Texas A&M Aggies: Texas A&M Aggies
Well one portion of that project that wasn't complete at the time of unveiling was the Aggies' new players' lounge. This week, Texas A&M finally put the finishing touches on it and it looks like a college kid's dreamland. Playstation, X-Box, an arcade, flat-screen televisions, pool tables (with maroon felt), a movie theater and big, comfortable seating.
Take a look at the Aggies' new hangout below:
PS4? Xbox One? Movie Theater? Pool Table? Air Hockey Table? Ping Pong Table? Batman? & Four Square? Only at A&M. https://t.co/v3tG8ZrdpG— AggieFBLife (@aggiefblife) September 12, 2014
In the second quarter, when true freshman Kyle Allen entered the game for his collegiate debut, Spavital did the same.
The intentions were the same in both instances, even if the results were different: Hill underthrew the pass but connected with Speedy Noil for a 44-yard gain; Allen overthrew his attempt, intended for Jeremy Tabuyo, and it fell incomplete.
“It's fun,” Spavital said. “You look at the quarterbacks in that room and say 'Hey, we're going deep the first play of the game.' It kind of brings some excitement in there and know that we're still going to be out there attacking and we're trying to score as many points as we possibly can.”
Hill, who became an overnight star after his record-breaking debut against South Carolina, played well for his second time out. The sophomore from Southlake (Texas) Carroll turned in a solid performance Saturday: 17-of-26 passing, 283 yards and four touchdowns in roughly two quarters of work.
He remains the starter now and for the foreseeable future (coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t the type to rotate quarterbacks) but even though he smashed some of Johnny Manziel’s records in his first start, that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve.
“I thought he was not as accurate with those intermediate-to-deep balls as what he should be, but going into that game, I wanted to kind of break some tendencies and kind of take some shots downfield with it,” Spavital said. “We ended up taking a lot and I thought he did all right with it … It'll change up the rhythm of your offense and I just kind of wanted to see how he'd handle adversity but he'd throw an incompletion and come back and answer with it pretty cleanly [with a completion]. But I definitely think taking shots downfield we need to get some more work on.”
While Hill works on improving his deep ball, Allen must work on decision-making. His first collegiate drive ended in an interception after he scrambled away from pressure and forced a ball into traffic. Still, he finished 12-of-16 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
“We went out that first drive and he executed it pretty cleanly until that third-down-and-2 call,” Spavital said. “We did a play-action pass and he got caught in a bad situation and he just needs to be a little bit smarter with the ball and just chalk up his loss and throw it away. But after that I thought he came out and consistently ran the offense pretty well.”
Sumlin noted that even though the two had a heated competition in camp, the two remain close. He cited Hill’s eagerness to greet Allen after the true freshman threw his first touchdown pass and Allen showing genuine happiness for Hill when he succeeded. Teammates echoed that sentiment, as did Hill.
“We've been cool since the day he walked in here,” Hill said of Allen. “He's a great kid. I love him. You want to see your teammates do well. When he threw that first touchdown pass, I think I was just as happy as he was.”
It’s something Sumlin is happy to see: two talented quarterbacks making each other better and sharing in each other’s success.
“That's genuine,” Sumlin said. “In a situation that we're in, I think that says a lot about the competition, I think it says a lot about the respect for each other's ability and that's why I said they both deserved to play and they're comfortable. Kenny's probably a little more comfortable because he has played more. Kyle got better as the game went on.”
Will they be better? And if so, by how much?
After a disastrous 2013, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is confident that improvement is on the horizon. He might not flatly state it, but witness the bounce in his step at practice, the energy in his voice and it’s easy to surmise that Snyder is looking forward to Year 3 in Aggieland.
His unit’s first test, which comes against No. 9 South Carolina and a stout running game powered by one of the nation’s best running backs, Mike Davis, is first on the horizon. Stopping the run was one of the Aggies’ biggest challenges last year, as they ranked last in the SEC and 110th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (222.31).
Snyder isn’t interested in talking up expectations or why he might be confident No. 21 Texas A&M can improve in that area.
“Well, we’ll see when we get there,” Snyder said. “Talk is cheap. We’ll all know that night at the end of the game.”
Indeed they will.
No matter the measure, the Aggies were bad on defense last year. They were last in the SEC in yards allowed per game (475.8), yards per play (6.36), yards per carry (5.38), first downs allowed per game (23.4) and red zone efficiency (71.4 percent) in addition to the aforementioned run defense. In every one of those categories, they were worse than 100th nationally.
“We weren't playing Snyder defense,” senior cornerback Deshazor Everett said last month. “He sets us up to make plays. All we have to do is do what he tells us to, and we weren't doing that last year. So if we come back this year and we're doing what we did this spring, we're going to be a good defense.”
Youth and inexperience were the heart of the issues for the Aggies. Difficulties the defense had included simply getting lined up correctly, fitting the correct gaps and identifying their correct assignments. Earlier this month linebackers coach Mark Hagen called the difference “night and day” when it comes to the defense’s communication and ability to accomplish the basics.
Whether that will translate to the field when the Aggies take on a South Carolina team that averaged 198.4 rushing yards per game last season remains to be seen. The players seem optimistic, though.
“It’s been a completely different mentality,” junior defensive end Julien Obioha said. “Last year was unacceptable. There’s just been so much growth in the last year and so much growth in leadership.”
Added speed and athleticism are among the sources of optimism for the Aggies. So is increased depth, particularly along the defensive line. The 2014 recruiting class included six defensive linemen, four of whom are on the initial two-deep and will see action early, including highly regarded defensive end recruit Myles Garrett, the No. 4 overall player in last year’s class.
Snyder is careful not to heap too much praise on Garrett, but the buzz surrounding training camp made it clear that the true freshman will be a factor. Teammates have been more effusive in their praise of Garrett.
"I have never really seen anything like him,” Mastrogiovanni said. “In the weight room he's already one of the top three strongest guys as a true freshman. He's fast, he's long, he gets to the quarterback just about every play. I think teams are going to have a very hard time blocking him this year.”
There will be plenty of youth on the field this season as well. Snyder estimated that seven true freshmen will see the field on Thursday. Last season the Aggies had a dozen freshman (redshirt or true) in their two deep. But unlike last season, the Aggies are able to be strategic with how and where they are placed.
“We'll try to do our best as we sub and get them in that they're in next to an older guy,” Snyder said. “These guys won't go in unless an older guy is beside them. We didn't have that luxury last year, we just had to play them all together.”
The questions linger and won’t stop until the Aggies take the field. And Snyder’s waiting for them to be answered with results instead of words.
"I just kind of went back to my gut feeling and the maturity of [Hill] and being around this system for one year," Spavital said Monday night. "There were a lot of other factors but that was the one that kind of stood out the most to me because he's sat here and watched Johnny for a year and he's going to be put in some situations that he has probably -- hopefully -- seen before and he can get us out of those bad looks."
Hill, a product of Texas high school power Southlake Carroll, has experience running an no-huddle up-tempo spread system dating back to his high school days.
Spavital, 29, admitted the decision was tough because both played at a high level throughout training camp. Hill's opportunity to play in four games last season, compete for a job in the Aggies' 2013 training camp, watching Johnny Manziel operate the offense and traveling to other venues in the SEC were all plusses in Spavital's book.
"The maturity and the checks that he was doing [at the line of scrimmage are what] separate him the most to me right now, I just like where he was at," Spavital said. "He knows when to run the ball and when to get the ball out on the perimeter and have those kids make some plays."
The commonly used cliché of the backup being "one play away" from getting on the field applies in Allen's case, a highly-regarded recruit in the 2014 class who ranked No. 1 nationally among pocket passers. Spavital said Allen continues to prepare as if he would be running with the first team.
The bottom line for Spavital was choosing the player the Aggies believe give them the best chance to beat South Carolina. Playing well at Williams-Brice Stadium in that nationally-televised showcase could set a positive tone for the Aggies' season, one in which many question marks exist on both sides of the ball considering the plethora of young players in key roles.
"That's the direction we went," Spavital said. "We wanted to get the announcement out now so [Hill] could have at least 12 days before he hits the field for South Carolina and everything could die down and he can get settled in place and get some good reps with the ones.
"He's been great. Probably relieved. There's a burden taken off his shoulders. I think he's happy, ready to move forward and pretty anxious on watching South Carolina and seeing what kind of game plan and how we're going to attack them."
If Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital is stressed out about that task, which is at the top of his to-do list this month, he doesn’t show it. The laid-back 29-year-old has taken everything in stride this offseason, his second at A&M and first as the Aggies’ lone offensive coordinator and playcaller.
“When they go out there to South Carolina, they're going to be wide-eyed, and that's tough,” Spavital said. “For a first start, that's a very tough atmosphere to go into.”
Of course, things are a little different in Aggieland now than they were at this time a year ago. Texas A&M’s Bright Football Complex became a fishbowl as national media swarmed in the middle of an NCAA investigation into Manziel. Overseeing the polarizing Manziel was quite an initiation for Spavital.
By season’s end, Spavital was handed play-calling duties for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which the Aggies won 52-48 over Duke, and a new chapter began for the Oklahoma native.
"That was a wild game,” Spavital recalled. “It reminded me back of the Conference USA days when it was just shootouts all the time. It was a very memorable game."
Conference USA is where Spavital got his coaching start. He started in his hometown of Tulsa as an offensive quality control coach for then-Golden Hurricane offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Then he landed a graduate assistant job in Houston, where he studied under Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin. Spavital followed Holgorsen to Oklahoma State, then West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed him to succeed Kliff Kingsbury as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator in 2013.
Sumlin has shown a knack for hiring quality offensive minds. Holgorsen, the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Sumlin in 2008-09, is now the head coach at West Virginia. Kingsbury, who served that dual role from 2010-11 in Houston and in 2012 at Texas A&M, is now Texas Tech's head coach. Spavital appears ready to continue that trend.
He arrived with the experience of working with Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith on his résumé. A close friend of Kingsbury, with whom he crossed paths at Houston, Spavital still talks to Kingsbury daily, and that proved valuable when Spavital tutored Manziel. Now, they continue to exchange offensive ideas, something they’ve done for years.
“I talk with Kliff every day to see if he's doing anything differently,” Spavital said.
This season, Spavital enters without a Manziel-like talent but two gifted quarterbacks, nonetheless. Neither is proven, but both were decorated recruits: Allen as the nation’s top-ranked pocket passer, Hill as a Texas state champion and one-time state player of the year. Before camp began, Spavital sat both down and let them know where they stood.
“I told them [before camp] they're all even right now and we're splitting reps 50-50,” Spavital said. “Each day, we hope to get equal amounts to run with the ones and twos. I got it all planned out; we're going to put them all in the same situations.”
Sumlin, who has a strong history with signal-callers himself, said he’s “pretty hands-on” with quarterbacks. Spavital said Sumlin lets his opinion be known, but he doesn’t micro-manage.
"He's great,” Spavital said. “He lets me go out there and do my thing with the installations and how I'm going to rep the kids. We talk on a daily basis and he gives his opinion on what he thinks. ... We’ll have many discussions by the time we announce a starter, I promise you that.
“It's good just to bounce ideas off of each other and get some advice from him, and he’s pretty good at not stepping on my toes and letting us go out there and see what direction this offense is going to go."
The new NCAA rule allowing coaches to meet with players in the summer allowed Spavital to speed up his installation timetable. By time training camp started, the entire offense was installed, which wouldn’t have been the case previously. Spavital was able to change his practice script accordingly, which allowed for more creativity and evolution of the offense in camp while monitoring Hill and Allen’s progress.
The Aggies will announce their starting quarterback within the next week. No matter who it is, Spavital is confident.
"I think they're both capable of coming in here and doing big things,” he said. “I'm pretty fortunate to have both of these kids. I think they can go and compete for a starting job anywhere across the country. I think they both have the capability to take this offense where it needs to go.”
After having a chance to review video from Saturday's scrimmage, Sumlin was asked late Monday night whether there was any separation between the two signal-callers after their first extended live action of this month.
"No," Sumlin said, "and if there was I wouldn't tell you."
Pressed again if he would at least compare and contrast the two, Sumlin stuck to his script.
"No," Sumlin said to a chorus of laughs. "It's a good question. Ask next week some time."
This week for the Aggies is a critical one. They have what Sumlin called a "mini-scrimmage" on Wednesday and another full scrimmage coming up on Friday. Sumlin said he hopes to have "95 to 98 percent" of the two-deep for the season opener at South Carolina decided once this week of practice is complete. And by this time next week, it's likely the Aggies will have announced their starting quarterback.
Until then, the waiting game continues.
LB Washington breaks collarbone
One loss the Aggies suffered in Saturday's scrimmage was sophomore linebacker Shaan Washington, who Sumlin said suffered a broken collarbone. He'll miss an estimated four to six weeks of action.
"Where [Shaan's injury] hurts us is he was really coming on [at linebacker] and was 230-something [pounds] and a great special teams player for us last year," Sumlin said. "So you were counting on that, too. We've got to have somebody step up in that position defensively and also fill that void on special teams until he comes back."
Sumlin said the injury is similar to the one suffered early last season by safety Floyd Raven, who returned late in the year. Whether the Aggies explore using a redshirt season on Washington, who has one available, is to be determined.
The Aggies have no shortage of linebackers, though they're mostly young and/or relatively inexperienced. Sumlin mentioned senior Tommy Sanders and true freshman Otaro Alaka has two players who have had solid training camps that could help pick up some of Washington's playing time. Seniors Donnie Baggs and Justin Bass can play all three linebacker positions so the Aggies have options to mix and match their linebackers with one constant -- Jordan Mastrogiovanni remaining at middle linebacker.
DT Robinson sees action
Texas A&M senior defensive tackle Ivan Robinson, who missed spring football with an Achilles tendon injury, received playing time in Saturday's scrimmage and is being worked back into the lineup.
Should he be able to contribute, he'll add valuable depth to a defensive tackle unit that is mostly young and suffered the offseason loss of Isaiah Golden, a starter who was dismissed after two offseason arrests.
"Ivan played some for us [Saturday]," Sumlin said. "We're bringing him along slowly. He's going to give us some depth. We've got to continue to bring him along. If he can give us 15-20 plays a game, that's a real boost for us with what we have in there."
In reality, the coaches' video evaluation of that scrimmage and the first nine practices will be significant. This upcoming week will be a huge one in the battle for the starting job. Sumlin typically likes to name a starter roughly two weeks before the season opener and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said at the opening of training camp that Aug. 16-18 would be the dates targeted for naming a starter.
What are the coaches looking for? Several things, but consistency, taking care of the football and production are at the top of the list.
"I just want to see them make some plays, I want to see the offense start clicking," Spavital said. "I want to see the ones who are going to get those first downs that are going to lead into touchdowns. This offense is really heavy off of rhythm and we can't just go out there and three-and-out all the time. I want to see them get into the rhythm of things and make some plays and put us in the best position to succeed."
Special quarterback packages
Spavital noted that the team has practiced special personnel packages with a pair of the Aggies’ young talented receivers getting a turn at quarterback.
"We also have other packages with other guys playing quarterback," Spavital said. "We haven't gotten too detailed into it but Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil [are the guys]."
Both spent plenty of time playing quarterback for their respective high schools, Seals-Jones at Sealy (Texas) High and Noil at New Orleans Edna Karr.
Williams, Mastrogiovanni, stand out
Sumlin said two young players in particular stuck out to him in Saturday’s scrimmage: running back Brandon Williams and linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni.
"Brandon Williams, I thought he had a big day running the ball," Sumlin said. "He's been on a mission all camp. He came in great shape, was very physical, had some good runs and did some really good things.
"Jordan Mastrogiovanni made some plays today on the perimeter and some tackles for losses. I'd say off the top of my head those two guys kind of jumped out to me."
Recruits react to renovations
While Kyle Field continues its redevelopment, the Aggies unveiled new state-of-the-art locker rooms and several other renovations on the first floor of the Bright Football Complex earlier this month. The project, which generated national buzz for the Aggies, has been a hit with recruits as well, several of which visited Aggieland this weekend for the scrimmage.
"It's been great," Sumlin said. "Guys are coming up here and we're touring the facilities and just like when you guys saw it, their reaction is about like yours: 'Wow.'"
A few quick hits:
- Senior left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi sat out Saturday’s scrimmage for precautionary reasons while dealing with a bruised heel, according to Kevin Sumlin. Ogbuehi missed one mid-week practice and returned the next day, but Sumlin said it started hurting so they decided to allow Ogbuehi to rest and get it healthy. Sumlin does not consider the injury to be serious.
- Starting cornerback De'Vante Harris is out indefinitely with what Sumlin called a "urinary tract injury." Harris missed the scrimmages and several preceding practices because of the issue. "It was kind of a freak deal the other night and he was admitted to the hospital but got out. I don't know what the prognosis is and how long that's going to be."
- Though Kyle Field is still undergoing renovation, the grass has been put in place and Sumlin said the team will have three chances to work out in the stadium prior to their home opener on Sept. 6. The team hasn’t been able to work out inside the stadium since last season ended when the Kyle Field redevelopment project began.
Whether it was a position change, someone playing out of position or something as simple as inexperience keeping the Aggies from playing well, the group never quite found its footing in 2013.
The first week -- and even just the first day -- of training camp provided linebackers coach Mark Hagen with reason for optimism in 2014.
One area the Aggies' linebackers -- and the defense as a whole -- struggled with was communication. Sometimes when the ball was snapped, players were out of position or not certain of their assignments.
So far on the practice field there is much less of that, according to Hagen.
"Night and day,” Hagen said of the difference in communication. “The biggest thing we lacked last year were guys that had been there and done that ... I don't have to relive the 2014 season for you guys. It was constantly swimming uphill. And even though we got some pieces in the right place, the communication was never where it needed to be.
“We've got a different feel right now. It wasn't perfect. Going back to Friday, the first day of practice, even though it wasn't totally clean out there, there was never a time where you had guys looking left and looking right, [while the offense is] snapping the ball .... We got lined up and we played fast when the ball was snapped. That doesn't mean we played perfect in terms of the fits and the coverages, but we operated as 11 instead of 9 or 10 guys being on one page and a couple guys being on another page. That's a recipe for disaster."
Defensive line depth improving
One of the key tasks for Texas A&M’s defense since joining the SEC is building the type of depth needed to compete in the league. The defensive line is especially important in that area.
The Aggies have focused on the defensive line in recruiting and in 2014 were able to bring in five true freshman defensive linemen in the recruiting class plus a junior college transfer.
“It’s going to help everybody this season, not just me,” Julien Obioha said of the increased depth. “It’s going to help Alonzo Williams, Hardreck Walker, Daeshon Hall. There are two or three guys behind all those guys.”
Obioha was a true freshman who started in 2012 and is now entering his third season in Aggieland. The improvement in overall talent across the defensive line is evident to him.
“Depth is amazing compared to what it was [in 2012],” Obioha said. “Freshman year, we were playing maybe six guys [on the defensive line]. This year we’ll be able to play 12-14 guys.”
Defensive line coach Terry Price was able to secure top-flight talent in 2014, including the nation’s No. 1 defensive end, Myles Garrett, as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and three-star defensive end Jarrett Johnson. Price seems pleased with what they’ve shown him thus far.
“Our biggest deficiency last year, to me, was speed on the edge of our defense at the defensive end spot,” Price said. “We went out and tried to find the best we could find, which have added speed and depth to our defense which is huge.”
Competition at kicker
Walk-on kicker and former FC Dallas goalkeeper Josh Lambo emerged as an unlikely hero last season for the Aggies, making a game-winning field goal as time expired at Ole Miss. Midway through the 2013 season, Lambo assumed place-kicking duties from Taylor Bertolet, but just because Lambo finished the year as the starter doesn’t automatically make him the go-to guy.
Bertolet, a junior, is having a strong training camp according to special-teams coach Jeff Banks, making this year’s battle at kicker a close one. Last season Bertolet was 2-for-3 on field goals and 23-of-26 on point-after attempts. Lambo was 8-for-10 on field goal tries and 50-of-51 PATs.
"I'm in a great position,” Banks said. “To have two Division I guys who can kick the ball 60 yards and have a little depth, length and distance .... I'm in a great position from that standpoint; I'm in a tough position in [deciding] who's going to be the best guy for the job. It's probably a lot like quarterback. If you name a guy right off the bat then the other guy might get discouraged.”
“So we're not going to do that. We're going to continue to compete during fall camp. We've still got at least 15-18 practices before we get ready for South Carolina and we have to do the best job we can to evaluate who is the best for the job.”
Lambo sat out the first week of training camp, recovering from a groin injury but said he should be 100 percent soon.
The Ragin' Cajuns will make the trip to redeveloped Kyle Field to meet the Aggies on Sept. 16, 2017.
The Aggies already have UCLA on the calendar in 2017, traveling to Pasadena, California, on Sept. 2, 2017. The game against the Ragin' Cajuns will be Texas A&M's sixth meeting all-time with them and the Aggies lead the series 5-1, including a 51-7 win in the last meeting in 2006.
The Ragin' Cajuns have been on the rise under coach Mark Hudspeth and are the reigning Sun Belt Conference champions. They are 27-12 in his first three seasons in Lafayette.
2. Defensive line depth: The Aggies lost two starting defensive linemen for off-the-field reasons: defensive end Gavin Stansbury (left team for personal reasons) and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden (dismissed after two arrests). For a team that struggled to stop the run last season, that doesn't help as the unit tries to find the quality depth necessary to succeed in the SEC. Fortunately for the Aggies, they get two players who missed spring football because of injuries back for training camp -- sophomore defensive ends Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall, both of whom saw playing time last season. There are also several veterans (Julien Obioha, Alonzo Williams, Tyrell Taylor) and youngsters (Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Zaycoven Henderson) not to mention a few incoming recruits to help the unit, but the Aggies have to find answers quick to improve on a disastrous 2013.
3. Safety play: Sumlin hasn't been shy about saying it and it's true: the Aggies have to get better play from their safeties. They return three players who started last season -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt. Matthews got positive reviews from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder in the spring. Keep an eye on Devonta Burns, who saw time in the spring at safety and nickel cornerback, as someone who could be in the mix. And an influx of 2014 recruits could help here as well.
4. Fabulous freshmen: The Aggies' 2014 class was a top-five haul for a reason. They brought in some big-time talent, so don't be surprised if some of those freshmen make waves quickly in camp. Receiver Speedy Noil already impressed in the spring and will look to build on that this month. Five-star defensive end Myles Garrett is the highest-ranked player nationally the Aggies have signed since Reggie McNeal in the 2002 class. With depth concerns on the defensive line and Garrett's college-ready physique, it's safe to say he'll find a way on the field in short order. Henderson, who was an early enrollee, likely figures into the rotation at defensive tackle. And of course, all eyes are on Allen at quarterback to see if he can win the starting job.
5. Right side of the O-line: Sophomore Germain Ifedi, who started all of 2013 at right guard, saw much time at right tackle during spring drills and is listed as the starter there heading into camp. If that holds, the battle on the offensive line -- a unit that returns four of five starters -- will likely be at right guard where Joseph Cheek saw first-team action and junior college transfer Jermaine Eluemunor saw second-team work in spring. Veteran guard and starter Jarvis Harrison, who missed spring because of shoulder surgery, should be ready to go at left guard. He has a capable backup behind him in Garrett Gramling, who started two games last season and saw virtually all the first-team work at left guard this spring. Left tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi) and center (Mike Matthews) is set in stone.
A few other notes:
" Redshirt freshman cornerback Victor Davis, who was arrested on a shoplifting charge in his hometown of Rosenberg, Texas, last month, is still serving an indefinite suspension. Sumlin said on Wednesday that Davis still has some things to do internally in order to get back in the team's good graces.
" Sumlin noted that every one of the class of 2014 recruits is qualified academically and on campus. Kealvin "Tank" Davis, the Aggies' offensive tackle recruit from Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial, was the last player Texas A&M was waiting on in that regard and he arrived on campus Wednesday and will be ready to go. This is the second consecutive year the Aggies have not lost a signee to qualification issues (the 2013 class only had one player who didn't make it to campus, Kohl Stewart, who was a first-round pick in the MLB draft).
" The Aggies will practice in helmets only Friday and Saturday, have meetings only on Sunday (no practice), helmets and shoulder pads on Monday and Tuesday and they'll have their first full-padded practice on Wednesday. Thursday will be their first two-a-day practice followed by a single practice on Aug. 8, then a scrimmage on Aug. 9.
Texas A&M suspended cornerback Victor Davis after he was arrested and charged with shoplifting, and defensive end Gavin Stansbury, who was arrested in April, left the team for personal reasons.
At Georgia, Mark Richt dismissed yet another player a day after defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was arrested for aggravated assault.
These incidents are just the latest in what has been a troubling offseason for the SEC. With media days behind us and fall camps about to begin, we want to know which team's offseason issues will present the greatest on-field questions for this season.
Dillon Lee and Jarran Reed were both arrested for driving under the influence, Altee Tenpenny was caught with marijuana, and Kenyan Drake was arrested for disobeying a police officer. None of the players involved has been dismissed, but this is becoming both a problem and a distraction for Alabama.
Across the state, Auburn is still trying to figure out what to do with quarterback Nick Marshall. The potential Heisman Trophy contender was given a citation for possession of marijuana this month, but will he miss any time as punishment? To make matters worse, teammate Jonathon Mincy was arrested for the same thing, possession of marijuana, just two weeks prior.
The school that has been in the news the most this offseason is Georgia. Four players were arrested in March for theft by deception. Two of those four, Taylor and Tray Matthews, were later dismissed for separate incidents. A third, Uriah LeMay, opted to transfer. Back in February, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons also was dismissed from the program following multiple violations of team rules.
At Missouri, it was three strikes and you're out for star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. The sophomore was arrested for the second time on drug-related charges in January, and after being involved in an altercation with his girlfriend in April, he was dismissed from the team. Green-Beckham has since joined Oklahoma.
Lastly, there is Texas A&M, which has not seen any decline in off-field distractions since quarterback Johnny Manziel left. Quarterback Kenny Hill was arrested in March for public intoxication. Two months later, head coach Kevin Sumlin dismissed a pair of key defenders -- Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden -- after they were arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. Then the news broke this week with Stansbury’s departure and the suspension of Davis.
HOOVER, Alabama -- In the back right corner of Ballroom C of the Hyatt Regency Birmingham, the main interview room for SEC media days, Texas A&M punter Drew Kaser sat during his scheduled slot and gladly answered every question that came his way from the handful of reporters surrounding him.
He sat in the same spot that the most popular and polarizing figure in Texas A&M football history did a year ago, when Johnny Manziel sat surrounded by seemingly hundreds of reporters asking about every aspect of his offseason. The crowd around Kaser in Ballroom C on Tuesday could sometimes be counted with two hands.
What a difference a year makes.
Last season the Aggies were the center of attention at SEC media days, thanks in large part to Manziel. He was then the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who made news not only with his play on the field but his life off of it, coined "The Summer of Johnny."
Manziel still had a presence Tuesday -- the first question asked to Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin invoked Manziel's offseason, to which Sumlin replied, "That's a great question ... about the Cleveland Browns." -- but the Aggies weren't under the microscope quite like they were in 2013.
Even senior cornerback Deshazor Everett noticed. Asked what it's like not having Manziel on the team, Everett quipped, "Less media attention," which elicited laughter from the media contingent.
"I love the guy to death but the cameras follow him," Everett said.
In some ways, the Aggies bear a slight resemblance to the group that had so many question marks surrounding it in the summer of 2012, when they were about to begin their life as SEC members.
Two years ago, Sumlin and his players were peppered with questions about how they would survive life in the rugged SEC, who their quarterback was going to be and whether their defense could hold up in a conference built on strong offensive line play. Outsider expectations weren't high then and they aren't terribly high now, either.
On Tuesday, Sumlin proactively addressed the quarterback situation without addressing it, stating flatly that he isn't naming a starter until mid-August. The defense, which was often poor in 2013 and was last in the SEC in numerous statistical categories, was again the subject of numerous questions. And the Aggies have yet to finish higher than third in the SEC West since joining; with three first-round NFL draft picks gone, questions abound about the young players and whether they're ready to meet the challenge.
"I don't believe it's a rebuilding year," Everett said. "We have players that are ready to play."
Maybe it's a good thing for the Aggies. While the publicity was ultimately beneficial for Texas A&M as a football program, the Aggies had marked success in 2012 when they were a largely off-the-radar team coming into the year, one that few thought could be serious contenders in the SEC. Manziel's rare ability and presence was a huge factor in that success, but Sumlin is banking on the talent his two competing quarterbacks (Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill) have as well as the talent the Aggies have hauled in on the recruiting trail, where the Aggies have scored two top-10 national classes in the past two years and are on track for a third this cycle.
One thing that was similar to last season were the questions about off-the-field "distractions." There might not be Manziel to take the headlines, but the Aggies had nine arrests this offseason and three players dismissed from the team (two of whom contributed to that arrest total), so it's not as though the Aggies have been out of the spotlight.
Sumlin seems to be unaffected by it all. He handled his SEC debut in 2012 smoothly and weathered the storm that surrounded Manziel a year ago. This year, he seemed as comfortable as ever. The Aggies hope to show a similar level of comfort in the SEC this fall by answering those lingering questions.
"It's all part of it," Sumlin said. "The first year was a bit of whirlwind ... last year was obviously a lot different situation ... I'm feeling like a veteran for the first time."
It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.
It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:
1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.
3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?
4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.
5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.
7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.
8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?
9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?
10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
While recruiting remains a marathon and not a sprint, recent trends have shown that it is never too early to look ahead. With the release of the ESPN Junior 300 it is a perfect time to see which programs are having early success. With roughly 10 percent of the prospects in the ESPN Junior 300 committed well over a year and a half before national signing day for the Class of 2016, plenty is still to be determined. Here are five programs, in alphabetical order, standing out early for the 2016 class:
Im proud to suit up w every one of these guys. It's a tremendous honor to represent this country & a ride I'll never forget. Thx for joining— Tim Howard (@TimHowardGK) July 2, 2014
No, thank you Tim Howard. Now on to Wednesday’s lunch links.
- Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is the smartest assistant coach in college football because he’s still an assistant coach.
- The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s Ryan Black visited the site of Philip Lutzenkirchen’s crash this week. It’s a place of tragedy but filled with hope.
- Florida, who has had just one academic casualty in its last four signing classes, does a great job of getting its signees on campus and enrolled.
- In a recent TV interview, LSU freshman Brandon Harris said he’s ‘trying to take full advantage’ of the opportunity to be the team’s starting quarterback.
- Mississippi State added a home-and-home series with North Carolina State in 2020 and 2021, but its nonconference schedule remains hazy for 2016-2019.
- On Tuesday, GoVols247 looked at five reasons why Tennessee will reach a bowl game. Here are five reasons why it might not be bowl-eligible in 2014.
- Texas A&M projected starters: Can another freshman replicate the magic of Johnny Manziel?
- It's only July, but the SEC’s hot seat already belongs to Florida coach Will Muschamp.
Drive Through: Playoff Predictions
12:00 PM ET Troy 13 Georgia 3:30 PM ET 6 Texas A&M SMU 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Alabama 4:00 PM ET Indiana 18 Missouri 7:00 PM ET Northern Illinois Arkansas 7:00 PM ET Mississippi State 8 LSU 7:30 PM ET 14 South Carolina Vanderbilt