Texas A&M spring wrap

2009 overall record: 6-7

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (9), P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Christine Michael, RB Cyrus Gray, DT Lucas Patterson, DB Trent Hunter, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu

Key losses: S Jordan Pugh, OL Michael Shumard, OL Kevin Matthews, OL Lee Grimes

2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Stephen F. Austin

Sept. 11 Louisiana Tech

Sept. 18 Florida International

Sept. 30 at Oklahoma State

Oct. 9 Arkansas

Oct. 16 Missouri

Oct. 23 at Kansas

Oct. 30 Texas Tech

Nov. 6 Oklahoma

Nov. 13 at Baylor

Nov. 20 Nebraska

Nov. 25 at Texas2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Christine Michael* (844 yards)

Passing: Jerrod Johnson* (3,579 yards)

Receiving: Uzoma Nwachukwu* (708 yards)

Tackles: Trent Hunter* (95)

Sacks: Von Miller* (16.5)

Interceptions: Jordan Pugh (3)

Three spring answers

1. Found a place for Von Miller. Von Miller will play the “Joker” position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot in new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s 3-4 alignment. It seems like a natural fit for the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who led the nation in sacks last season.

2. Embracing DeRuyter’s schemes. After fielding the worst defense in the Big 12 last season and ranking 104th nationally in scoring defense, the Aggie D was ready for a change. It cam in the form of DeRuyter, who coached Air Force’s defense last season into the national top 10. Texas A&M’s defenders were clearly receptive to DeRuyter’s new approach and are ready to erase a forgettable year.

3. Joeckel can’t hide. Texas A&M is replacing three offensive linemen from last year’s team, but its new left tackle might be true freshman Luke Joeckel. The Arlington, Texas product and No. 83 on the ESPNU 150 enrolled early as the nation’s No. 6 offensive tackle prospect. He drew rave reviews from coach Mike Sherman—reluctantly, Sherman admitted—and left the spring as the starter. If the Aggies make it back to Joeckel’s hometown for the Big 12 title game, he’ll be a reason why.

Three fall questions

1. Will the defense be good enough? The offense scored the third-most points in the Big 12 last season, but still won just six games. The easy culprit is the defense, which gave up over 40 points on five occasions in 2009, and 60-plus in a pair of other losses. The offense still returns eight starters, so they won’t need to be dominant, just better. We won’t know how much better until the fall.

2. Will the offense repeat its performance behind a new line? Oklahoma experienced it last season, and Texas A&M could be a candidate in 2010. The best way to derail a dominant offense is replacing starters on the offensive line. Oklahoma went from the best offense in the history of college football to fourth in the Big 12. If the turnover process doesn’t go better for the Aggies, they could see a similar drop.

3. Is this “The Year?” Texas A&M is the only team other than Texas or Oklahoma to represent the South in the Big 12 title game, but they haven’t done it since winning the Big 12 title in 1998. Is this the year the Aggies make it back? They’ll have their best team under Sherman, and unlike Oklahoma State a year ago, they won’t begin their campaign with Oklahoma and Texas entering the season as frontrunners for the national title. If they’re going to sneak up and snatch the South, this will be their best chance in awhile.