Texas A&M’s final stretch in the race to replace departed quarterback Johnny Manziel begins Thursday when the Aggies report for the start of fall football drills in College Station.
The only scholarship candidates in the mix to succeed the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner in the Aggies’ starting lineup are Kenny Hill, a sophomore from Southlake Carroll, and Kyle Allen, an incoming freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz., who took part in spring drills.
Coach Kevin Sumlin said there is no clear-cut favorite heading into Friday’s first practice for a team coming off a 9-4 season.
“That will play itself out,” Sumlin said. “We’re looking at a couple of weeks before [the season opener] that we’ll name a starter.”
The Aggies open Aug. 28 at South Carolina (5 p.m., SEC Network). Hill, who completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards in limited duty last season, is the only returnee on the roster who has played in a college game. Allen, a five-star signee, impressed coaches in spring drills.
Sumlin said he has told returnees the burden of proof for offensive success will fall more on the supporting cast than it has the past two seasons when A&M posted a 20-6 mark in the Manziel era.
“It’s incumbent on the other 10 guys who are on the field to make the offense quarterback-friendly,” Sumlin said. “Our guys understand that whoever that is, he is going to be a young guy going into a very hostile situation at South Carolina.
“We’ll put both guys in some situations where we’ll try to keep the pressure on them a little bit during fall camp. Some guys thrive off that. Some guys don’t.”
A&M also will arrive in Columbia, S.C., with some defensive questions. The Aggies ranked last among SEC teams last season in scoring defense (32.2 average), total defense (475.8 yards per game) and rushing defense (222.3).
During the summer, Sumlin waved goodbye to three projected defensive starters who were either dismissed from the team (linebacker Darian Claiborne, nose guard Isaiah Golden) or departed for personal reasons (defensive end Gavin Stansbury). A&M seeks immediate contributions from several incoming freshmen, including defensive end Myles Garrett of Arlington Martin. The next month will be critical in the development of those newcomers.
Sumlin said he welcomes the opportunity to open against South Carolina, a top 10 team in most national preseason projections, because that will make it easier to hold his team’s attention during fall camp.
“When it gets 100-some degrees in Texas and guys don’t want to do anything, I think it helps our sense of urgency to prepare,” Sumlin said. “I kind of like playing games like that early in the season.”