In year one of the Jimbo Fisher era, Texas A&M football endured sloppy defensive secondary play, nail-biting quarterback decision-making and non-quality depth at nearly every position on the field.
Enter year two.
The Aggies now boast one of the most improved secondaries in the country, composed quarterback play and a wide array of options ready-to-go at a moment’s notice at every position. This combination has brought this program to national prominence, and will continue to do so as the season continues.
This secondary group simply looks unfamiliar — in the season opener against Texas State they collected four interceptions, which is the most the Aggies have had in a single game since the A&M beat Texas 12-7 in 2006. Senior corner Roney Elam registered a pick, a sack and two pass breakups while corner Myles Jones picked up two picks of his own.
Add-in the shoestring interception by safety Leon O’Neal in the opening moments of the game and the secondary is already three picks away from matching last season’s total. There is no doubt that the Aggies now have a confident group.
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko has aided the turnaround with the defensive backs, and used this contest to throw in different combinations of experienced and younger members of the secondary to assess who the starters will be for the rest of the season.
“We’re all just competing,” Jones said. “The spot is never secure, so I was just competing every day and getting better every day.”
It doesn’t matter who you throw in, there will always be starting-caliber players ready to come in at a moment’s notice.
Given that the opponent was Texas State, the performance tonight could’ve been just an outlier - but the Sept. 7 matchup with Clemson will be an early reality check for a team that still will have to face three more top-five programs.
“It’s a little bit different ball game now,” Fisher said on the upcoming matchup. “They got some great receivers and Trevor [Lawrence]. And I'm glad our guys got some confidence going in, but we’re going to have to play one heck of a game.”
The defensive front was another group that had just as much success, holding the Bobcats to a mere eight rushing yards. The young and talented group terrorized the Texas State offensive line, reaching the backfield easily and pressuring quarterbacks into tough throws all night long.
This defense has surpassed plenty of expectations during the first test, and will have to do it once again in order to have a shot at the reigning national champions in Clemson.
One of the dominating storylines of the summer in Aggieland was quarterback Kellen Mond’s improvement over the offseason.
Fisher is known as one of the best signal caller developers in the business, and Mond had a variety of details that needed work going into the offseason. Composure in the pocket, footwork and seeing the field were all major points of emphasis.
Mond checked off all of those concerns and more.
The junior took his time (but not too much time) to let plays develop, and looked comfortable in the pocket when he made his throws. When those throws were made, they were on a rope, and could easily identify what windows were within his range. He also made smart decisions on when to keep the ball and use his legs on a play.
“I prided myself a lot in training my eyes,” Mond said. “With the coverage I know exactly where to go with the ball. I just have to trust my eyes and trust my reads and deliver the ball with confidence. I felt like the whole offense was on the same page tonight.”
With the tools Mond possesses, it wouldn’t be surprising if he proves himself to be within the elite quarterback ranks in 2019.