AP NEWS

Aggie football team to open second spring practice under Fisher on Wednesday

March 20, 2019

On Wednesday the Texas A&M football team will open spring drills, which will conclude with the Maroon & White Game on April 13 at Kyle Field. Coming off a 9-4 season, the Aggies should be more prepared to hit the Coolidge Practice Fields after a full year under second-year coach Jimbo Fisher.

A year ago, Fisher had only 15 weeks with the players before spring drills. Along with the players knowing what the drills will be, they now have had a year to work with strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt along with the nutrition staff. Fisher said they’re eager and in great shape.

“They know what to expect this year,” Fisher said. “I’m anxious to see these guys. I’m anxious to see how we can grow and get better.”

A&M has to replace several key players who helped the Aggies to a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference West Division and a No. 16 ranking by the Associated Press, their first time in the final Top 25 since 2013. Gone are running back Trayveon Williams, who led the SEC in rushing; center Erik McCoy, the team’s best offensive lineman; All-America tight end Jace Sternberger; linebackers Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson, who combined for 71 career starts; and defensive linemen Landis Durham, Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke, who contributed to one of the country’s best run defenses.

But topping the list of returners is defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who was in the running to be Temple’s head coach but stayed at A&M.

“Mike is one of the best defensive coaches in the country or I wouldn’t have hired him,” Fisher said. “But to keep him and the continuity we have going into the second year, it’s tremendous and we’re blessed to keep him, that’s for sure.”

A&M’s defense allowed only 348.4 yards per game last season to rank 32nd in the country. The Aggies ranked 78th (408.5 ypg) the previous season. A&M was stout against the run, allowing just 95.2 yards to rank third after ranking 77th the previous season (155.6 ypg).

“I think [Elko] gets the overall picture, and I think he has a plan,” Fisher said. “He understands if they’ve got advantages against your safeties or against your corners or against your linebackers. He knows how to cover that up and still stay physical. And I think he does a great job of stopping the run without exploiting the same guy in the secondary all the time, which makes it tough for their offense to attack guys.”

Fisher did have to tweak his staff, adding tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley and offensive line coach Josh Henson.

Finley, who spent the last two seasons at Missouri, replaces Tim Brewster, who went to North Carolina. Fisher said that Finley develops all-around players who can block and he’s also an excellent recruiter having played at Arlington for his father, Mickey Finley, who won more than 200 games before retiring.

“Even though he is a tight end coach, he has a big picture view of the game,” Fisher said. “He understands the game the way a coordinator does.”

Henson, who was coaching at his alma mater Oklahoma State, replaces Jim Turner, who went to the Cincinnati Bengals. Henson was tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator from 2005-08 at LSU, working for two seasons with Fisher when he served as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2000-06.

“He’s been in the system before,” Fisher said. “Josh is a very accomplished line coach but also a very accomplished coordinator. When Missouri went to two SEC championship games, he was calling the plays for that. So as an offensive line guy, seeing that outside is very good, and he’s recruiting well. He’s doing a good job.”