Spring primer: Five players to watch

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has dominated the headlines since last fall, but the Aggies had quite a bit of talent around the Heisman Trophy winner. Some of the Aggies key players last seasons were ones that the college football world knew little, if anything, about prior to last season. Guys such as receiver Mike Evans, Ben Malena and Howard Matthews wound up playing key roles during the Aggies' memorable 11-2 campaign.

So which returnees could be the breakout players of 2013? Here are five names to keep an eye on heading into Texas A&M spring practice, which begins on Saturday:

Ben Compton -- The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Compton made the move from center to guard last season and saw action in all 13 games. Though primarily a reserve guard, he does have the ability to play center, so expect him to be in the mix to battle for a starting spot somewhere on the interior offensive line. With Cedric Ogbuehi moving from right guard to right tackle, Compton could slide in as his successor at right guard.

Mike Matthews -- The 6-3, 260-pound center is the likely heir apparent to recent graduate Patrick Lewis. Matthews did not redshirt during his true freshman season last year, in part so that he would get a taste of game action and experience traveling to SEC venues to prepare him for the opportunity to start. The younger brother of tackle Jake Matthews, Mike is the next in a long line of talented Matthews' men and was a U.S. Army All-American in high school.

Edward Pope -- The 6-4, 170-pound Pope was the scout team player of the year for the Aggies last fall, and with four contributing receivers from the 2012 squad no longer around, there are spots up for grabs. Look for Pope, a three-star prospect out of Carthage (Texas) High School, to battle for one of those spots.

Alonzo Williams -- As a true freshman, Williams got practice reps at both defensive end and defensive tackle and eventually, Williams found himself in the lineup. The Long Beach (Calif.) Poly product played the final seven games of the 2012 season and earned the start in the AT&T Cotton Bowl when defensive end Julien Obioha was unavailable because of an injury. Look for Williams to battle for a starting spot on the defensive line this year.

Brandon Williams -- The running back had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules (Williams transferred to Texas A&M from Oklahoma) but he'll be eligible to play this year and could be a dynamic addition to the backfield. Coming out of high school, the Brookshire (Texas) Royal product was the No. 35 player in the ESPN 150 and he tallied 46 carries as a true freshman at OU. Keep an eye on the 6-0, 192-pound back, who is nicknamed "Slim." One of his fellow backfield mates, Tra Carson (transfer from Oregon), is in the same situation and also could be one to watch this spring and fall.