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August 22, 2008

Sherman has old-school plan for Texas A&M

First-year Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman admits he is late to the modern age.

He only recently learned how to text message. As a former English teacher, he chides his daughter any time she types "U R" as a kind of shorthand. And don't get him started about fist-bumping.

"I still prefer a handshake," Sherman said.

So it would make sense that Sherman has no interest in the new-age, spread offenses taking over college football - even though he has two quarterbacks (Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson) and a tailback (Mike Goodson) who would seem a perfect fit to run the zone read in a spread.

Sherman is committed to bringing his pro-style attack the one he used as coach of the Green Bay Packers and as offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans to College Station. First, he told 270-pound Jorvorskie Lane he'd be moving from tailback to fullback. Then, he made McGee his starter at quarterback.

Sherman's attempt to turn A&M into a power running, play-action pass attack will make for a lot of intrigue in Aggie-land.

"I'm not one to make players fit a scheme," Sherman said. "I think the scheme has to fit the players. I think it will be a very functioning offense. I feel good at two premier positions at tailback and at quarterback."

While Sherman has been touting his pro-style attack, other coaches around the Big 12 have been talking about how the spread is the quickest, easiest way to hide a poor offensive line.

"We think there's more parity in college because of the spread," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "You make more plays by space, and you can get by with a lesser lineman. It's easier to find skill guys than linemen. People used to be able to line up and hammer. It's hard to do that now."

It's even more difficult to hammer when you are starting over on the offensive line.

"We're going to be very inexperienced in the offensive line," Sherman said. "We only had eight scholarship players at that position in the spring. Everything starts with them. I feel like at the receiver position as well, we have to have guys who can catch the ball more consistently."

Iowa State coach Gene Chizik said he plans to make the Cyclones relevant again by using the spread and a dual-threat quarterback. Chizik was defensive coordinator at Texas when Vince Young ran and passed the Longhorns to a national title.

"My quarterback will always run," said Chizik, whose team has sophomores Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates competing for the starting quarterback job. "The quarterback as a runner outnumbers the defense and provides a clear advantage. I learned that first-hand at Texas in 2005."

Even though Sherman opened up the quarterback competition between McGee, Johnson and redshirt freshman Ryan Tannehill in fall camp, McGee became the clear favorite once Sherman said he wouldn't move to a spread if Johnson, more of a dual-threat quarterback, won the job.

"We would run what we run whether any one of them was in there," Sherman said. "Jerrod has never really taken snaps under center, so his drop points and being consistent in the pocket are something he worked on over the summer. He's a big kid, athletic and a better person than he is a player."

Johnson, who is 6-5, is working at tight end in certain packages.

Sherman is in a similar predicament to the one Bill Callahan inherited when Callahan took over at Nebraska in 2004. Both were taking an option offense and trying to turn it into a pro-style attack. There is the tricky balance of trying to win now while also installing a new system.

Callahan's first season at Nebraska was a disaster. He tried to run a pro-style attack with option quarterback Joe Dailey. Nebraska nearly led the nation in turnovers and finished 5-6.

McGee would seem to be further along than a quarterback like Dailey. McGee threw for 8,256 yards in three seasons at Burnet High School and a Texas Class 3A record 101 touchdowns. But at A&M he's completed just 58.8 percent of his passes and has been fighting shoulder injuries incurred from running the option under previous coach Dennis Franchione.

If A&M's offense struggles, it would seem natural to give Johnson a shot to run the zone read with an electric runner like Goodson in the backfield. But Sherman, whose offensive staff is packed with former NFL assistants such as Nolan Cromwell and Tom Rossley, said that wouldn't be the case.

"Regardless of what you do with an inexperienced line, whether you're an option team or a spread offense or a West Coast offense or a power offense, it's a challenge," Sherman said.

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