1. For starters, how did spring feel this year in College Station? The optimism must be ridiculously high.
Oh, it's ridiculously high, and why not? I think we answered a lot of questions at the Cotton Bowl as far as our ability to "sneak up" on teams. OU is a great team, the cream of our old conference, and we were still able to take care of business when Stoops and company had over a month to prepare for his former offensive coordinator. We had 45,000 at the spring game, which was a record for us. We also had a scrimmage the week before called Friday Night Lights, where Sumlin brought in a DJ on the sideline. It was huge for recruiting.
2. So what'd this team look like? Even with some high-profile returnnees, A&M is replacing quite a bit, especially on defense.
We are. We lost three outstanding receivers, guys who had been major contributors for all four years: Swope, McNeal, and Nwachukwu. Mike Evans is going to need some upperclassmen help, and I think we got a glimpse of that from Derel Walker and LeKendrick Williams. Malcome Kennedy is reliable as well. But the real boost will come from the slew of brand-new wideouts in the recruiting class. The offensive line looked solid, albeit against a depleted front seven. But it looks like Donnie Baggs is going to be able to step up immediately and take over at MLB to lead the defense. He was more of a role player last year, but still got a lot of great experience. Our corner spots are established with Harris and Everett, and Howard Matthews looks good at strong safety. We have a new starter at free safety, Floyd Raven, but he's played quite a bit over the past two seasons on special teams and at corner.
3. Any playmakers emerging to replace guys like Demontre Moore and Sean Porter?
This is an area that I think everyone's looking at. We've gotten spoiled the last few years with guys like Von Miller, Porter, and Moore. With so many regulars out during the spring game due to injuries, the focus was on the defensive newcomers, and they didn't disappoint. The most noticeable impact came from senior Nate Askew, who is playing the Sam backer position for the first time ever. He's been a wide receiver his entire career and is considered one of the best athletes on the team at 6-4, 230-plus, but for whatever reason did not see much action in his first three seasons. He got some excellent pressure off the edge during the spring game (going against Jake Matthews and Ogbuehi, by the way), and the coaches all are really high on him.
4. How is the running game progressing? Will Johnny Manziel have to carry the same load as he did in 2012 there?
Not at all. The offensive strategy will be somewhat different this year because teams will be more wary of Johnny's running ability. That's why we'll probably rely more on a traditional running attack. We did lose Christine Michael, an outstanding running back, but we now have Oregon transfer Tra Carson and Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams eager to make an impact, and both will be pushing established leaders Ben Malena and Trey Williams for carries. This is the best kind of dilemma to have. Also, the offensive line looked very good this spring. We return three starters, but both tackles are at new positions. Everyone knows about Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi, but the most impressive guy in spring practice has been Germain Ifedi, the RS Freshman who's rocketed into the RG spot left open by Ogbuehi. Jarvis Harrison has the LG spot locked down, while Jake's brother Mike will be tasked with filling Patrick Lewis's huge shoes at Center.
5. Speaking of Johnny Football, one of the big narratives of this offseason has been how he's going to handle his newfound godhood in College Station. Early reports?
Imagine if Les Miles was 40 years younger and your quarterback. You'd still love him, right? For better or worse, he's the face of your program and also quite entertaining at the same time. If the things we did when we were 20 were broadcast on a national stage I'd probably be much less gracious than Manziel about it. Johnny takes care of business on the field and doesn't do anything off the field to negate it. I think in ten years or so no one will even care about social media as it relates to college athletes. He's just a pioneer.