#5 - The Receivers' Downfield Ability
Of the A&M receivers, only Ryan Swope has the proven ability to get open downfield.
The Aggies have just one player who's shown the ability to consistently beat defensive backs and get open down the field, and that's senior Ryan Swope. They're hoping that freshmen Thomas Johnson and Sabian Holmes can help in that area, and senior Kenric McNeal will be a factor as well.
The Aggies have plenty of receivers who work well in tight spaces and run good routes. Malcome Kennedy and Uzoma Nwachukwu as well as the previously mentioned Swope and McNeal can be effective spacing out zones and attacking gaps, but do the Aggies have a player that can flat beat a corner off the ball downfield?
Perhaps that player is Mike Evans, who may lack top end speed, but can make up for it with a massive 6-5 frame and great leaping ability. Sean Porter said Tuesday that he thinks Evans has big time playmaking ability and will be a threat that defenses have to watch out for. Evans, seemingly under the radar to the mainstream media, joins Manziel as a redshirt freshman starter this week.
#4 - Michael on the Move
Christine Michael's effectiveness is not only a major unknown because of his injury last season, but because of he'll play a slightly different role in this offense than he played in Mike Sherman's. No longer just a power running back, Michael will be called on in the screen game and the passing game, something he's only had limited experience doing, and something we didn't see in any of the scrimmages this fall.
Michael has just 36 career receptions, Houston running back Charles Sims had 51 just last season. There are multiple facets of being effective out of the backfield, but the one that I'm most interested to see with Michael is how well he gets his feet set and accelerates up the field. I'm not as concerned with him being able to catch the ball as I am with his ability to keep his body up the field.
Michael has historically worked better running downhill on traps and halfback reads than he has working out of the shotgun on draws and zone reads. That's not surprising since he tends to do better when he's playing hard downhill through the first level of the defense. Then, when he's in space, he can make people miss.
#3 - A New Era in the Secondary
Can Deshazor Everett, who played hardly any meaningful snaps a year ago really emerge as a defensive star?
Every year, on every team, there's a weakness from the year before that becomes a strength in the offseason. For whatever reason, the group the year before couldn't get the job done, but the new group coming in can. For A&M, it looks like that group is the secondary.
There's no doubt that the new group is more athletic, but does that mean they're going to be better? Keep in mind that this is a group that's counting on Deshazor Everett as their best cover corner, a player who didn't register a single PBU last season.
Mark Snyder said Tuesday he needs players he can trust, players who won't look into the backfield and give up huge plays on play action. It should be somewhat concerning that one of the most trustworthy players is true freshman De'Vante Harris.
Of course I'm not saying Harris isn't up to the challenge, but as far as what we've seen in games, there's no non-quarterback position that's more of a mystery than cornerbacks.
#2 - The Kingsbury Offense
Do we really know what A&M's offense is going to look like on Saturday? Sure, we've seen limited action in scrimmages, but in the scrimmages the coaches were looking mostly at personnel. For example we've seen a heavy lean on the passing game, but the coaches were trying to figure out who would be playing quarterback.
We do know a few things. One, the Aggies are going to run a ton of screens, and to different positions. We've seen bubble screens, tunnel screens, running back screens to the side of the field, running back screens in the middle of the field, and I'm sure there's more in the playbook.
But we really haven't seen anything from the run game. The Aggies have rarely used two back sets in the scrimmages, a set that was a staple of the Houston offense, and Ben Malena is the perfect back to seal those blocks on sweeps out of two back sets. We also haven't seen much of the option read in scrimmages, which I expect to also be a major part of this offense.
Perhaps no player in A&M history will have as scrutinized a debut at Johnny Manziel.
People want to call it the "Air Raid," though Kingsbury himself doesn't like that term, suggesting today the media needs to come up with a new name. But that's not really what it is. In fact, I'll make a prediction that if you break screen plays into a seperate category, the Aggies will run it much more than they'll throw it on Saturday.
#1 - Manziel's Downfield Ability (and Running ability)
You could probably put five different aspects of Johnny Manziel's game on this list and it would still be pretty valid, but number one here is obvious. The redshirt freshman has only taken limited snaps in live action in front of fans and the media, and even though you hear from behind-the-scenes, you never really know anything until it's gameday.
What we at least think we know is that Manziel has a few strong areas. For one, he's tightened up his release and quickened his feet to the point where his release is fast. He also has the ability to move around and extend plays. That's going to put tremendous pressure on the Florida defense not just to defend, but continue to defend for the entire play.
Past that though, he's a mystery at the college level. Exactly how effective running the ball is he going to be? Kliff Kingsbury said on Tuesday that former Houston quarterback Case Keenum was fast enough to take was the defense gives him, but that Manziel has the ability to break open plays in the open field. Watching his high school tape gives you some clue of his running style, but dancing around high school linebackers isn't the same as facing the Florida Gators.
The other thing that we've literally never seen from Manziel is whether or not he has the ability to throw the ball downfield accurately and on time. He's not going to have to bomb passes left and right, but he's going to have to prove to Florida that he can get it upfield or the safeties will starting moving closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.