Aggies eager to begin Coach Fran era

Updated: August 12, 2003, 2:08 PM ET

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In only nine months, new Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione has given the Aggies an entirely new look.

He's tinkered with the offense, welcoming a competition at quarterback between Reggie McNeal and Dustin Long and found another position for multi-talented Jason Carter. He's also changed the defense to the 4-3 from the 3-4 that had been the alignment of choice in Aggieland for 25 years.

Now, after a successful spring, Franchione is eager for the opener on Aug. 30 against Arkansas State so he can see how much the Aggies have progressed.

"August 30 about 11:30 at night, I'll know a lot more about our football team," Franchione said. "You reach a point where you know you need to keep practicing, but you also know you need to play a game to get better. Generally, after 20-something practices you get to a point that you can't improve until you play a game."

Franchione has settled into his new job nicely, shaking off the affects of a nasty departure from Alabama. Since leaving behind angry fans and players who felt he'd betrayed them, he's immersed himself and his staff in new culture and tradition at A&M.

The Aggies were ready for a change following a mediocre 6-6 season that included an embarrassing 50-20 loss to the rival Texas Longhorns. That turned out to be the final game for coach R.C. Slocum, the most successful coach in a storied A&M history that includes Bear Bryant.

Two-a-days began with Long and McNeal in a dead heat. It probably will remain so throughout the season.

"The last four or five years of my career I've dealt with two-quarterback systems," Franchione said. "As long as your players and team believe in two young men, you're comfortable with two guys. If you have a division or faction, then you can have some problems."

Long didn't throw a pass as a freshman, but as a sophomore last season he threw for 2,509 yards -- second most in school history -- and 19 touchdowns. Only one returning quarterback in the conference threw for more yards last season.

McNeal, a true freshman last fall, lived up to his hype as a highly sought recruit by coming off the bench and leading the Aggies to an upset of No. 1 ranked Oklahoma. He was slowed after that by an ankle injury, but was strong in spring practices.

"We are out there pulling for each other," McNeal insists. "We laugh about all the talk about a quarterback controversy. It's not a controversy with us."

Carter, who came to A&M to play quarterback, has found a home at the hybrid A-back position, which frees him to line up in a variety of spots. He gained 146 yards in the spring game at the new spot.

"The move enhances his ability to touch the football more," said running backs coach Lee Fobbs Jr. "He's more involved than just take snaps at quarterback now and then."

The fast-paced spring workouts were a revelation to veteran Aggies.

"We found out in the spring that we have so many guys who are great weapons," receiver Jamaar Taylor said. "You've got Jason Carter and Terrence Thomas coming along and Courtney Lewis had a great spring."

Despite the Aggies' success at passing last season, Franchione is eager to establish a running game. He's counting on tailbacks Derek Farmer or Lewis to give A&M its first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998.

"When we get to that point, then we'll be even harder to defense," Franchione said.

Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush spent the spring and summer installing the 4-3 as the base defense. He insists that it's not a major overhaul.

Franchione kept most of his staff intact from Alabama, where fans are still seething over his departure after going 10-3 last season. He's not interested in talking much about his two seasons running the Crimson Tide.

"My vision has been on what's ahead," he said. "I'm at Texas A&M now. I have to take care of the players and this program."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index