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All eyes on Chavis as Texas A&M begins spring football

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Spring football at Texas A&M has been anything but dull under Kevin Sumlin. He sought to instill confidence in 2012, taking over a team that finished a disappointing 7-6 the season before after climbing to No. 8 in the nation. Two years ago, A&M was in the national spotlight because of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and last year everyone wondered who would replace Manziel.

His fourth edition starts Monday with all eyes on defensive coordinator John Chavis, one of college football’s biggest assistants to change schools during the off season. Chavis has been in the Southeastern Conference for 26 seasons, the last six at LSU, which still believes he owes the school a $400,000 buyout because he had a year left on his contract. Chavis filed a suit Friday saying that’s not so, and LSU promptly filed a counter suit. That issue eventually will be decided in the courts.

Aggies are more concerned about how much improvement the defense can make in 15 spring practices under Chavis. There’s certainly plenty of room for Chavis to work magic. A&M was 102nd in total defense, allowing 450.8 yards per game. The Aggies were 64th in passing efficiency (127.86 rating), 75th in scoring (28.1 ppg), 80th in passing yards allowed (234.8 ypg) and 109th in rushing defense (216.0 ypg).

It wasn’t a one-season problem. In 2013, A&M was 110th in rushing defense (222.3 ypg), 109th in total defense (475.8 ypg), 95th in scoring (32.2 ppg) and 88th in passing efficiency (136.49 rating).

Chavis, who replaces Mark Snyder, left behind a Top 10 defense. Last season, LSU was ninth in total defense, allowing 316.8 ypg. The Tigers were also third in passing yards allowed (164.2), third in passing efficiency (101.62 rating), fifth in scoring (17.5 ppg) and 46th in rushing defense (152.7 ypg).

Chavis will be revamping a youthful unit led by end Myles Garrett, a consensus freshman All-American last season. Other freshmen who started a game last season were defensive back Nick Harvey, lineman Zaycoven Henderson, linebacker Josh Walker, safety Armani Watts, cornerback Victor Davis and linebacker Otaro Alaka, the defensive most valuable player in A&M’s Liberty Bowl victory over West Virginia.

Chavis is one of three new Aggie assistants. Dave Christensen will handle the offensive line and be the running game coordinator. The longtime Missouri assistant spent the last season at Utah as offensive coordinator. He replaces B.J. Anderson, who was fired. Anderson and Snyder were on Sumlin’s first Aggie staff.

A&M’s last addition was Aaron Moorehead. He replaces wide receivers coach David Beaty, who was hired as head coach Kansas.

The newcomers helped A&M sign an incoming class that was ranked No. 10 by rivals.com.

“I’m going to let these guys get a few days off, particularly John and Dave and Coach Moorehead,” said Sumlin on signing day. “Then [we’ll] get into some schemes and start preparing with our team and getting ready for spring football.”

Christensen will try to improve a running game that went south last season, though the Aggies had a veteran offensive line and experienced running backs. A&M averaged 149.9 yards rushing per game to rank 82nd in the country. The Aggies averaged 185.1 ypg in 2013 to rank 45th. A strong running game would take pressure off quarterback Kyle Allen, who started the last five games of his true freshman season. He replaced Kenny Hill, who transferred, leaving Allen and former walk-on Conner McQueen as the team’s signal-callers heading into spring drills.

A&M did sign Allen High’s Kyler Murray, a top baseball prospect, which is one of the reasons he didn’t graduate high school early to take part in spring drills.

Sumlin said on signing day that Murray would play because of sheer numbers this fall but Allen’s progress in spring drills could have a bearing on how much time Murray gets.

Moorehead inherits a talented group led by Josh Reynolds, who transferred in last season to lead the team in touchdown catches with 13, grabbing 52 passes for 842 yards. A&M lost its leading receiver in Malcome Kennedy who had 53 catches for 611 yards and six touchdowns.

A&M did sign one of the nation’s top high school receivers in Christian Kirk from Scottsdale, Arizona, who graduated early and will take part in spring drills, one of seven signees who will do so.

A&M also will have to replace place-kicker Josh Lambo who hit 13 of 15 field goals. Taylor Bertolet, who has handled kickoffs for three seasons, is a candidate. He hit 13 of 22 field goals in 2012, but was only 2 of 9 between 30-49 yards.

NOTES — A&M this week will also practice Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. … A&M’s annual pro day will be Wednesday. … A&M won’t have a spring game for the second straight season while Kyle Field is renovated.

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