COLLEGE STATION (AP) – Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman watched as many of his competitors started practice last week and couldn’t wait to get his team on the field.
On Tuesday the Aggies finally got going, holding more than a two-hour practice to get the 2011 season under way.
“It seems like this day was forever coming,” Sherman said. “I saw everyone else starting up. I was getting anxious, why aren’t we starting up? Obviously we go by the NCAA calendar of when we can start, but it’s good to get out there with the guys and see us take that first step.”
Sherman didn’t love the crispness of Day 1, but he was impressed with the attitude of his team.
“It’s not what you want it to be,” Sherman said of the practice. “The first day the ball’s on the ground a little bit too much, had a couple of penalties, didn’t quite fit up on some things. But I thought they gave good effort and we’ll get better from today.”
Expectations are high for Texas A&M this season, with many believing this is the best team the Aggies have had in more than a decade as 10 offensive and eight defensive starters return from last year’s 9-4 team.
The Aggies were picked to finish second in the Big 12 preseason media poll behind Oklahoma and some preseason polls have them ranked in the top 10 nationally. Receiver Jeff Fuller, who had 1,066 yards receiving with 12 touchdowns last season, is excited that people think so much of the team.
“It’s definitely a positive to have high expectations,” Fuller said. “Going into every single season we never really were ranked very high. It’s good to start off high rather than start off low and we just want to continue to get better and hopefully move up to that No. 1 spot.”
Texas A&M hopes the momentum created when Sherman replaced Jerrod Johnson with Ryan Tannehill in the middle of last season continues into 2011. The Aggies won their last six regular season games with Tannehill at quarterback before falling to LSU in the Cotton Bowl.
Tannehill threw for 1,638 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and developed into a leader for the Aggies. He spent a lot of time working with his teammates in the offseason and they say they have a great rapport with the quarterback.
“We’ve been working all summer and the timing’s good,” Fuller said of his work with Tannehill. “It could always get better, so we’re just going to keep on working.”
Running back Cyrus Gray is another key returning starter on the offense. He tweaked his hamstring in practice on Tuesday, but said he’ll be OK and is looking forward to seeing how the team stacks up this season. He said things went smoother on the first day this year because the Aggies have so many veterans on the squad.
He hopes the Aggies can use camp to figure out what kind of team they’ll be this season.
“Right now we’re further ahead than we’ve ever been,” he said. “The install is a lot better and the younger guys are catching on so hopefully we can get this thing rolling. Hopefully we find our identity and what we can do to other teams and what we’re going to be successful with.”
Gray ran for 1,133 yards last season and had seven straight 100-yard rushing games to end the year. Gray added about 10 pounds to his 5-foot-10 frame in the offseason and now weighs about 205 pounds.
“I’ve gained a lot of weight and hopefully I can move better at it and it will help me in the long run,” he said.
Sherman said he is looking for his team to pick up where it left off in the spring in its first week of practice. Most of the errors he saw on Tuesday weren’t made by his upperclassman, but by freshmen.
“The freshmen are really swimming because of the volume and just being thrown in the fire,” he said. “So a lot of the mistakes that were made were freshman mistakes, but I’m trying to give them as many reps as I can just to see where they’re at. I really want to push the envelope with those freshmen and see what they can do. So part of it is them getting on board and understanding what we’re trying to get done.”
The Aggies open the season Sept. 4 against Southern Methodist.
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