Texas A&M’s offense lost its three best players to the NFL, but the unit expects to be just as good, if not better, because of depth and talent in the offensive line and at wide receiver.
Running back Trayveon Williams led the Southeastern Conference in rushing last season, and center Erik McCoy made 39 straight starts, but both opted not to return for their senior seasons. They were key cogs in a ball-control offense that allowed A&M to average 34 minutes, 34 seconds of possession per game, which ranked third in the country.
A&M is replacing McCoy by moving junior Ryan McCollum from right guard to center. Senior Colton Prater, one of five returning linemen with at least 10 career starts, could slide into McCollum’s old spot with redshirt freshmen Marcus “Tank” Jenkins and Luke Matthews other possibilities. Depth will come from true freshmen tackle Kenyon Green, Layden Robinson and Blake Trainor.
“I think all three of those freshmen are gifted,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We’re expecting them to push and provide quality backup or start. If they’re the best players, they’ll start.”
A&M’s offensive line struggled in one key area, allowing 2.7 sacks per game to rank 102nd in the country, but that was with three sophomores playing in a new system. The number should shrink because of a veteran quarterback and experienced linemen.
Junior quarterback Kellen Mond has to find a new favorite target after losing tight end Jace Sternberger, who had 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. The good news is every wide receiver who had a catch last season returns. Leading the way are juniors Quartney Davis, Camron Buckley, Kendrick Rogers and Jhamon Ausbon, who combined for 137 receptions for 1,770 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“I’m excited about that group,” Fisher said. “We run a lot of different schemes and concepts. We put a lot on our passing game, and there’s a lot of adjustments that are made during those routes when run right gives you a lot of options to get open, and I think they really embrace those now and understand them.”
Each of the four junior receivers showed flashes of becoming go-to targets last season. Davis had seven catches for 101 yards and two scores in the 74-72 seven-overtime victory over LSU. Rogers had seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the 28-26 loss to Clemson. Buckley had five catches for 72 yards in a 24-17 victory over Arkansas.
Ausbon, slowed by a foot injury that caused him to miss four games, was limited to 31 catches for 375 yards with no touchdowns, but the 6-foot-2, 218-pounder was Mond’s favorite target in 2017, catching 50 passes for 571 yards and three scores.
“Jhamon Ausbon has been cutting down on his weight,” Mond said. “I feel like he’s been a guy who’s been getting a lot faster. We all know he’s got really good hands and size and athletic ability.”
Sternberger, who was drafted in the third round by the Green Bay Packers, often split out wide to stretch the field. A&M is now short on experience at tight end with junior walk-on Ryan Renick owning the group’s lone catch. Sophomores Glenn Beal (6-5, 280) and Jalen Wydermeyer (6-5, 240) are big targets. Highly touted freshmen Baylor Cupp (6-6, 245) sustained a broken ankle during a recent scrimmage. Fisher said all three are good blockers.
“Those guys are really athletic and have a lot of length,” Mond said. “Being about to fit balls in tight windows, they’re able to make really good catches with crazy range.”
At running back, A&M groomed sophomore Jashaun Corbin last season to replace Williams, who rushed for 1,760 yards. The Aggies averaged 219 yards rushing per game to rank 21st in the country. Corbin rushed for 346 yards in limited playing time, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
The position suffered a blow when sophomore Vernon Jackson sustained a neck injury in spring drills that will cause him to miss this season. Sophomore Jacob Kibodi had a good spring, is up to 221 pounds and is “running well,” Fisher said. Sophomore Cordarrian Richardson, who sat out last season after transferring from Central Florida, is at 235 pounds, having lost 15. Fisher says, “He looks great.”
Redshirt freshman Deneric Prince and true freshman Isaiah Spiller also have caught Fisher’s eye, giving the unit depth.
“I feel like they’re going to have really explosive years, and we all saw what Trayveon could do in the run game,” Mond said. “I think Jashaun can do the same.”
A&M averaged 471.6 yards per game last season to rank 15th in the country, and it all started with the offensive line.
“I believe you have to be physical in this league to be successful, and you have to run that football,” Fisher said. “We will continue to do it. I feel very confident with where we are right now.”