As the college football season came to a close, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin made no secret of the fact that his tattered defense needed major improvements going into 2014. Now, with the announcement of Johnny Manziel's much anticipated and widely expected decision to enter the NFL draft, Sumlin's 2014 offense figures to take on an entirely different look as well.
Star wide receiver Mike Evans, Manziel's favorite target, left behind two years of college eligibility for the NFL just as Manziel did. The SEC's best tandem of offensive tackles, Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi, will be broken up as well. Matthews, a senior, figures to be among the first offensive linemen chosen in the May 8-10 draft. Right tackle Ogbuehi, a junior, is considering early entry and might not be around to slide over and fill Matthews' void at left tackle.
And the Aggies' most reliable running back, senior Ben Malena, won't be around in 2014, either.
In the way that nobody wanted to replace Johnny Carson, the unenviable task of replacing Johnny Football will likely fall to Matt Joeckel or Kenny Hill, two backups with limited experience. Joeckel is more of a stationary pocket presence, while Hill brings a more athletic element to the position. Center Mike Matthews and guard Jarvis Harrison figure to anchor the line as two of the league's top players at their positions, but they'll need plenty of help, particularly if Ogbuehi bolts for the pro ranks.
And where to begin with a defense that ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in scoring defense (30.9 ppg), rush defense (221.3 ypg), pass defense (239 ypg) and total defense (460.3 ppg)? Every level of the defense is in dire need of revamping. And the one young bright spot for the Aggies on that side of the ball, freshman Darian Claiborne, was arrested on drug charges last month and suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Claiborne led the team in tackles (89), tackles for loss (7) and forced fumbles (2) last year, but its questionable whether he can be relied on to lead a rebuilding defense into the future.
Sumlin's recruiting efforts certainly indicate that help is on the way.
Currently holding the nation's fifth-ranked signing class according to rivals.com, with national signing day just a few weeks away, some immediate help for that defense could be on the way. Defensive end Myles Garrett is regarded among the nation's top pass-rushing prospects, and Aggies fans would love nothing more than to see a Damontre Moore 2.0 enter the program to spark the defensive resurgence. As for the offense that carried Texas A&M to immediate success in the SEC, five-star quarterback Kyle Allen and dynamic wide receiver prospect Speedy Noil could give the Aggies' returning players a serious run for playing time.