COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One notable trend on Texas A&M's recently released depth chart is the presence of young players, in some cases freshmen, in key spots across the board.
Of course, the coaching staff named redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel the starting quarterback last week, but he's not alone. Redshirt freshman Mike Evans joins him as a starting receiver and on defense, true freshman De'Vante Harris is starting at one of the cornerback spots. On special teams, true freshman running back Trey Williams is slotted as the team's kickoff return specialist.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who along with assistant coaches and several players met with the media on Thursday in advance of the season, felt comfortable playing freshmen and young players at Houston and it appears no different in Aggieland.
"There's two parts to that," Sumlin said. "Number one, there's young guys there because we don't have anybody else. Fortunately we recruited to that and we've thrown some guys into the fire. I think if you look at my history as a coach, that's how we've done things: Best players play.
"We had a bunch of young guys in my first year as a head coach and they grew through the program. If their challenged enough and you can trust them, competitively and athletically, they [get] better. We're going to give those guys a chance to play and that's a good thing. ... Just because you've been here four or five years does not mean you get to play, particularly because for some of those years it may have been a different scheme."
• Many players praised the leadership qualities of recently-named starting quarterback Johnny Manziel. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kliff Kingsbury said Manziel still has work to do but that he's balanced things well since being named the starter.
"He's done a good job defining his role and feeling his way out," Kingsbury said. "He's done well. Not much fazes him. He knows what type of player he wants to become and he's does a good job of just working at it and not letting outside factors bother him."
• The Aggies open up their season against a team that Sumlin, Kingsbury and several other coaches on staff that were with Sumlin at Houston are familiar with: Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs pushed the Cougars to the limit last September, leading 34-7 before the Cougars rallied to come from behind and win 35-34 in the final minutes.
Sumlin and Kingsbury said that they think their experience as coaches against the Bulldogs can assist the Aggies as they prepare for the Aug. 30 game in Shreveport, La.
"I thought last year we went in there, we got outplayed and outcoached and we had a couple great players that made plays in the end at the University of Houston to help us get that win," Kingsbury said. "This isn't a team we're going to take lightly. We know what they bring to the table personnel-wise and in their coaching staff."
• Sumlin said the team has solved its long-snapping situation with the help of junior tackle Jake Matthews. Matthews, the son of NFL Hall of Famer and Tennessee Titans coach Bruce Matthews, showed his ability in a recent practice to handle long-snapping duties and now will assume those duties heading into the season.
• Senior center Patrick Lewis said he continues to get better at adjusting to the high tempo required to play in Sumlin and Kingsbury's Air Raid-style offense, saying "I'm getting real close."
• Though Christine Michael and Ben Malena are one and two, respectively, on the depth chart at running back, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said that true freshman Trey Williams will get some opportunities as well. "He's a special player," Kingsbury said. "I haven't seen many that can make people miss like he does. We thought that's what we were getting, but until you see it, against this quality of [competition]... He's going to play. I'm not sure where or when but he's definitely going to play."
• Senior linebacker Sean Porter said the Aggies have made a lot of progress on defense throughout fall training camp.
"We’ve cleaned up a lot of stuff these last few weeks," Porter said. "We took the spring and summer to learn the defense. Now we’ve taken these last few weeks to get with the coaches and really review that and refine all that stuff we’ve been working on. I think we’ve gotten better as a defense.”
• Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he has been pleased with what he has seen from sophomore linebacker Donnie Baggs. With Steven Jenkins sitting out the season opener (he, along with safety Howard Matthews are suspended by Sumlin for a violation of team rules that occurred in the summer), Baggs will have a vital role for the opener and beyond, Snyder said.
"He's a guy that we're going to have to count on all year," Snyder said. "Everybody gets locked in on Steven because he's a good player. I've been really, really pleased with Donnie. He'll be part of that three-man rotation inside as we go into this first game and he's going to gain valuable experience."