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March 26, 2009

Texas A&M needs work in the trenches

Three times this decade, coaches in their second season at a program have led their teams to a final No. 1 ranking. Mike Sherman will be in his second year at A&M, but the Aggies might settle for a ranking in the 50s.

Last season, the Aggies ranked 95th or worse in 10 of 17 major team statistical categories listed by the NCAA. In fact, the Aggies ranked 114th nationally (out of 119 teams) in rushing offense and rushing defense. They couldn't run or stop the run.

Clearly, bolstering the offensive and defensive lines is imperative this spring.

Here's a look at the Aggies as they prepare for spring ball.

Jerrod Johnson passed for 2,435 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.
Coach: Mike Sherman
Last season: 4-8, 2-6 Big 12
Spring dates: March 26-April 24. The spring game is April 18.
Offense (8): G Evan Eike, WR Jeff Fuller, G/T Lee Grimes, QB Jerrod Johnson, C Kevin Matthews, TE Jamie McCoy, WR Terrence McCoy, T Michael Shumard.
Defense (5): LB Matt Featherston, FS Trent Hunter, T Tony Jerod-Eddie, T Lucas Patterson, CB Jordan Pugh.
Special teams (1): K Randy Bullock.
Positions of strength

The Aggies dramatically upgraded their receiving corps last season. Jeff Fuller and Ryan Tannehill combined for 105 receptions and 14 touchdowns as true freshmen last season. Terrence McCoy added 24 catches, while his older brother tight end Jamie McCoy had 43 catches. The Aggies climbed from 99th nationally in passing in 2007 to 27th in '08 and averaged almost 70 more passing yards per game. Of course, doing that also requires solid play at quarterback. A&M seems set there with Jerrod Johnson, who passed for 2,435 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Help is needed

The offensive line has four returning starters, so maybe a year of experience will foster improvement. The Aggies certainly hope so. The line was a disaster area in '08. A&M allowed more sacks per game (3.25) than rushing yards per carry (2.91). Linebacker, once an area of dominance, needs to be upgraded. Linebacker Matt Featherston had 94 tackles a year ago, but only three were for losses. The Aggies allowed an average of 219.3 yards to rank 114th in the nation in run defense. A&M is searching for two new starting defensive ends and two new starters in the secondary.

Keep an eye on

C/G Matt Allen: A dismal offensive line is in dire need of an upgrade. Allen, a transfer from LSU, may be able to supply that. He was a backup in Baton Rouge and didn't figure to break into the Tigers' starting lineup. But Allen, a sophomore, could be a starter for the Aggies.

CB Terrence Frederick: He spent his freshman season as a part-time starter at cornerback and had 33 tackles and three pass breakups. With a strong spring, he could nail down a full-time job.

RB Bradley Stephens: A year ago, Stephens was seen as a player with great potential. Then, he rushed for just 68 yards. Stephens, a sophomore, needs to have a strong spring to prove he can be a productive part of the offense. If he doesn't distinguish himself this spring, he may become forgotten once five-star running back prospect Christine Michael arrives in the summer.

His time is now

Two years ago, Von Miller drew raves and freshman all-conference recognition at defensive end. There was a thought he could emerge as a star on an A&M defense desperately in need of one. Last season, he moved to outside linebacker, couldn't stay in the starting lineup and had just 44 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He needs a solid spring to prove the optimism after his freshman year wasn't misguided. Unless he raises his performance, he could be put on a growing list of disappointing A&M defensive players.

The buzz

Upgrading the offensive line has to be the top priority this spring. Sherman was the Aggies' offensive line coach when they were dominating the old Southwest Conference in the early '90s, and that should spark some hope for improvement in his second year as coach. The defense also needs an overhaul after finishing 114th in total defense last season. Surprisingly, a quarterback competition also could be in the works. Johnson had a solid first season as a starter and Tannehill led the Aggies in receiving. But Tannehill was recruited as a quarterback and was promised he'd get a shot there.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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