Arkansas State coach ponders new crew at Texas A&M

Updated: August 29, 2003, 7:33 AM ET

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas State football coach Steve Roberts says he didn't bother to watch much game film of Texas A&M from last season to prepare for the season-opener Saturday.

It wouldn't do much good, he said, with the Aggies now under the command of former Texas Christian and Alabama coach Dennis Franchione and a gaggle of new players and schemes.

"The general feeling is almost the same as the first game last year against Virginia Tech," Roberts said at a news conference in North Little Rock. The Hokies won, 63-7.

"Their coaching staff was in place but we didn't know a lot about our football team. This year, we know more about our team, but not about what coach Franchione has put in. So, we've broken down tape from his time at Alabama and TCU to see the things he hangs his hat on."

Roberts noted that collegiate football is the only level with no benefit of preseason games. That forces Arkansas State to jump into its 2003 campaign against a Big 12 team, with minimal scouting information, and all in front of an anticipated crowd of more than 80,000 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

One of Franchione's biggest wild cards will be a position that he created in his last year at Alabama, called A-back. It is a slot meant to capitalize on a player with varied skills, a combined running back and receiver.

But the Aggies' first-year A-back, Jason Carter, has also played quarterback for Texas A&M. Roberts said that means Franchione's previous A-backs may provide little hint of what the Indians will face from Carter.

"We have to prepare fundamentally to read our keys," Roberts said. "You can take away preparation for schemes and concentrate on basic things like, if you take a down block, you have to take that on using your outside shoulder."

That doesn't mean the team's expectations are fundamental, however. Roberts says the Indians are "stronger than last year, a bigger football team and a faster football team." Players who were learning new positions last year -- like quarterback-turned-safety-turned-linebacker-turned-defensive end Courtney Todd -- have shown tremendous improvement through the spring and summer, Roberts said.

The coach remained coy about his five-way tailback competition, acknowledging that positive psychology inspired him to list Shermar Bracey, Terrence Dunbar, Chris Easley, Clint Roy and Antonio Warren as co-starters. He said two of them could play at the same time, but declined to say whether that would be in a split backfield or using one as a wingback or wideout.

"I read Bill Walsh's book, and he says, 'Don't be afraid to make players specialists," Roberts said. "It's great to have depth and be versatile."

The coach said quality depth may be lacking on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield, where the Indians have more backups to choose from than last year, but the reserves are still untested.

The Indians enter the season nearly injury-free, meaning the substitutes may not need to start their careers in the crucible of College Station, amid what The Sporting News called "the best atmosphere in college football."

First-team All-Sun Belt defensive tackle Corey Williams has been slowed by turf-toe for about a week, but will be ready to play Saturday, Roberts said. His backup, Bryant Berry, can bench press more than 500 pounds and will be a solid replacement, if necessary, Roberts said.

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