Texas A&M Aggies: Patrick Lewis

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

October, 11, 2013
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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.

Texas A&M Aggies spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
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2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (tied for second, West Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Texas A&MTop returners

QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, OT Jake Matthews, WR Mike Evans, DT Kirby Ennis, OLB Steven Jenkins, CB Deshazor Everett, S Howard Matthews

Key losses

LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, WR Ryan Swope, DE Damontre Moore, OLB Sean Porter, MLB Johnathan Stewart, FS Steven Terrell

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnny Manziel* (1,409 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel* (3,706)
Receiving: Mike Evans* (1,105)
Tackles: Damontre Moore (85)
Sacks: Damontre Moore (12.5)
Interceptions: Deshazor Everett* and Steven Terrell (2)

Spring answers

1. Johnny Football: The Aggies are in the rare position of returning the previous season's Heisman Trophy winner. Heading into his sophomore season, Texas A&M is hoping that quarterback Johnny Manziel can be even better than he was a season ago. This will be his second year in the offense and for quarterbacks who have played in this system, year two is typically a season in which they progress significantly as passers. That's one of Manziel's primary goals, even though he'll still run when the time calls for it. As long as he's healthy and playing well, things bode well for the Aggies.

2. Experienced secondary: Last season, the defensive backfield was young and inexperienced. This fall, there are still young players back there, but it is the most experienced unit on the Aggies' defense. Three of the four starters in the secondary from the AT&T Cotton Bowl are back: Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris and Howard Matthews. Junior Floyd Raven has moved from cornerback to free safety and appears to have the skill set (range and tackling prowess) to fit into the position well.

3. Loaded backfield: The Aggies have four good options in their offensive backfield for Manziel to hand off or throw to. Starting running back Ben Malena returns, as does Trey Williams, who returned kicks and received carries as a true freshman. Add to the mix a pair of transfer backs who sat out last season, Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon) and the Aggies have a quartet that gives them a multitude of options.

Fall questions

1. Front seven: The Aggies are looking for someone to replace the production that third-round NFL draft pick Damontre Moore brought last season. Moore led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks a year ago. Also, with two senior leaders gone from linebacker (Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart) Texas A&M not only has to replace the bodies but also the leadership. Because of injuries, the Aggies were thin up front in the spring but when all their key players return in the fall, it will ease at least some of those concerns. Keep an eye on names like defensive end Julien Obioha (who started opposite Moore last year), defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and linebacker Donnie Baggs as players who have a chance to see their contributions increase significantly this year.

2. New receivers: Only one starting receiver returns from last year's squad: Mike Evans. Four of the top six players in receiving yardage are no longer on the roster, including second-leading receiver Ryan Swope. So who will Johnny Manziel throw to? Keep an eye on guys like Malcome Kennedy, who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown against Alabama last season, Derel Walker, who had a strong spring game, Edward Pope, who was a star on the scout team when he redshirted last year and a host of recruits from the 2013 class like Ja'Quay Williams and ESPN 150 duo Ricky Seals-Jones and Sebastian LaRue. Developing other reliable pass-catching options is critical, so keep an eye on how they use the tight ends with newcomer Cameron Clear (6-7, 270) on campus.

3. Kicking game: One player who fans kept a close eye on this spring was kicker Taylor Bertolet. In his redshirt freshman season, the strong-legged kicker struggled with consistency, hitting just 13-of-22 field goal attempts and missing seven point-after attempts. With a new special teams coordinator (Jeff Banks) who has college punting and kicking experience around to guide him, the Aggies are looking for an improvement from Bertolet this fall. Also the Aggies are working in a new punter, Drew Kaser, who takes the reins after senior Ryan Epperson graduated.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In all its crystal glory, college football's national championship trophy made a brief stop at Kyle Field on Saturday.

Parked on the sideline for a live television shot during Texas A&M's Maroon-and-White spring football game, as well as for photo opportunities for those who walked by, it was a seemingly symbolic placement of the sport's most coveted piece of hardware, mere feet from a team that might have a realistic chance to hoist it next January.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin, Johnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIf Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel want to make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, they can take a big step forward with a win over No. 1 Alabama.
Yes, it currently belongs to Alabama, the reigning BCS champion, and it will remain that way for the months to come. However, the Aggies were the only team in 2012 to defeat the Crimson Tide, and if they are able to repeat that accomplishment in September, Texas A&M should control its own destiny in the title chase.

But that's many months away. In the meantime, the nation got its first extended glimpse of the 2013 Aggies, a team that could be ranked in the preseason top five come August. The score was Maroon (offense) 43, and White (defense) 23, but that mattered little. What the record crowd of 45,212 came to see was how the Aggies looked and, more specifically, what their reigning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel, would do.

Johnny Football didn't disappoint. He was 24-of-30 for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against an overmatched second-team Aggies defense. He got out of the pocket and scrambled a few times (three carries, 18 yards), but that was not going to be part of the show today in the interest of keeping him healthy. Nobody was going to touch Manziel, although he almost found himself in harm's way when he tried to throw a cut block on sophomore defensive back Sam Moeller to pave the way for a Brandon Williams touchdown.

Just one of those "Johnny Football" moments for the redshirt sophomore.

"I went up and apologized to Sam after it," Manziel said. "The way I am and the way my motor drives me, it was just an instinct play. As much as Coach [Kevin] Sumlin was shaking his head and wasn't happy about it, it was more of 'Hey, in a game, this is how it would have been.' It just naturally took over for me."

He stayed healthy, as did most of the players who participated. The only notable injury to come out of Saturday's scrimmage was an MCL sprain for junior linebacker Tommy Sanders, who'll be ready in the fall.

Several other things about the 2013 Aggies became clear on Saturday. Williams showed why he was such a coveted recruit coming out of Brookshire (Texas) Royal High School, racking up a team-high 59 rushing yards on seven carries and catching three passes for 29 yards while recording a rushing and receiving touchdown. The Aggies' starting running back from 2012, Ben Malena, is back, as is Trey Williams, who contributed as a true freshman. Adding Williams and Oregon transfer Tra Carson to the mix (both sat out per NCAA transfer rules last season) adds more dimensions to the Aggies' backfield and their offense.

"Brandon Williams is very talented. He's a home run threat from anywhere on the field," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. "We plan on [using all four backs]. ... It's a good problem to have. The thing about those four guys, is that they all bring something different to the table."

While the defense didn't have its best day, its performance can be taken with a grain of salt with three surefire starters sidelined by injury, and another two defensive linemen who have taken first-team reps also sitting out. The unit out there Saturday wasn't exactly what will suit up for the Aggies this fall.

What the Aggies are hoping to develop is leadership. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said that safety Howard Matthews is emerging as a leader, as is middle linebacker Donnie Baggs. Having that presence is critical because the Aggies waved goodbye to two of their best defensive leaders, linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, who both graduated.

That said, plenty of the signs Aggies fans were looking for were present on Saturday. Manziel looked in top form. So did sophomore receiver Mike Evans. The offensive line -- though missing soon-to-be first-round pick Luke Joeckel and graduated center Patrick Lewis -- is coming together well. The remainder of a top-10 recruiting class is on the way in the fall and could produce a few more quick contributors.

Manziel will go back to work and team up with George Whitfield Jr., the private quarterback coach he worked with last summer. Manziel said he's ready to eliminate any doubts about what is ahead for him and this year's Texas A&M squad.

"The big conversation that [Whitfield and I] had before Alabama was 'Be a dragon slayer, slay the dragon,' " Manziel said. "Now there's a big dragon out there for us with all the people that are doubting A&M and all the people that are doubting me, (saying) that last year was a fluke. So that's a chip on my shoulder and that's a dragon we need to slay this year."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On the surface, it's easy to surmise that there will be plenty of continuity in Texas A&M's offensive line as it transitions into a new season.

Three of five starters return from what was the strongest position group on the team in 2012.

But just because a few familiar names are still around doesn't mean things are the same. There is plenty of change for the Aggies' front five this spring.

Of the quintet, only one player -- junior left guard Jarvis Harrison -- returns to the same position he was in a year ago. The rest of the offensive linemen are stepping into a new role, either as a returning starter in a new position or as a first-time starter.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJake Matthews might have been a first-round draft choice if he had entered the 2013 NFL draft, but instead he will move to left tackle for his senior season.
After having what was arguably the best offensive tackle tandem in the country last year, the Aggies wave goodbye to one of them (Luke Joeckel, who declared for the NFL draft) and welcome back another in senior Jake Matthews.

Matthews spent last season at right tackle but has moved to left tackle, Joeckel's old spot, to protect Johnny Manziel's blind side. Taking Matthews' place at right tackle is the Cedric Ogbuehi, who started at right guard a season ago.

"They've become comfortable, I think, pretty quickly as far as their footwork goes," offensive line coach B.J. Anderson said of the tackle tandem. "What we're working now is all the little things. Right now, Jake's changed his post hand. It's his left hand when he's on the right side and now on the left side he has to change his post hand. We've got to work through the little things.

"Ced's the same way. There's a lot more grass out there when you play tackle. But he's long and athletic and he's done a nice job and we'll just keep working on those little things."

Since the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Matthews has excelled as a right tackle, there are high expectations for him as he moves to the left side. Ogbuehi was a tackle in high school, so the move outside is natural fit for him as well.

"The biggest change is that I'm going against faster dudes, my sets are different," Ogbuehi said. "Other than that, it's the same thing really.

"I was excited and also sad that Luke left. But it's a big change for me to show what I can do, because I'm athletic. Playing guard, I didn't really showcase that. Playing tackle is going to show what I can really do and also show that I'm versatile, that I can play guard and tackle."

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Spring primer: Five players to watch 

February, 28, 2013
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Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has dominated the headlines since last fall, but the Aggies had quite a bit of talent around the Heisman Trophy winner. Some of the Aggies key players last seasons were ones that the college football world knew little, if anything, about prior to last season. Guys such as receiver Mike Evans, Ben Malena and Howard Matthews wound up playing key roles during the Aggies' memorable 11-2 campaign.

So which returnees could be the breakout players of 2013? Here are five names to keep an eye on heading into Texas A&M spring practice, which begins on Saturday:

[+] EnlargeBen Compton
AP PhotoBen Compton's ability to play center or guard puts him in position to make a move this spring.
Ben Compton -- The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Compton made the move from center to guard last season and saw action in all 13 games. Though primarily a reserve guard, he does have the ability to play center, so expect him to be in the mix to battle for a starting spot somewhere on the interior offensive line. With Cedric Ogbuehi moving from right guard to right tackle, Compton could slide in as his successor at right guard.

Position breakdown: Offensive line 

February, 20, 2013
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In a matter of months, former Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel could be hearing his name be among the first called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJake Matthews' return to College Station for his senior season calmed a lot of Texas A&M nerves.
And while Joeckel (and teammate Damontre Moore, who is also projected to be a high-first round pick) will make Aggies everywhere proud, it's the offensive tackle that didn't enter the draft who has Texas A&M fans breathing a little easier when it comes to 2013.


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Texas A&M Aggies Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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The 2012 season was one to remember for Texas A&M.

The Aggies' first season in the Southeastern Conference was better than almost anyone could expect. And while much of the focus centered around a redshirt freshman -- Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel -- first-year A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin repeatedly praised his seniors for their leadership and buying in when they didn't have to.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireRunning back Christine Michael was Texas A&M's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2009.
As Sumlin often said this year, "They didn't sign up to play for us."

Sumlin was referring to the upperclassmen -- and, really, anybody who wasn't a true freshman or transfer who joined the squad this season -- who signed up to play for previous head coach Mike Sherman.

Many of the Sherman recruits (Manziel included) played critical roles in the Aggies' ability to go 11-2, finish tied for second in the SEC West and conclude the season ranked in the top five. When looking back four years ago at the 2009 recruiting class, roughly a dozen of them wound up being key players in the memorable 2012 season.

There were several diamonds in the rough. Among them were Ryan Swope, who was ranked the No. 116 athlete in the country in 2009. The running back from Austin (Texas) Westlake became a receiver at Texas A&M and eventually set the school's career receiving yardage record, among other marks, such as single-season catches, single-season receiving yards and career 100-yard games.

Another lightly heralded player was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. Ranked 105th nationally at his position, the San Antonio Reagan product always brought high energy and effort and this season became a catalyst in the Aggies' transition to a 4-3 from a 3-4 the last two years. Nealy, a defensive end the previous two seasons, moved inside to defensive tackle and took on double teams week after week. The job he did inside helped facilitate the terrific season outside by defensive end Damontre Moore.

The other starting defensive tackle in 2012, who had a solid season of his own -- Kirby Ennis -- was also a member of the 2009 class.

One of the most important offensive players in 2012 not named Manziel was center Patrick Lewis, another class of 2009 recruit. As one of the "Louisianimals" as Lewis referred to himself and his fellow Louisiana natives, Lewis was the man who made the offense go, literally. The Aggies installed a high-tempo attack upon Sumlin's arrival, and dictating tempo was one of Lewis' primary jobs. He had to get to the ball before the ref spotted it and make protection calls as well. As one of the team captains, Lewis was a true leader.

The two senior linebackers who started for the Aggies, who also served as leaders for this year's team, were also part of the class of 2009: Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart. Both started all 13 games this year. Stewart was second on the team in tackles with 81, while Porter was fifth (66) and second on the team in tackles for loss (6.5).


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Texas A&M 10: Post-Cotton Bowl 

January, 6, 2013
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Johnny ManzielMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel was the clear leader for Texas A&M this season.
Each week this season, GigEmNation ranked Texas A&M's top 10 performers of the season. After the Aggies' dominating 41-13 win over Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, here's a look at who we think shined brightest throughout the entire year:

1. QB Johnny Manziel
The redshirt freshman quarterback not only won the Heisman Trophy, but followed it up with a terrific performance in the Cotton Bowl, setting the bowl's record for total yards (516). He finished the year 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 13 

January, 5, 2013
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What a difference a year makes.

No. 9 Texas A&M closed the book on an impressive season with a 41-13 rout of No. 11 Oklahoma on Friday in the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

It is win No. 11 for the Aggies (11-2), the first time they've accomplished that feat since 1998, when they went 11-3. Let's look at the ups and downs of the night for Texas A&M:

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Grading the positions: Offensive line 

December, 18, 2012
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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 offensive line.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJake Matthews is expected to be a first-round draft choice if he enters the 2013 NFL draft.
Highlights: The was probably the best and most consistent position group on the team this season. The front five of tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, center Patrick Lewis and guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi did a stellar job of protecting redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel and giving him plenty of time to operate. The unit paved the way for an offense that ranked No. 3 in the country in total offensive yards (552.3) and scoring (44.8 points per game) and in the top 15 in both passing and rushing yards per game.

The two tackles are likely high draft picks should they choose to enter the draft, and Lewis played perhaps the most important role of the group. His responsibilities included calling protections and dictating the tempo so that the Aggies' offense could run at the breakneck pace that coach Kevin Sumlin desired.

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Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Johnny Manziel has wowed the college football world with his performance this season. With his production (4,600 total yards, 43 touchdowns responsible for), his athleticism and his knack for making highlight-reel-worthy plays, turning the impossible to possible, he has received significant praise from teammates, coaches, opponents and media.

We'll find out Saturday night whether he'll become the first freshman in college football history to take home the sport's most coveted individual award. In the meantime, here's a glance at some of the comments made about Manziel throughout this season:

• "Johnny Manziel is a fantastic athlete." -- Florida coach Will Muschamp, after the Gators' 20-17 win over Texas A&M in the Aggies' season opener Sept. 8.

• "With Johnny, of course, he's Captain Amazing back there, not getting sacked ... Johnny Football, Captain Amazing, I'm pretty sure next week we'll have another [nickname] for him. It's a growing legend going on." -- Texas A&M receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu, after a 48-3 win over SMU on Sept. 15.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- A year ago at this time, Texas A&M football was at an important crossroads.

The program sought out a new head coach, having dismissed Mike Sherman, who went 25-25 in four seasons there. The crosshairs in the process appeared to be set on Houston's Kevin Sumlin, who went 35-17 through four seasons in Houston and lifted the Cougars high into the national rankings in both 2009 and 2011.

[+] EnlargeMike Sherman
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAt this time last season, Texas A&M was looking for a head coach after firing Mike Sherman.
The Aggies were coming off a 6-6 year (which would become 7-6 after a win over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas), one that had high preseason expectations, including a top-10 ranking. A year that was supposed to be filled with success was instead marred with second-half collapses and a wondering about where things were headed. With the transition from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference on tap, the leadership felt a new direction was needed. Sumlin was eventually tabbed to lead the Aggies into the SEC -- and since then, things have drastically changed.

The last 365 days, give or take a few, have been transformative for the program. Sumlin has injected an energy and swagger into the program that has fueled the Aggies' 10-2 season. After graduating a top-10, first-round pick at quarterback (Ryan Tannehill), a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel has stepped in and shattered records and become a Heisman Trophy candidate. Texas A&M is ranked in the top 10 (No. 9) and the recruiting momentum that the Aggies are building is strong, as they're quickly becoming a premier destination for recruits by offering the combination of quality facilities, college football's premier conference and a chance to win in that conference.

What a difference a year makes.

Some of the things the Aggies accomplished this season seemed like pipe dreams at the start of the year. A potential Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback? Going into fall camp, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury had not even named a starter at the position, with redshirt sophomores Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel battling Manziel.

Even for the quarterback himself, often called by his nickname, "Johnny Football," it's a little unbelievable.

"It’s crazy," he said "It’s so surreal for me to even be mentioned in the same category or in the same sentence as the Heisman Trophy. It would be a dream come true for me to even go to New York and sit down, after years and years of watching guys that I looked up to get dressed up and sit on the front row and hope that their name is called. So for me, it would be a dream come true and something that I would cherish forever."

While Manziel has played a major role in the Aggies' success, so has the leadership of the team -- and not just Sumlin and the coaching staff, but the senior class of players. Guys like linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, safety Steven Terrell, defensive tackle Spencer Nealy, center Patrick Lewis, receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and cornerback/return specialist Dustin Harris have been a big reason the Aggies are a top-10 team this year.

For starters, Sumlin said, they bought in to what the new coaching staff was selling and the idea that they could be successful in the SEC, despite what others said.

"It really was just guys having faith; belief without proof," Sumlin said. "Coming into the year, we really didn't care what everybody else's expectations were ... I think that what these seniors have done is to really set the tone for how to do things away from Saturday. There was a big change in that type of culture."

Sherman said something interesting in his final news conference as the Aggies' coach, after flatly stating that he felt he didn't deserved to be fired.

"I feel like the program is definitely headed in the right direction and I hope the next coach appreciates the opportunity he's going to get to work with these players," he said.

Though some changes fueled this signature season, the first since 1998 in which the Aggies have won 10 games, it turns out Sherman was right.

While many had questions about what could be for the Aggies in the SEC, the players were confident. When asked after the final game of the season whether he could have imagined the season turning out the way it has, Porter took it a step further, demonstrating the confidence the team carried throughout the year.

"It's not as good as I thought it could be," Porter said. "Like Jonathan said, we thought we were going to win all of our games. We truthfully thought that. A lot of people were giving us crap about it at the beginning of the season. I remember going into SEC media day and all those guys in there were looking at me like we were going to be some kind of doormat or something, but this entire time we've had a lot of confidence, and we have confidence in the type of players that we have. I've said it since the beginning of the season: We have the same caliber of athletes as anybody does in the nation. I think this was a great season for us to come out and prove that, and A&M is just going to go up from here."

Texas A&M 10: Week 13 power rankings 

November, 26, 2012
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Each week this season, GigEmNation ranks Texas A&M's top 10 performers of the season. Here's a look at who shined throughout the entire regular season after the Aggies closed out their inaugural SEC campaign with a 59-29 win over Missouri on Saturday at Kyle Field:

1. QB Johnny Manziel The redshirt freshman quarterback broke several records this year, most notably the SEC single-season total yards mark previously held by Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Manziel finished the year with 4,600 total offensive yards (3,419 passing, 1,181 rushing) and 43 total touchdowns (24 passing, 19 rushing). He's a Heisman Trophy candidate and arguably the frontrunner for the award heading into the season's final week.

[+] EnlargeRyan Swope
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireSenior wideout Ryan Swope led the Aggies in touchdown catches this season.
2. DE Damontre Moore The junior has been one of the SEC's and the country's best defensive linemen this year, registering 20 tackles for loss (third nationally) and 12.5 sacks (tied for third nationally). He finished with the Aggies' team lead in both categories as well as tackles (80) and quarterback hurries (8) and blocked two kicks.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Texas A&M 59, Missouri 29 

November, 25, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M closed out its regular season with a resounding 59-29 victory over Missouri on Saturday before 87,222 at Kyle Field. Let's look at the highs and lows from the victory:

THREE UP

1. 10 wins: The Aggies secured their 10th win, marking the first time since 1998 that Texas A&M has accomplished that feat. They finished 10-2 on the regular season and 6-2 in the SEC, good for a tie with LSU for second place in the SEC West.

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Paul Finebaum and Keith Olbermann offer a very lukewarm farewell to the college football edition of Johnny Manziel.
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