Johnny Manziel was the focus of a dramatic and intense media day session in 2013, when the hyped Heisman Trophy winner faced hundreds of media members pressing him about his offseason, off-the-field forays.
A year later, the hot topic for Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin in his SEC Media Days appearance Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., was slightly different. Take the opening question of his media conference as proof.
"Let me get this straight -- the question is what's it like not coaching Johnny Manziel?" Sumlin said with eyebrow raised and a sideways smirk.
The Aggies are not setting out to immediately replace the 10,000 total yards Manziel generated the past two years with a shotgun snap and depth-chart name change.
"It's incumbent on the other 10 guys who are on the field to make that quarterback, to make the offense quarterback friendly," Sumlin said. "Whoever that is, it's going to be a pretty young guy going into a pretty -- a very hostile -- situation in Columbia the first game of the year.
"I understand that there's not going to be another Johnny Manziel. The way he played the game, that's all part of it. Does that mean we change offensively? Maybe. Does that mean that we changed offensively for him? That might be the case, too."
How to replace Manziel begins with who replaces him.
"We've laid the groundwork to be successful," Sumlin said.
Sumlin did not name a starter out of spring practice. The competition will begin Aug. 1 at the Aggies' first fall practice and Sumlin said it would be about two weeks before the opener before he makes an announcement. True freshman Kyle Allen is a strong candidate, competing with freshman Kenny Hill. Senior Matt Joeckel transferred to TCU.
"I didn't come here today to tell you who our quarterback is going to be," Sumlin said. "That will play itself out. ... The good news is we've got four of our five offensive linemen back, a really good tight end, good players on the perimeter and three exceptional running backs."
In all the hand-wringing over who will replace Manziel, the grave concern in College Station is whether the Aggies defense, bullied even by milquetoast SEC quarterbacks in 2013, can hold up without Johnny Football around to bail them out.
With Manziel, Texas A&M led the SEC in scoring (44.2 points per game) and total yards (538.4 per game), finishing with a 9-4 record.
"We will have more depth," Sumlin said. "We recruited and have more depth. I think the key to our defense will be the rotation up front, the maturity of guys we had last year and getting better safety play."
Nine starters are back on defense, but the tests will come fast and furious, beginning with the SEC Network's first-ever national telecast in a prime-time Thursday night date in Columbia with South Carolina on Aug. 28.
The gravity of the game was evident Tuesday at media days when South Carolina's Steve Spurrier threw the opening jab of the pre-bout buildup, noting "we know (Sumlin) is a good negotiator," a poke at the new six-year, $30 million deal that made the Aggies coach the highest-paid boss in the SEC until Nick Saban's offseason haul trumped Sumlin.
Those numbers are not on Sumlin's mind, nor is Manziel. Asked a follow-up question about Manziel's off-field activity since being drafted, a smiling Sumlin said it was a great question "for the Cleveland Browns."
NOTES: Sumlin is 20-6 in two seasons at Texas A&M. ... The university constructed a new weight room, locker room, meeting room and nutritional facility in addition to a significant stadium renovation. "It speaks to the commitment Texas A&M has to our program. Future student-athletes are recognizing that. ... it's a little bit of a commercial, but it's a big deal." ... Texas A&M brought P Drew Kaser as one of its player representatives at media days. He is the only specialist among the 14 teams at the event.