When it comes to the coaching staff, Kevin Sumlin returns for another season at the helm for the Aggies, even though he was on the hot seat last year. But, Aggie Athletic Director Scott Woodward ratcheted the heat on Sumlin’s chair up a little when he said, “Coach Sumlin knows he has to win. He has to win this year. He has to do better than he has done in the past.”
The Aggies have finished at 8-5 the past three years and, based on Woodward’s comments to Paul Finebaum, you have to believe that the Aggies need to do better than that this season in order to keep his job.
Considering that Jim Mora is also on the hot seat, tomorrow’s game will probably be a good indication of which of these two coaches is more likely to be fired at the end of the season.
Of course, on the offensive side, Noel Mazzone returns as the offensive coordinator for the Aggies. Because of Jim Mora’s familiarity with Mazzone’s offense expect a few wrinkles, which could include multiple quarterbacks playing. But I also expect that Coach Bradley will have his guys prepared. Of course, Taylor Mazzone, Noel’s son is still at A&M as a quality control coach, but there will be another familiar face on the A&M sideline tomorrow — Jerry Neuheisel. Jerry is in his first season as a Graduate Assistant at A&M.
Defensively, John Chavis enters his third season as the Aggies’ Defensive Coordinator. Chavis has a reputation for having tough defenses. While the Aggies lost Myles Garrett, I sill expect Chavis to have his guys ready for the Bruins. Under Chavis, the Aggies have been in the Top 10 in Tackles for Loss (TFLs) each season. He has a reputation for playing aggressively and he believes there is no substitute for speed.
The Mazzones and Jerry Neuheisel aren’t the only A&M staffers with ties to the LA area. A&M Special Teams Coach Jeff Banks grew up in Upland before heading to Pullman, Washington to attend Washington State where he became an All-Pac-10 punter. He’s been coaching special teams since 1998 and he’s been on the Aggies’ staff since 2013.
Speaking of Special Teams, let’s look at the Aggies’ special teams players.
Like the Bruins, the Aggies should be better on special teams this year. That’s because, last season, A&M was very young at punter and placekicker. But those guys should bring more stability to the Aggies since they are more experienced.
Daniel LaCamera returns as the team’s placekicker. Last season, LaCamera onnected on 17-of-24 field goals, including 4-of-5 in the 40-49 yard range. He was successful on all 54 of his point-after attempts, but he only had four kickoffs with two touchbacks.
The kickoff specialist is Braden Mann, who handled the bulk of kickoffs last season. 55 of his 76 kickoffs went for touchbacks. He also punted twice for an average of 47 yards per punt, but expect Shane Tripucka to do most of the punting.
Tripucka punted 69 times last season and average just under 43 yards per punt.
Christian Kirk and Keith Ford are the two returning guys who handled the most kickoffs of anyone still in the program. Kirk also handled almost all of the punt returns for the Aggies and he led the nation last season with three punt return touchdowns. So, he’s clearly the definition of a dangerous return man and another reason why Jim Mora needs to keep his punter off the field tomorrow.
That wraps up our Texas A&M previews. Kickoff is now just over 24 hours away and the Bruins will face their first test of 2017. It’s been a long offseason, made longer by the fact that the team underachieved so badly last season.
We’ll finally get a chance to see if the changes Jim Mora has made to the coaching staff are going to pay off. And, while I want to see it to believe it, I remain hopeful that the changes will make a difference.
But, of course, hope is not a strategy.