HOOVER, Alabama — The name Johnny Manziel brought a smile to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s face. He grinned at its popularity.
Manziel, the Heisman Trophy-winning former Aggie quarterback, plays in the NFL now for the Cleveland Browns, but remains popular here in Alabama at Southeastern Conference Media Days. SEC reporters aren’t ready to give up the league’s controversial former star.
“Ever since the party photos and whatnot have kind of emerged from Johnny, have you had a chance to visit him?” a reporter asked Sumlin as he stood at the podium Tuesday.
Sumlin smiled and responded with a question of his own.
“Is this SEC Media Days?” he asked. “No, that’s a great question about the Cleveland Browns. Anybody else got anything?”
As the Aggies move on from Manziel, they face questions: who will replace the Heisman winner? What will the offense look like? Is this a rebuilding year for Texas A&M? The answers from Sumlin and his players were, respectively: no decision yet; the same; nope.
“I didn’t come here today to tell you who the quarterback was going to be, so we can eliminate those questions,” Sumlin said.
Sumlin said he won’t name his starting quarterback until a few weeks before the Aggies’ opening game of the season at South Carolina. By gametime at the Gamecocks’ William-Brice Stadium, Sumlin said, he’ll probably be his starting quarterback’s “only friend.”
Regardless of who that quarterback is, senior offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said the offense will be the “exact same” as it was when Manziel was behind the center. Though they lose three All-Americans — Manziel, wide receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews — from last season, Sumlin doesn’t believe he and the Aggies can afford a transition season.
“We don’t have time for rebuilding years,” Sumlin said. “There will be another guy standing up here real quick (if we have one).”
Sumlin believes his team has depth, a byproduct of successful recruiting following the school’s move to the SEC. He represented that in the mix of the three players he brought with him to Hoover: one offensive player, one defensive and — much to the delight of Twitter trolls — punter Drew Kaser, the only special teams player at SEC Media days.
“I’ve had quite a few people kind of ‘at’ me on Twitter,” Kaser said. “It’s kind of hard to ignore those ones. But A&M bringing our punter just shows how balanced our team is.”
If what Kaser said is true, it’ll be a change from last year, when the Aggies were fifth in the nation in ‘points for’ but 96th in ‘points against.’
“We faced those questions going into (our first season in the) SEC and we had a good year on defense,” senior defensive back Deshazor Everett said. “Then we had a bad year (last season), and now people questioning us again. So why not just come out and make a statement?”
The Aggies’ first chance to do so will be Aug. 28 against South Carolina, the first game of the college football season, with the quarterback whose only friend may be Sumlin.