Simply put, this is a Texas A&M team that is coming into the 2006 season looking to build confidence and win games. Sound familiar Black Knights' fans? Very much like year one and two under Coach Bobby Ross.
After undergoing another losing season, where they lost their final four games of the season and suffered an embarrassing home loss to Iowa State
an Iowa State team that Army controlled during their match-up and should have beaten. This is an Aggie team that did not receive a bowl bid, which under third-year Head Coach, Dennis Franchione, the Aggies have only may it to a bowl once ... things "must" change. Conversely, the Black Knights won 4 of their final 5 games, but unfortunately, that one lost was the last game of the season, against rival, Navy.
To say that the Aggies are going through cosmetic changes coming into this year's campaign is an understatement.
First, Texas A&M will be without NFL bound (Cincinnati Bengals) QB, Reggie McNeal, who was the Aggies' all-time total offense and passing yards, and therefore open up with a quarterback that has 5 quarters of actual game experience in Stephen McGee.
Add to that, Coach Franchione has 4 first year Aggie coaches added to his staff, with 3 of the 4 coaching on the defensive side of the ball; Gary Darnell (defensive coordinator / linebackers), Bill Clay (safeties), Van Malone (cornerbacks) and Bob DeBesse (wide receivers) joining the offensive crew.
How significant is that? Well, the Aggies allowed more than 300 yards passing per game and held only one opponent to less than 200 yards passing, although the rushing "D" only gave up 3.6 yards per carry last season. Defensive Coordinator, Gary Darnell will look for the new 4-2-5 defense to shut down the passing numbers in the wide open Big 12. This defensive scheme should be very familiar to the Black Knights' fans, because it is the same used under former Black Knights' coach and current Miami Canes QB coach, Todd Berry. The Reader's Digest version of the defense is that it allows for a fifth defensive back to be used between linebacker & safety, depending on the offense. That was the previous role (Whip) of Caleb Campbell , who now reigns at the strong safety position in Bobby Ross' standard 4-3-4 defense.
Another point of focus for Texas A&M, when accessing their game plan for more wins was the adjustment of their non-conference schedule, which now includes Army, The Citadel, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech.
Let's take an in depth look at the 2006 Texas A&M Aggies, starting with their defense.
As previously mentioned, the numbers weren't solid on defense; however the team isn't without some outstanding players, but also with some gaps to fill.
The defense is lead by junior defensive tackle, Red Bryant who is one of the top defensive lineman in the Big 12 and is on the "Watch List" for 2006 Bednarik Award. Bryant is a load at 6-5, 330-pounder, and should improve upon his 28 tackles from last season. Bryant loses his partner in crime at the other defensive tackle, Johnny Jolly, who was a sixth round (Green Bay Packers). Look for Vincent Williams, Kellen Heard, and William Morrisey to fight for the vacancy.
The Aggies have several players returning to compete at this position. It appears that sophomore Cyril Obiozor will occupy one side and Jason Jack will battle Chris Harrington on the other side. Also look for Michael Bennett & Chris Smith to push for time in the rotation.
MLB, Justin Warren joins teammate Red Bryant on the 2006 Bednarik Award "Watch List". Warren bring size and intensity to middle of the Aggie defense, where at 6-foot-3, 245 was named First Team All-Big 12 and led the Big 12 with 9.5 tackles per game. At the other backer spot is a name that may be familiar to Black Knight players and fans, which is Mark Dodge, who served in the Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Dodge's story appeared recently in a USA Today article, where he was at the Pentagon when it was attacked by a plane Sept. 11th, 2001.
In was noted that Dodge, 25, enrolled at Texas A&M in January and won a starting position in spring practice.
According to the USA Today article ...Mark Dodge has one date circled on the Texas A&M schedule. And it's not rival Texas.
"I'm not going to lie. I'm waiting for that West Point game," says the junior linebacker, who did a four-year hitch in the Army.
Texas A&M opens Sept. 2 against The Citadel, another school with a military influence. The Aggies play host to Army on Sept. 16 in San Antonio, chosen because it is near several Army bases and veterans hospitals.
"I dealt with a lot of second lieutenants from West Point who came in and thought they were pretty hot" stuff, Dodge says. "I'm looking for a little payback, just to let them know that I was an enlisted guy. I'll make sure they know who I am."
This is a critical concern for new defensive back coaches, Bill Clay and Van Malone. With Jason Appel departed and taking with him 344 career tackles, someone has to step up. Danny Gorrer and Jordan Peterson appear to be the designated starters at corner with a supporting case of Marquis Carpenter and Marcus Gold. There is no question that this could be the Achilles Heal of the defense. Devin Gregg and Melvin Bullitt will maintain the safety positions, and look for Japhus Brown who is returning from injury to add depth at safety.
True sophomore Arkeith Brown should step in at the rover position in the new 4-2-5 defense. He is one of nine true freshmen to see action last year for the Aggies.
The Texas A&M may is a very solid group, just look at the numbers. The offense has 4,865 yards of total offense on its resume from last year, whereby they averaged 235 yard per game. The big boys up front are lead by All-Big 12 center Cody Wallace (6-foot-4, 296), who has been named to the 2006 Rimington Trophy Watch List, with guards Kirk Elder(6-foot-4, 312) and Grant Dickey (6-foot-5, 313), along with book-end tackles, Yemi Babalola (6-foot-4, 308), a Rivals.com freshman All-American last season and Corey Clark (6-foot-, 311).
The Aggies' size on the interior line is impressive, but add to that 6-foot-7, 245 pound tight-end, Martellus Bennett who by season's end, be the best tight end in the Big 12. Upon being named honorable mention All Big 12, Bennett should be a significant part of the A&M offense. At 6-foot-7, this very athletic tight-end presents match up problems for almost any defense.
Unlike the Black Knights, the Aggies have a stable of running backs. The question becomes, who will receive the bulk of the carries, or will it be running back by committee? Either way, it's not a bad situation to be in, if you are Coach Franchione.
Courtney Lewis finished the season with 723 yards to his credit, but will feel the heat from sophomore Jorvorskie Lane and Rivals 4 star running back, incoming freshman, Michael Goodson.
Chad Schroeder returns after suffering a broken leg in the 8th game of the season against Iowa State. Schroder has a nose for the end zone, where he scored touchdowns on his first five possessions of the season (20 catches for 335 yards and five touchdowns in his shortened season. Joining Schroder from the injury list is Earvin Taylor, who also suffered a broken leg in the 3rd game of the season, which ended his year. Also look for Kerry Franks who started against Baylor and Oklahoma should get reps and add depth to the Aggies receivers' corp.
Stephen McGee has the difficult task of trying to make the Aggies fans forget about versatile quarterback, Reggie McNeal, who has graduated to the NFL.
McGee stepped in admirably when McNeal went down during the Sooners of Oklahoma and then started the final game of the season against National Champion, Texas
talk about baptism under fire. McGee completed the season with a more than respectable 24 of 53 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns and one interception in eight games and compiled 235 yards on the ground and two touchdowns on 43 carries (5.5 average).
McGee may see a familiar face looking across at him while he's behind center. Army linebacker, Luke Pell and McGee where teammates at Burnet High in Burnet, Texas.
COMMON OPPONENTS FROM THE 2005 SEASON:
Baylor 20 - Army 10
Baylor 13 - Texas A&M 16 (OT)
Iowa St 28 - Army 21
Iowa St 42 - Texas A&M 14
The Black Knights and Aggies should go into this game evenly matched. Oddly enough, each team's strength will be matched up against the other team's strength, whereby the Black Knights strength coming into the 2006 season will be their defense (ranked 37th in the nation last season) that is lead by strong safety, Caleb Campbell who is on the "Watch List" for the 2006 Lott Trophy. It will be the Aggies offense that will carry the team until the defense comes together.
Clearly by game time on September 16th, in San Antonio, Texas, each coach should have a better feel for where their respective teams are headed.
Speaking of Head Coaches, this game could come down to the ability of Ross and Franchione in making the necessary game day adjustments to come away victorious.
This would be a solid win for the Black Knights as they return to Texas the following week to take on Baylor, and a must win for the Aggies, as this game leads them into the start of their Big 12 schedule.
However, if you are a true college football fan, especially one from Army and Texas A&M, the bottom line is that it doesn't get better than this. Yes, of course Army always has and always will have Navy; as does the Texas A&M Aggies have the Longhorns of Texas. However, this is something new and refreshing for both great universities.
Rest assured that the West Point Cadets will be there in full force, along with a pumped up Army fan base to help offset the Aggies fans (their 12th man) and of course their Corps of Cadets, which is about 2,000 strong.
Sold out crowd in San Antonio
. How could you not want to be there?
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