Monday, March 19, 2012

Life After Fuller: The Wide Receivers

In the second installment of our analysis of the roster for next season, we take a look at the wide receivers. Everyone always talks about defense being the key to success in the SEC. I beg to differ. Arkansas has enjoyed reasonable success the past few years because of an explosive offense. Under new coach Kevin Sumlin, I think Texas A&M’s offense has the potential to be better than Arkansas’s. In fact, the Aggies are going to have to be.
It will be up to the receivers this season to help the new quarterback succeed. The experience in the receiving corps will be vital to the offense's transition. Ryan Swope, who has been nothing short of outstanding in his time at A&M, will have to kick it into another gear. Something tells me that won’t be a problem. Swope is a game-changer that makes everyone around him better. What the Aggies need is someone to replace Jeff Fuller on the outside and give the offense a deep threat to keep defenses honest.
Without further ado, here are the receivers:
Swope was undoubtedly the Aggies' most consistent receiver in 2011, with 89 catches for 1,207 yards and 11 TD. Swope set the bar quite high for himself last year. Whoever the new QB is in 2012 has to like the fact that one of the most electric wide receivers in the nation decided to return for his senior season. Swope's numbers may dip slightly this year because of the new QB and the SEC defenses, but expect him to continue to excel.
Nwachukwu burst onto the scene in 2009 with a stellar freshman year. His number took a noticeable dive in 2010, and they didn't get much better in 2011. The rise of Ryan Swope probably had more to do with that than anything, but Nwachukwu will need to be better in 2012. With Jeff Fuller gone, Nwachukwu should have more opportunities to make his mark on the offense. His leadership will be counted on as the team transitions.
McNeal was a victim of injuries in 2011, robbing what we all hoped would be a breakout season for the receiver. He is also dangerous in the return game, so hopefully he can get back to full strength in 2012 and become a weapon for the Aggies.
Nate Askew, Junior

Askew is a physical specimen that has the potential to terrorize opposing defenses. With the size of a tight end and the speed of a wideout, one can't help but remember the days of Marty B when watching Nate Askew. For some reason though, it hasn't quite all come together for Askew. The offense could use a big threat like Askew in the red zone.

Malcolme Kennedy, Sophomore
Kennedy is a gifted athlete that began to make his presence know toward the end of the 2011 season. He only had 11 total catches, but they all came in the second half of the season. Expect Kennedy to have an expanded role in 2012.
Johnson is a highly prized recruit that the Aggies were able to flip from UT on Signing Day. Landing Johnson helped soften the blow of Bralon Addison spurning A&M for Oregon. Johnson was ranked as the #4 WR in the nation according to Rivals and he also runs a 4.4 40. Translation: he is good and fast. Sumlin may want to bring him along slowly because of the receiving group's experience, but Johnson is a playmaker that needs to be on the field.

Hutson Prioleau/Nehemiah Hicks

So disappointing in 2011 that I really don't want to write another sentence. Get better in 2012, gentlemen.

Bottom line: the wide receivers, as a whole, are a source of strength for this team. They will need to be solid as the team transitions into a new offense and new conference, with a new quarterback. We know A&M isn't going to win with defense in 2012 (thank you, Captain Obvious), so the receivers will need to step up and put points on the board. Ryan Swope will be leaned upon heavily and should be everything we expect him to be. It’s the guys around him that need to elevate their play and fulfill their potential.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Searching for QB #1

Without a doubt, the most glaring question mark facing the Aggies inaugural SEC starting lineup is an important one: the starting quarterback. While a top notch quarterback doesn’t guarantee glory (look what LSU did with their QB’s), it is widely accepted as the most important and engaging position on the team. It not only requires a distinct skill set (arm strength, accuracy, speed), but also an uncanny ability to lead, motivate, and inspire. The intangibles are often just as important as the physical skills (see Timothy Richard Tebow).

That is why I am here to give the everyday Aggie fan a quick “rundown” of the three men who will be competing for the job. I am by no means a scout, and have honestly only read the breakdowns and watched the highlight videos (note they are highlight videos, not lowlight videos, so I’m not crowning any of these men as future superstars just yet). I have provided a solid amount of scouting information from educated individuals who have watched them play, in addition to a few gut instincts that I have formulated. From everything I have gathered the spot is relatively wide open going into spring practice.

Let’s begin with a physical breakdown of our three men (with their respective rivals rankings coming out of high school:

Jameill Showers: 3 Star on Rivals, #27 Pro Style QB (2010)
6’2’’ 219 lbs (6’1’’ 200 lbs out of high school)
4.62 Forty time, 4.25 Shuttle, 33 Inches (coming out of high school)

Johnny Manziel: 3 Star on Rivals, #14 Dual Threat QB (2011)
6’1’’ 200 lbs (6’1’’ 193 lbs out of high school)
4.53 Forty Time, 3.98 Shuttle, 31 inch vertical (coming out of high school)

Matt Davis: 4 Star on Rivals, #3 Dual Threat QB (2012)
6’2’’ 202 lbs (via rivals.com)
4.4 Forty Time, 4.02 Shuttle, 35 inch vertical (coming out of high school)

Breakdown: Honestly, this is just a primer of what these men have to offer. Manziel is likely the smallest of the three (if only by a hair), Showers has had the benefit of two years in a college weight room, and Davis obviously has the physical frame to add some muscle. As far as speed and quickness, they all possess the ability to run like a tailback, with Manziel likely being the shiftiest (corresponds with most scouting reports) and Davis having the best straight-line speed.

Now how do these men stack up against each other and who has the inside position on winning the starting gig? Let’s begin with the fact that Jameill Showers served as the primary backup this season. Now that doesn’t say much in direct comparison with Manziel and Davis given that Manziel was redshirted and Davis was still in high school, but it certainly doesn’t hurt Shower’s case. He obviously has more collegiate practices under his belt, more time in the weight room, more time in the film room, and more time with our former QB1 Ryan Tannehill. Those aspects help his cause, but to be honest, in my unprofessional opinion the optimism stops there in the pro-Shower’s corner. I am too intrigued by the next two men on the list.

Let’s continue this discussion with “the gamer” Johnny Manziel. His intangibles, leadership, and sneaky speed have already earned him countless educated Aggie supporters. I have read rave reviews on him describing him as “a magician with the ball” and “a truly gifted athlete.” He also has some similarities to Ryan Tannehill as he played a bit of receiver early on in high school. Moral of the story, this kid overachieves as if it was his full time job. It’s hard to go against such accolades.

Last, but not least, we have the youngest and most intriguing of the three (and not just because he was the most touted coming out of high school). Matt Davis, the creator of the AggSwagg movement (read Trey Bahney’s previous write-up), wants nothing more in life than to lead Texas A&M University to success. An attitude like that is contagious. And an attitude like that is what I want see in the Aggie huddle. The charisma is there; he may have recruited harder for Texas A&M than some of the coaches. And we haven’t even begun to discuss his physical gifts. The numbers show his speed, but it is his ability to throw on the run that excites me the most. Any athlete playing quarterback can scramble for positive yardage, but a great quarterback keeps his eyes downfield and trades the 8 yard gain on the ground for the 38 yard gain through the air. College football is the ideal place to make something out of nothing when the pocket collapses, and that could very well end up being Davis’ forte on the gridiron.

If you were once uninformed of the impending Aggie quarterback battle… well you may now rightfully consider yourself, “adequately informed”. With spring practice right around the corner, the situation is far from settled and a decision likely won’t be made until next fall, but the battle is on. And if I had to roll the dice at this particular moment, I would go with Matt Davis. I think the benefit of getting to College Station a semester earlier to attend spring drills might just end up being the deciding factor for him.

Maybe I am just brain-washed by the Swagg.