6 offseason priorities for Texas A&M football
It finally happened.
In Jimbo Fisher’s third season, Texas A&M football fans got the national relevance they had been longing for. The Aggies rebounded from the Alabama loss and were in the College Football Playoff race, so much so that many thought they should have been included.
That belief was strengthened when A&M dominated the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl against North Carolina to earn a 41-27 victory. It capped a year full of reaching new heights, including likey a year-end No. 4 ranking, and also puts the gears in motion toward building something bigger in College Station.
This offseason will be strange. Seniors can return if they wish, thanks to the NCAA. That makes it a bit more difficult to predict what the roster will look like next fall, but we still have a generally good idea.
If A&M wishes to keep moving along its current upward trajectory, here are 6 priorities for the Aggies in the offseason.
1. Find a new quarterback
Kellen Mond made it official Thursday morning: The Aggies’ record-setter is heading to the NFL.
That means the Aggies will be searching for the QB of the future this offseason.
Haynes King and Zach Calzada backed up Mond this past season. King came in toward the end of a couple of games and finished the season with a touchdown pass. Calzada did not play. A&M also has incoming freshman Eli Stowers, a 4-star prospect out of Denton, Texas.
I expect King to win the starting job. It’s clear the Aggies like him because they already played him a couple of times, and he came in highly rated out of high school. The priority this offseason should be making sure he feels comfortable with the offense, establishes connections with receivers, etc.
2. Develop the WR room
Texas A&M has a lot of young talent at the receiving position but that group underperformed this season.
Of course the Aggies have the ultimate utility man in Ainias Smith, who led the team with 564 yards receiving. Injuries and opt-outs played a role, but outside of Smith, it was one of the weakest positions on the team. And Smith isn’t even technically a receiver.
Freshmen Demond Demas and Moose Muhammad III received great reviews in camp but didn’t play much. This isn’t out of the ordinary, but one would expect them to see the field in 2021. Caleb Chapman should also be back from injury and Chase Lane also returns.
I would put the highest priority on Demas, though. He was a 5-star prospect; the Aggies need him to develop and deliver that type of production. The goal? For Demas and King to become one of the SEC’s most prolific and dangerous combos. They joined the Aggies in the same recruiting class.
If Demas can reach his potential, King will have a nice pair of weapons in him and Smith.
3. Maroon Goon replacements
Four of the Aggies’ 5 starters on the offensive line this past season were seniors. That group, without question, laid the foundation for 2020’s success. In theory, the seniors could return.
Tuesday, senior left tackle Dan Moore became the first to declare for the NFL Draft. I believe a couple will return to school, but let’s assume they all follow Moore’s lead and are gone for next season.
That will mean a new quarterback will line up behind an extremely inexperienced offensive line. Growing pains and a drop-off in production are to be expected, but it’s worth noting that all 5 OL backups were freshmen or redshirt freshmen. So the next wave is in place and spent at least the past year working as a unit, even if game reps were limited.
Also, Reuben Fatheree comes in as a 4-star tackle and Chris Morris was a guard on the second team as a freshman. Even if a few players come back, those two will probably get some playing time.
Simply because of how much there is to replace, this position group could be the highest priority for A&M this offseason. I would expect Fisher to put emphasis on making sure they are prepared before taking the field next year.
4. Managing hype/expectations
Who knows where A&M will be ranked heading into next season.
Losing Mond hurts, but it was expected. And we’re still waiting to know for sure on the offensive line. That said, I wouldn’t expect them to go overlooked.
The Orange Bowl victory should change the narrative for next season. Whereas this year the Aggies were constantly fighting to prove everyone wrong, I imagine next season they’ll be fighting to prove people right. Belief should go up after this year and with Fisher establishing more of a culture with his recruits.
He has joked, calling media storylines — good and bad — “poison” and saying that his players have to block them out. That will begin again this offseason. If people start off high on A&M, it’s up to the Aggies to simply go out and play their brand of football regardless.
5. Development of Devon Achane
Even before his go-ahead Orange Bowl touchdown, Devon Achane was starting to carve out a small role toward the end of the season.
A lot of his involvement came with Isaiah Spiller either resting or injured, but he was effective. He rushed for 65 yards against South Carolina and 99 against Auburn.
Could we see Achane split carries with Spiller in 2021? Fisher wasn’t opposed to sharing the workload at FSU, where his offense featured 2 running backs each getting at least 100 carries in 5 seasons. It’s nice to know the Aggies have options with that duo and Smith. If Achane can add a few pounds of muscle in offseason workouts he will be an even more effective player.
6. Looking for linebackers
The same disclaimer applies here as to the offensive line.
Senior linebacker Buddy Johnson has not announced his plans for 2021. Wednesday, senior Aaron Hansford accepted a spot in the Senior Bowl. If both leave, A&M will have a huge void to fill. They were the top two tacklers on the team and also combined for 14.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks.
I expect Edgerrin Cooper to slide into one of these spots if it becomes open. He played behind Hansford this season, though he only finished the year with two tackles. Other than him, it’s wide open. The Aggies also have Antonio Doyle, a top-100 recruit in the class of 2020, who could assume a bigger role.
Whatever the case, it will be a lot of new faces next season at this position. There should be extra emphasis on this group in camp, especially with Jayden Peevy already announcing his return to the defensive line.