- Suzanne Halliburton American-Statesman Staff
The football part of the Jimbo Fisher era is about to start.
Fisher, the new Texas A&M coach, was hired last December. But in less than two weeks he’ll finally be wearing a whistle, standing on a grassy practice field and dictating to his new players.
A&M is set to start its first of 15 spring practices on March 20th. The spring game is scheduled for April 14 at Kyle Field.
Fisher changed up the A&M conditioning program when he hired Jerry Schmidt, Oklahoma’s long-time strength coach. He said he can see the differences in how the players look since January.
“Their bodies have changed,” Fisher said. “They’ve cut a lot of fat and are building muscle. You can see it physically, not that there was anything bad about he way they looked before.”
Fisher met with several reporters Thursday to offer a few thoughts on spring and his approach to doing things. He’s worked for some of the sport’s biggest names, from Alabama’s Nick Saban to Florida State’s Bobby Bowden. He has this mantra: “To make yourself elite is what you do to separate yourself from everybody else.”
The elite foundation already could be in place. Fisher is about to start trying to whittle away the chasm that separates Alabama from the rest of the SEC West.
Former coach Kevin Sumlin left Fisher a bevy of young talent. The Aggies lost only six starters, split evenly between offense and defense, plus a punter from last year’s team that finished 7-6. The best players — like receiver Christian Kirk and safety Armani Watts — now are prepping for the NFL draft. But A&M used 18 freshmen a year ago. They’re still in College Station.
Maybe Fisher’s most pressing concern is stabilizing the quarterback situation. The position has been unsettled since Johnny Manziel left early for the pros after the 2013 season.
The Aggies return two quarterbacks who started games last fall.
Nick Starkel, then a redshirt freshman, was the top quarterback in five games, beginning and ending the season as the starter. In between, he was recovering from a broken ankle. Kellen Mond, a raw freshman who had enrolled early, filled in for Starkel and played in 10 games, with eight starts.
Starkel’s last outing, no doubt, left a lasting impression on the new coaches. He threw for 499 yards in A&M’s 55-52 loss to Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl.
In defeat, Starkel still broke the school record for most passing yards in a bowl game. It ranked second overall to Kenny Hill’s 511 that he threw for in the 2014 season opener.
Yet Fisher said Thursday that the starting job is a wide open competition. He dropped Connor Blumrick’s name into the conversation. Blumrick redshirted last fall. He was in the same class as Mond, but definitely didn’t receive the publicity. While Mond was a star at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Blumrick missed much of his senior season at Pearland High School recuperating from an injury.
Fisher will run a pro style offense. He stressed it’s the same kind of offense an NFL fan will see every Sunday. He prefers his quarterbacks to be super accurate. He likes his guys to be athletic, but to use their running skills to slide away from the rush. His ideal pro guys are Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
Everybody will get plenty of plays to to show their skills. He’ll use two fields for each spring workout. The first and third teams will square off on one field; the second and fourth squads will man another.
“There’s not going to be any standing around,” Fisher promised.