Following a promising start to the Jimbo Fisher era in 2018, Texas A&M heads into spring practice feeling good. The Aggies went 9-4 last year, reaching that win total for the first time since 2013 and capping it off by turning in the nation's third-ranked recruiting class. Fisher is stockpiling talent and trying to make the Aggies into a real factor in the SEC West.
The Aggies don't begin spring practice for a couple of weeks, but here's an early overview of how things stack up before they take the field.
2018 Record: 9-4
Spring start date: March 20
Spring game: April 13
Strength heading into spring: The passing game could take a big step forward this season because quarterback Kellen Mond and his entire receiving corps are back. Mond, who will enter his third year as a starter, showed strong growth last season, particularly in the Aggies' big games against Clemson and LSU. The entire two-deep of receivers returns, led by the quartet of Quartney Davis (45 catches), Camron Buckley (34), Jhamon Ausbon (31) and Kendrick Rogers (27). Rogers, in particular, could be primed for a breakout year. He's 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, has great leaping ability and showed flashes of brilliance in those same two games. If he can become more consistent, it'll be huge for A&M's offense. One element of the air attack that does need replacing: tight end. Both Jace Sternberger and Trevor Wood are gone; keep an eye on highly regarded freshman Baylor Cupp, an early enrollee whom Fisher raves about, as someone who could step in there.
Question mark heading into spring: Linebacker is one area where the Aggies showed tremendous improvement last season, but their two top players at the position -- Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka -- have departed. Fisher hit the recruiting trail hard to restock the group, signing five linebackers in the 2019 recruiting class, including two who are already on campus in time for spring drills: 6-foot-7, 235-pound in-state prospect R.J. Orebo and Pennsylvania product Andre White (6-3, 224). Outside linebacker Buddy Johnson is the lone returning starter and will provide a veteran presence; the recovery of Anthony Hines II -- who missed the majority of the 2018 season with a knee injury but seemed to be moving around well during offseason workouts -- will be a critical part to how the Aggies fare at the position.
Instant-impact addition: Fisher loves to use the tight end and Cupp is one who perfectly fits the mold of what the Aggies needed. "Size, speed, power," Fisher notes of Cupp's best traits. He's 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, ran the 200-meter dash in 22.5 seconds as a high school senior and ran a 4.55-second 40 at an A&M camp last summer. That combination will make him an asset in the passing game for years to come and someone Fisher believes can be an NFL draft pick in the future.
2019 game to get excited about now: Take your pick. The Aggies have several big games to choose from, but we'll settle on the Nov. 23 trip to Athens when Texas A&M meets Georgia. It'll be the teams' first meeting since A&M joined the SEC, and thus, it'll be the Aggies' first time between the hedges since moving into the league. The other big games on the schedule are opponents the Aggies played in 2018 (Clemson, Alabama, LSU), so this one will be a treat for A&M fans.
Spring storyline to watch: The Aggies are undergoing transition on the offensive line and in the running game, where they performed well last season. They return three of five offensive line starters, but one of those losses was a crucial one -- center Erik McCoy, a three-year starter who provided steady performance and leadership in the middle, declared for the draft. So did star running back Trayveon Williams, the SEC's rushing leader in 2018. The Aggies also had a coaching change, as offensive line coach Jim Turner left for a job with the Cincinnati Bengals. Filling the void left by McCoy will be key. Williams' heir apparent -- Jashaun Corbin -- has loads of potential and ability. Fisher quickly found a replacement for Turner in former Oklahoma State assistant Josh Henson, who has been in the SEC before at Missouri and crossed paths with Fisher at LSU. The Aggies also are having to replace tight ends and have a new coach there, too (Joe Jon Finley), which also impacts that part of the offense.