Weekly Q&A – Texas A&M Answers

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Thanks for all your questions! If you have follow up discussion, feel free to send me an email (thnguyen(at)scng.com) or leave a comment below.

OFFENSE

The general consensus is Josh Rosen is a strength and the offensive line is a concern. Do you think Rosen is getting overhyped? Do you think the offensive line is being underhyped?

I think Rosen is being fairly hyped. He is so critical to this team for so many reasons. And the fact that he’s one of the few returning starting quarterbacks in the conference just magnifies how much of a strength he is.

I think the concerns about the offensive line are valid in that the team has questions at all three interior spots. That has to be a concern, especially when you have golden-armed Rosen standing back there and you’ve also stated a commitment to the running game. On the other hand, something that goes under the radar a little bit is who they have in those spots. It’s not like they’re freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Scott Quessenberry is a fourth-year junior. Kenny Lacy is a fourth-year junior. Poasi Moala is a fourth-year junior. They’ve been around the block and I think the starters are ready for their moments. I would be mostly concerned about the backups. It’s a very muddled situation back there. A lot of the players say they have depth, but like I’ve previously written this week, bodies do not equal depth. The offensive line, unlike in previous years, has bodies, but not necessarily depth at this point in the year.

If there are any more health issues among the fullbacks, will Nate Iese return to that role if needed?

I don’t believe so. I think he’ll be too critical in the tight end position. There are many pretty good tight ends though, like Caleb Wilson, Jordan Wilson and Austin Roberts, so it’s possible if the injuries really persist. (As Kevin Garnett said, “Anything is possible!”) But if for some reason both fullbacks are down at the same time, I would think Jalen Starks might take a shot at fullback. He’s a big boy: 6 foot 1, 255 pounds.

Who is emerging as Rosen’s go to guy so far in practices?

From the two weeks of practice that we watched, he didn’t find just one guy, but he seemed very comfortable with Nate Iese, Size-wise, he’s such a big target. He can make life a lot easier for Rosen and I think he’ll be a big piece of the offense.

Was it not short-sighted to promote Kennedy Polamalu as offensive coordinator? With Rosen in the program the next two years, UCLA should have been able to recruit a top-level, experienced and proven OC. If this Polamalu experiment does not work out we’ve wasted a year (or two) of Rosen. I am not reassured that Polamalu seems intent on allowing Rosen to make as many of the decisions from the line of scrimmage as possible, which suggests that Polamalu is not particularly experienced in making those decisions himself.

I see the value of promoting Kennedy Polamalu. He’s highly respected among players and fellow coaches. Continuity in personalities is important for people who are from 18 to 22(ish) years old, I think. To be able to hear a familiar voice in the room can be helpful in a time of change like when the scheme is undergoing a face lift. Even though Polamalu hasn’t called plays before, it doesn’t mean he won’t be able to and won’t be able to do it well. He had a role in creating game plans and identifying mismatches that led to good play calls, even though he wasn’t the one speaking into the headset. It’s not going to be perfect right away, but I can see what Polamalu brings to this position.

Regarding Rosen making changes at the line of scrimmage, he in fact is not allowed to make any decision he wants. Polamalu said that while Rosen’s decision is final on the field, the coaching staff gives him parameters to stay within while changing plays. He can only audible out of a play so far. I think Polamalu’s willingness to trust his players isn’t an indication of his play-calling inexperience. It’s a sign of respect toward his players and understanding that this isn’t his game to play.

Why hasn’t Soso Jamabo emerged as the clear No. 1 running back?

He has good teammates, which is a good thing for the Bruins. Although the coaching staff hasn’t said it publicly, I do think he’s the No. 1 guy by a small margin. That’s not to say he’s going to take all the carries, but I do think he’ll take the first ones, like he did all throughout training camp. It’s possible the coaches are going with the “three starters” idea to boost competition. Jamabo has a very upright running style because he’s so much taller than the other running backs, so he’s working on bringing his pad level down and keeping his center of gravity low.

How long before Paco Perez will be full speed, ready to play?

Jim Mora seems encouraged by Perez’s progress, but I think he’s still a few weeks away from getting back into the mix on the practice field, then he has to get back to football fitness.


DEFENSE

Do any of the current linebackers seem to be NFL caliber like Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr or Myles Jack?

To me, it’s hard to tell in practice. I’m no scouting expert. I don’t think any of them have the sheer athletic talent of a Myles Jack or the type of quickness Anthony Barr possessed. Those are always the types of things that jump out at you even when you’re just standing on the sideline when everyone else is running around in shells and shorts. From a physical standpoint, Lokeni Toailoa’s got potential. He’s 6 foot 2, 250 pounds. He can move and he’s got good instincts for a young kid. We’ll have to see how things unfold with Mique Juarez.

On the Juarez note: I’m not going to throw out ideas for what’s going on with him. Just know that he’s still enrolled in school, he’s still considered part of the team even though he’s not physically with them and he’s working out a personal issue. Juarez is “getting the help he needs to get through it,” Mora said this week. Don’t forget he’s just 18.

Is Nate Meadors really looking THAT good, or is this more a matter of  Marcus Rios hitting a wall or regressing, perhaps due to health?

Rios did have some injury troubles in spring and then a small hiccup in the fall when he missed a few days with a sore foot after Mora said he got stepped on. Those didn’t help him, but the rotation in the defensive backs group in practice is very interesting. Sometimes clear starters want to rotate in with the second group because defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin gives more reps to the twos. I was impressed with both in training camp and I expect both to play significantly, but I think they’ll go with Meadors as the starter. He seems to have good instincts and a quiet, calming presence on the field even as a sophomore.

What’s the total weight of the starting D-line today vs. last year?

According to the official roster weights, the returning defensive linemen who are slated to start added a combined 75 pounds: Eddie Vanderdoes, Eli Ankou and Matt Dickerson all up 20 pounds each, Takkarist McKinley added 15.

How long before Boss Tagaloa or Nick Terry break into the starting lineup? 

The coaching staff seems really set on having Ankou in the starting lineup in that position right now. When talking about his lack of a depth chart Wednesday, Mora did list a few sure-fire starters and Ankou was one of them. He’s a captain, so his coaches and teammates have confidence in him. Nick Terry has a very slick swim move, but needed to work on some of his other moves. I’m definitely intrigued by Tagaloa though. I expect him to play a lot, but unsure about unseating Ankou at this point.

Does the run defense look improved? 

It’s hard to tell in training camp because they’re obviously not going full out. I also wasn’t watching the team every day last year, so I can’t really compare what they looked like to say if they’ve improved or not, so I kind of have to give you a non-answer answer. I do agree with the idea that just bringing back Vanderdoes will not necessarily cure everything because Vanderdoes is essentially a trade for losing Kenny Clark. Outside of getting him back and adding another guy in the box, I think focusing on the run every day will play off. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said UCLA never did the 9-on-7 drill last year. This year, they did it every day. If you rep it that much, you’ve got to think they’ll be better.

Was Josh Woods given a redshirt year after playing in less than a half and suffering a season-ending injury?

No, he’s currently listed as a sophomore. It was a rough shake last year because the injury has to occur in the first half of the year for a medical redshirt and Woods got hurt against Colorado, which was the eighth game of the year.

Do you think Ishmael Adams will see any action on defense against A&M or has he made a full transition to offense?

I don’t see him on defense against Texas A&M. It’s possible way down the line when the season takes those unexpected turns and injuries come up and personnel changes, but at this point, I wouldn’t expect to see Adams too much on defense, especially Saturday.


OTHERS

What has really been the biggest change/plan for not self-penalizing ourselves? What did we do to avoid these bad habits, if anything?

When hearing Bradley speak about it, it seems like the message and plan hasn’t changed much. He says the coaching staff can “just keep harping about it all the time,” and he’s hoping it’ll click eventually. It hasn’t clicked in four years, so that seems like an optimistic plan at best.

Something that could possibly help was the hiring of Trevor Moawad, the mental conditioning coach. Mora said that while Moawad hasn’t directly addressed penalties, the mindset training he’s done to improve concentration and focus could indirectly lead to fewer penalties. We’ll have to see.

Going into the season who would you choose as the MVP of the offense (other than Rosen) and who is the MVP of the defense?

Who will be the MVPs by the end of the season? On defense, I think Vanderdoes. There’s a reason why all his teammates are so excited to see him back. I hope he stays healthy for them. From the not-named-Rosen pool of applicants on offense, a tie between Conor McDermott and — sleeper pick — Iese. McDermott because he has the most important job on the team, which is to protect the most important player, and Iese because I really do believe the tight end position will star in this offense. Tight ends are involved in 90 percent of the plays. I think Iese will get a lot of targets this year, especially in the red zone. He may not lead the team in yardage, but he’ll play a big part in the receiving game.

Is there some nightmare scenario where a season ending injury to a single player on either side would end any conference title hopes for the Bruins?

Yes. Josh Rosen.

Who do you think stood out most in preseason?

Nate Iese for reasons listed in other answers

Darren Andrews — Key word: consistent. He was sure-handed and found a way to make plays. I think he’s going to have a productive year.

Vanderdoes — He just wrecked one-on-ones every day. It was probably a very happy sight for everyone around to see him back out there doing the things he does.

Lokeni Toailoa — You don’t jump into the competition for a starting role as a freshman without standing out. He’s extremely solidly built. He definitely looks like he could play significant minutes this year.

Do you have a ball park answer of how many Bruins fans will be in College Station on Saturday?

According to Texas A&M media relations, UCLA took 3,400 tickets. The crowd estimate as of the end of Wednesday was just over 100,000. Capacity in Kyle Field is 102,577.

Have you considered teaming up with one of the pay sites or other beat writers to do a weekly podcast?

I have briefly considered a podcast, so one may be coming down the road. But for right now, I’m trying to get a handle on accomplishing all the things I want to do on the blog (which are many) while getting things done for the newspaper during football season.

Not related to this question, but something I want to throw in: Yes, you do have to register for the Daily News site to read more than three articles a month, that’s journalism in the 21st century.

Who is the wryest player people don’t know about?

Not a lot of wry personalities so far, but I’ve enjoyed talking to a lot of players. McKinley is always great. I find Adams very engaging. Although he’s a little more low-key, I liked speaking to Isaako Savaiinaea during training camp. I chatted with him off to the side and have never related to anyone more in one moment than when he said to make it through training camp, you “gotta fake it ‘til you make it.” That’s the truth when you’re out in that San Bernardino heat. For a person from Seattle, that heat was no joke.

What restaurant at A&M got the most recommendations and what is your review?

I didn’t get any recommendations about restaurants at Texas A&M unfortunately. But I’ll be doing some research before this weekend to find some good places.

Will you bring back the weekly score prediction contest, with a “prize” going to the winner each week?

I didn’t even know this was a thing, but I’ll look into it for the future.

Can you publish a brief “dashboard” after each game of graphs or tables or bullets spotlighting the team’s performance (or lack thereof) for each game as well as season-to-date, and perhaps compared to Pac-12 or national averages?

I’m definitely planning regular post-game graphs, but I haven’t figured out exactly what they’ll be yet. We’ll have to wait a few games to build up the stats to be able to graph anything significant, but there will definitely be graphs coming down the pipeline. So standby.

If you’ve made it all the way down here, then thanks again for reading and thanks for asking your questions!

leo thankyou