COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M has been down this road before.
The question of whether quarterback Johnny Manziel will play on Saturday is one that remains unanswered, but the Aggies have been through this type of uncertainty once already this season.
They're preparing accordingly.
Manziel, who suffered an apparent right shoulder injury in last week's game against Auburn, is receiving treatment and rehabilitating daily in hopes of starting this Saturday when the Aggies host Vanderbilt. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin called Manziel's status "hopeful" a couple times this week but has offered little more than that.
The Aggies had uncertainty before their season opener against Rice as the school, the team and Manziel awaited the results of an NCAA investigation into an autograph-signing controversy surrounding the Heisman Trophy winner. The team allowed both junior Matt Joeckel and freshman Kenny Hill to compete for the backup job. The announcement of a half-game suspension was delivered three days before the game. Later that week, the Aggies tabbed Joeckel as the starter for the game, and he played a solid first half against Rice.
Both have seen action this season and when Manziel exited the game at the 14:36 mark in the fourth quarter of the Aggies' 45-41 loss to the Tigers, it was Joeckel who entered in his place. Joeckel was 1-of-3 passing for 12 yards in his brief appearance before Manziel returned with 9:06 remaining.
"Matt was called and has been in the fire before," Sumlin said. "We put him in on a third down situation [Auburn] territory. Kenny was chomping at the bit to go, and our practice rotation will change a little bit depending on what Johnny can or can't do as far as practice goes [this week]."
When asked earlier this week whether he would consider playing Manziel on Saturday even if he didn't practice throughout the week, Sumlin said "We'll see."
No matter what Manziel's status turns out to be, the Aggies will have a solid plan. Should Joeckel get the nod, he's started a game before, and the Aggies are in the friendly confines of Kyle Field on Saturday so that helps. He has appeared in three games this season, completed 19-of-31 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown.
Should Hill happen to be pressed into action, he too has played in some live action. He made his debut in Week 2 against Sam Houston State, led a touchdown drive on his first possession and is 6-of-11 passing for 83 yards in his two appearances this season.
"I was very pleased with them," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said earlier this month when asked about his two backup quarterbacks. "I thought Joeckel earned the right to get in there and compete, and he started the Rice game. I thought he did a great job moving the ball. And then Kenny coming in during the Sam Houston State game and throwing a touchdown and moving the ball, they both still have a long ways to go ... but I've got to be pleased with how they performed."
Neither necessarily brings the unique skill set to the table that Manziel does, but teammates and coaches alike say they're confident in whomever calls the signals come Saturday.
"We have great backups in Matt and Kenny," senior receiver Travis Labhart said. "I am comfortable with those other guys, and I know the other receivers are. But obviously you want Johnny back there because of who he is."