COLLEGE STATION — For the first time since the 2011 season, someone other than Johnny Manziel will start at quarterback Saturday for Texas A&M.The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is suspended for the first half of the Aggies’ season opener against Rice (noon, ESPN), meaning that a former Tarrant County high school standout will take the field with the Aggies’ first-team offense: Matt Joeckel, a junior from Arlington High School, or Kenny Hill, a freshman from Southlake Carroll.A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has not announced a starter and called the backup quarterback situation “an ongoing competition” during Tuesday’s news conference. The lingering question is whether A&M coaches, who can turn to Manziel in the second half, are willing to waste the opportunity to redshirt Hill — an incoming freshman — if he does not project to see much playing time beyond Saturday’s contest at Kyle Field.Joeckel, a fourth-year junior, redshirted in 2010 and is the lone quarterback on the A&M roster other than Manziel who has thrown a pass in a college game. Joeckel (6-foot-4, 234 pounds) completed 5 of 11 passes for 42 yards as Manziel’s backup last season.But he is a pocket passer, recruited by former coach Mike Sherman, and Hill is a dual threat signed by Sumlin. Hill, last year’s Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year, has impressed coaches with the way he’s run A&M’s spread offense in fall drills.“He’s a talented guy, a dual-threat guy,” said offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney. “The operation of our offense is pretty similar to what he’s already done in high school.”By playing against Rice, Hill (6-1, 215) would not be allowed to redshirt this season and could exhaust a season’s worth of eligibility in the first half of a game that seventh-ranked A&M is favored to win by a large margin. But Sumlin said he does not plan to redshirt many of his highest-rated freshmen signees, estimating that as many as 15 could play against the Owls.“I didn’t bring them here to stand next to me on the sideline,” Sumlin said. “The best players play, whether you’ve been here five years or five days.”That approach could open the door to immediate playing time for Hill. Or Sumlin could lean on Joeckel’s edge in experience and have him start. Either way, Manziel — suspended for the game’s first half because of an inadvertent NCAA rules violation regarding autographs he signed — is expected to take over in the third quarter.A&M running back Ben Malena, a senior who rushed for 808 yards and eight touchdowns last season, said the Aggies will be comfortable working with either backup.“Both of the guys seized their opportunities in fall camp. Both of them are smart quarterbacks,” Malena said. “It’s not something we worry about.”Center Mike Matthews said: “I’m confident in the quarterbacks we have. We know the backup quarterbacks are putting in the time and effort.”Sumlin indicated he is comfortable with a game-time decision, if necessary.“For a lot of people, things are rigid all the time. You know what’s going to happen,” Sumlin said. “As a coach, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone into games with players and had to make game-time decisions. We’re working a plan.… We don’t have any hidden agendas.”But the Aggies do have a Heisman Trophy winner, suited up and ready, regardless of which backup takes the first snap against Rice.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch