Jimbo Fisher has a process, too, and it's starting to pay dividends as the Aggies close gap on Alabama
Jimbo Fisher is a firm believer in that old football adage that games are won and lost in the trenches. He’s old school that way, and his hard-nosed approach to the game has afforded the Aggies’ head coach many victories throughout his career leading up to his hiring at Texas A&M, including a national championship. And that’s what he’s building toward in College Station.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, he reaffirmed that theory by his choice of representatives at the 2021 SEC Media Days on Wednesday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. Fisher brought with him a pair of junior linemen, one from each side of the ball, who epitomize his philosophy of strength and toughness at the line of scrimmage.
Offensive lineman Kenyon Green, and defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal were Fisher’s choices to talk about Aggies’ football on Wednesday.
Green anchored an offensive line that led to an SEC-best 5.5 yards per rushing attempt last season and allowed the fewest tackles for loss, as well as sacks (7), of any team in the conference. The consensus All-American moves over from guard to tackle this season to maximize his athleticism and protect the new starting quarterback, who has yet to be determined.
“He’s one of the best pure football players in America,” Fisher said.
Green is 1 of 6 starters returning on offense, but the only one back from a veteran offensive line that ranked among the best in the country. He’ll be leaned on heavily by Fisher, who didn’t seem as concerned about what will be a relatively new group in the upcoming season.
Luke Matthews returns from injury at center. Tackle Jahmir Johnson and guard Layden Robinson, who Fisher considers to be one of the most powerful football players he’s seen, are two more who are expected to have an impact on the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Akinola Ogunbiyi, at left guard, is one of the most athletic linemen in the country, according to Fisher.
“This guy has a chance to be a really special player,” Fisher said. “And we’ve got some great guys that we’ve recruited and some other guys backing them up. So we lost a lot of experience but the guys we have are very, very talented. I mean very talented, and will all be (NFL) draft picks in my opinion and keep developing like I think they can.”
Leal is 1 of 9 starters returning on defense. He led the charges and was a disrupter on the defensive front, pacing the Aggies with 8 QB hurries. The 5-star recruit proved to be one of the best run-stoppers as well and Fisher will rely on his consistency again in the 2021 season. His quickness and agility at 6-4, 290 pounds is quite impressive, leading many to believe he could be a Top 5 NFL draft prospect. Leal was one of just four Power 5 edge defenders to grade out at 80.0-plus as both a run defender and pass rusher in 2020.
It’s that type of leadership that has the Aggies looking forward to extending an 8-game winning streak to end the 2020 season, which included an impressive 41-27 victory over North Carolina in the Orange Bowl.
Their current win streak is the longest since 1998 and helped boost the Aggies to a No. 4 ranking in the final AP Poll, the program’s highest finish since the 1939 National Championship season.
That’s the sore spot with Aggies fans. No titles in more than half a century. That’s why they opened the checkbook for Fisher. Now, taking that final step to the top is all that’s left for him to fulfill his lucrative contract and finally give Aggieland what it’s been pining for for all these years.
“There’s still another level we have to go to, and I think they buy into that and understand that there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Fisher said in regards to taking that last step. “We’re getting to where we need to be and starting to be able to compete for championships and compete at the highest levels. It’s why we’re there and what we’re there for. We’re looking forward to taking those next steps.”
It will be Fisher’s fourth season at Texas A&M. It was his fourth season at Florida State that produced a national championship, and Fisher said he sees some similarities in this program.
“I think from the cultural change of you putting how you believe, how you want to play, the things you want to do into place, I think from that standpoint and the success standpoint we’ve had, I think there are a lot of similarities.”
Culture is the most important thing to Fisher in building a program. Recruiting top talent doesn’t hurt either, and Fisher continues to bring in the nation’s best players.
“The results will come when we don’t worry about the results,” Fisher said of building that all-important culture within the program. “The results will come when we really buy into the day-to-day process of how we have to do things to create those habits that allow us to really execute under pressure and take those next steps.”
A key question mark for the 2021 season will be at quarterback, where Zach Calzada and Haynes King will battle it out to see who replaces Kellen Mond. Say what you will about Mond’s inconsistencies, he still rewrote the record book at Texas A&M and left some big shoes to fill.
But as with his offensive line, Fisher didn’t seem overly concerned about putting new faces in crucial spots.
“I think we’re in a really good situation (with those two),” Fisher said.
If that turns out to be true, that next step might prove to be less of a hurdle than some would think.