Texas A&M’s coaches and players dressed in their normal maroon and white game-day attire Sunday morning and gathered en masse for a team photo in a corner of Kyle Field.
Week two of preseason training camp was drawing to a close. The season is so, so close.
The quarterback situation has yet to be decided — competition could continue long past A&M’s season opener against Northwestern State. But the offense under new coach Jimbo Fisher is starting to evolve into a unit the Aggies hope will be able to dominate SEC defenses.
Fisher brought a version of his pro-style offense to College Station from Tallahassee. He also hired Darrell Dickey to be his new offensive coordinator. Dickey, who started his career at A&M as a grad assistant under Jackie Sherrill, directed the dynamic offense at Memphis for the past six seasons.
Dickey said Sunday that he used to visit Fisher and chat about plays and philosophies. He said he even “stole” a running play from Fisher’s playbook that allowed Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas to lead the nation in rushing in 2003-04 when Dickey was at North Texas.
Conversely, how much will Fisher borrow from what Dickey was running at Memphis, which ranked fourth nationally in total offense last season. Offensive tweaks mostly are good things.
“At Memphis, we were fast-break football,” said Dickey of an offense that generated 532.1 yards per game, which was behind only Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Louisville.
“We were trying to snap the ball as quickly as humanly possible. Here, we want to control the tempo … go fast when we want to but also slow the game down when needed. We always want to make sure we’re in the best play possible.”
Dickey emphasized that while Memphis was known for its passing reputation, the Tigers did like to run the ball. Memphis featured a 1,000-yard back and a 1,000-yard receiver to complement quarterback Riley’s Ferguson’s 4,257 passing yards.
The SEC always will be a power league. True up-tempo teams can win games — see A&M, 2012 — but the quick pace doesn’t seem to be sustainable as a long-term offensive foundation. Signs are that A&M will emphasize its running game, something it was inconsistent in doing the past few seasons.
The Aggie offense struggled most of last year. They were eighth in the SEC in total offense, averaging 406.8 yards per game. Against league teams, A&M averaged only 346.1.
A&M has the makings of a nice feature back in junior Trayveon Williams, who gained 798 yards last season splitting time with Keith Ford.
“It really just amplifies the extra grit when you know you’re able to run the ball down the other guy’s throat,” Williams said. “I’m glad we’re going back to an older style of playing.”
A&M still has two quarterbacks competing for the starting spot. And the way Fisher described it, there’s no separation between Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond. Both are sophomores. Both started games last season. Starkel has an extra year of seasoning. He enrolled in 2016 while Mond joined A&M in January, 2017.
“It’s fun to watch them,” Fisher said of Starkel and Mond. “I think both are rising to each other’s games. … I feel comfortable with both of them.”
Starkel said there are some big differences between this year’s offense and what the Aggies ran under then coach Kevin Sumlin. The pace won’t be as extreme. More plays will be called under center. Receiver Quartney Davis said that this year’s offense has more complete route trees.
But there will be something familiar to it.
“If you took a wide picture from really high,” Starkel said, “you’d see some of the same formations.”