his degree in December, three-and-a-half years after he stepped on campus. It never hurts to make your mother happy, which Jake did. Carrie Matthews was hopeful for the opportunity to see two of her five sons share the field together at least one more fall. And Jake feels like there are special things ahead for the Aggies.

"We're a great team right now and we're getting a lot of publicity," Jake said. "That was one of the main things I liked. We have a chance to do some special things and I really wanted to be a part of that."

The Aggies are thankful to have them both this season.

"Let me just tell you that I'm extremely happy to have Mike Matthews here, because I do believe if he wasn't here, Jake Matthews wouldn't be here this year," McKinney said with a smile. "We're happy about that."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Silence isn't a word typically synonymous with a stadium hosting more than 86,000 rabid fans, particularly at Kyle Field, where Texas A&M is known to hold a tremendous home-field advantage.

But silence is a key word in describing some of the growing pains the Aggies had to go through in their season-opening win against Rice on Saturday, as they played 16 true freshmen, 11 of which were defensive players.

A&M coach Kevin Sumlin illustrated that point thusly:

"We had a couple situations where a couple guys actually froze up out there and wouldn't even open their mouths and couldn't get lined up," Sumlin said after Saturday's 52-31 victory. "The D-line said they couldn't hear and then one of them admitted to me "Coach, I just didn't say anything. I was just standing there.'"

Not exactly what a coach is looking to hear from defensive players, particularly when facing a no-huddle offense. Communication, especially in those situations, is key for a defense.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayFreshman wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones made an impact in his college debut, hauling in a 71-yard touchdown pass.
But that was the position the Aggies were put in, missing eight players to start the game, six on defense -- including five defensive players who were listed as starters on the week's depth chart -- because of suspensions. There were true freshmen playing in every defensive position group, plus some at receiver. That doesn't include a handful of redshirt freshmen and junior college players who were making their debuts as well.

The Aggies coaches did what they could to prepare their newcomers, but some lessons are only learned the hard way.

"It's like anything else," Sumlin said. "As a coach, you try to prepare guys for all situations, but until the live bullets are flying, you don't know. It'll get better as it goes on, but I think the experience that we gained from today will help us down the road, a bunch. Particularly [in the front seven] because that's where most of the guys are gone."

The struggles were clear. As the defense tried to find its footing, Rice showed the ability to move the ball with ease. The Owls finished the game with 509 total offensive yards, including 306 rushing. The last time they gave up that many offensive yards was in their marathon battle against Louisiana Tech last October (615) and they haven't allowed that many rushing yards since a 66-28 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma on Nov. 8, 2008.

True freshman played on the defensive line (Jay Arnold, Isaiah Golden, Daeshon Hall and Hardreck Walker), at linebacker (Darian Claiborne, Jordan Mastrogiovanni, Shaan Washington) and defensive back (Noel Ellis, Tavares Garner, Alex Sezer Jr. and Jonathan Wiggins).

"There's no way to duplicate the tempo and the emotion [of a game]," Sumlin said on Tuesday. "You know what you're doing, but the pressure to perform in that environment can be very, very difficult on a young guy, and that's what experience is all about."

Offensively, the Aggies were much better off. Even though Matt Joeckel made his first career start at quarterback, he's a junior who has spent more than a year practicing in the offense and he had at least seen some game time. Center Mike Matthews, who received high praise from Sumlin on Tuesday, also played in games and traveled with the team last season.

The true freshmen who saw the field for the first time on offense were all receivers: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jeremy Tabuyo, LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ja'Quay Williams. But because there were more experienced players surrounding them on Saturday, not to mention Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel entered the game in the third quarter, the transition was smoother for the Aggies' offense.

In total, 21 newcomers saw the field for Texas A&M on Saturday, many in significant roles. Plenty will log significant time this Saturday against Sam Houston State, as four players received two-game suspensions and won't be back until Sept. 14 against Alabama. With a signing class of 31 players in February, there was no question the Aggies were going to need some of the newcomers to contribute. By being forced to play so many in the first game, Sumlin feels like it could be a positive later in the season.

"[It's] a real, real learning experience," Sumlin said. "I think for those guys, that's going to pay dividends for us down the road."

Video: Manziel's status undecided

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
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Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and members of the Aggies' football team discuss getting prepared to play Rice while Johnny Manziel's playing status is undecided.

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Sumlin Interested To See New QBs
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin breaks down his team's quarterback competition and some of the other young prospects the Aggies have heading into this season.
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