Texas A&M opens fall camp August 8, and the Aggies have a few holes to fill before they open September 3 against UCLA.
Texas A&M made big strides defensively last season, but to keep that momentum going, two key starting spots on that side of the ball must be filled adequately. There also is one key position on offense to keep an eye on.
Here's a look at Texas A&M's three biggest position battles in fall camp.
The participants: Sophomore DeShawn Capers-Smith vs. junior Priest Willis
The skinny: Capers-Smith (6 feet 0, 190 pounds), the 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year in Louisiana as a quarterback, saw sparse action last season as a true freshman, but is a good athlete with an upside. Willis (6-2, 200) is a former national top-50 recruit who transferred from UCLA, where he started once in his first two seasons. A&M was fourth in the nation in pass defense last season (166.3 yards per game) and the Aggies cannot afford to take a step back. Since DC John Chavis loves to create pressure up front and rely on his secondary to do its job, whoever earns the spot opposite Nick Harvey will need to be a reliable lockdown corner. Put simply, that this is still a discussion has to make Capers-Smith feel good about his chances since he has more room to grow as the youngest and least experienced of the two.
2. Middle linebacker
The participants: Sophomore Otaro Alaka vs. true freshman Tyrel Dodson vs. senior Claude George
The skinny: George (6-2, 230) made three starts last season after arriving as a JC transfer. Alaka (6-3, 240) started twice before suffering a season-ending injury in Game 4; Alaka also likely is in the mix to start at strongside linebacker. Then there's Dodson (6-2, 235), whose biggest obstacle will be learning the defense in a short amount of time. He was signed with the hope that he'd make an instant impact, so he will get a shot at starting. Honestly, the competition is as wide open as it is important and A&M has to get it right. With the sheer number of talented running backs on the schedule, the starter needs to play at a consistently high level.
1. Running back
The participants: Junior Keith Ford vs junior James White
The skinny: With 1,000-yard rusher Tra Carson graduating, the door is wide open for one of these two to emerge. True freshman Trayveon Williams is a wild card, but he seems likely to be a change-of-pace guy. Ford is a transfer from Oklahoma who sat out last season. This is White's fourth season in the program and he should have a leg up in this battle, but injuries have curtailed his development and he has just 72 career carries. He has the build and ability, but has yet to show the toughness necessary in this league. Meanwhile, ever since his transfer was announced, Ford has been looked at as the position's great hope. He has home run speed and also a physical running style. With a new offensive system centered more on the run and a young line, the emergence of a feature back will be key to creating momentum. In close games, the Aggies must be able to get that critical first down and take advantage of game-breaking opportunities. Whoever can do that consistently will keep the job.
(You can follow Cavender Neutze on Twitter @neutz9)
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