Texas A&M Aggies: Texas A&M Aggies

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. predicts nine players from the SEC will go in the first round in his latest mock draft Insider.

That would be down from the 12 first-round picks the SEC produced a year ago, which tied the record for first-rounders set by the ACC in 2006.

Kiper's No. 1 pick overall is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going to the Houston Texans. Six of the first 10 picks in the draft will be SEC players, according to Kiper. He has Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson going No. 2, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going No. 4, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans going No. 7, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews going No. 9 and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix going No. 10.

If all three Texas A&M players end up going in the top 10, it would be the first time that's happened in the SEC since the 2005 draft when Auburn produced three top-10 picks -- running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams and cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Kiper has a total of 17 SEC players going in his first two rounds. He doesn't have Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron going in the top two rounds, but does have LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger going No. 42 overall to the Tennessee Titans.
Editor's note: This week we're taking a brief look at Texas A&M players who surprised us with their performances during spring practice, which wrapped up for the Aggies earlier this month.

Texas A&M guard Germain Ifedi turned in a solid debut season as a starter in 2013, laying the foundation for a bright future in Aggieland. As one of four returning starters on the offensive line, there has never been much question about his ability -- he has plenty of it, to go with a lot of size (6-foot-5, 327 pounds).

[+] EnlargeGermain Ifedi
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsGermain Ifedi showed remarkable improvement this spring and is a candidate to move outside to right tackle.
But in this era of spread offenses, bigger isn't always better when it comes to offensive tackles and size. Texas A&M's last three left tackles – Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and the incumbent, Cedric Ogbuehi – showed that athleticism is as valued as size when it comes to the premier offensive line position.

This spring, Ifedi set out to show that even with his size, he has the athleticism and talent to make the shift from guard to tackle. He spent the majority of the spring working as the starting right tackle. With the position open for battle after last year's right tackle, Ogbuehi, shifted to the left side, Ifedi showed that he wants it.

"He surprised all of us," Ogbuehi said of Ifedi's spring performance at right tackle. "His footwork is better at tackle than at guard. He's done a great job. You can tell he's watched Luke, Jake, myself and it got him a lot better. It's showing."

When spring practice began, the Aggies worked junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor at the position. Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson eventually moved both to the second unit so that they could get more practice time to focus on fundamentals and grasp playing both right guard and right tackle.

Anderson stressed that there weren't "any jobs being won" in spring and that the time was meant to get guys focused on improvement. But Ifedi certainly emerged as a real candidate for the right tackle job come fall.

"He has done a really nice job transitioning," Anderson said. "He's just got to get used to the techniques and fundamentals of it ... the hand work, the answers to the counter move, the bull move, all the things he's going to see."

Having shown he can play guard, it will be an asset to the Aggies if Ifedi, who will be a redshirt sophomore this fall, can become proficient at tackle. Anderson wants to see the depth improve on the offensive line and having versatile players is helpful.

While the Aggies want to put the best five players out on the offensive line, they also want to make sure it's a cohesive unit, which doesn't necessarily mean it's the five best linemen.

"The thing about the offensive line is you want to create what we call a nickel, and not five pennies," coach Kevin Sumlin said in March. "The five best guys aren't always the best O-line. [It's] the guys who can communicate and the guys who can play. We'll figure that out.

"I think the experience that Germain is getting at tackle gives us some real different combinations without having to put an inexperienced player on the field right away at South Carolina."
Editor's note: This week we'll take a brief look at Texas A&M players who surprised us with their performances during spring practice, which wrapped up for the Aggies earlier this month.

Texas A&M isn't hurting for talent at running back. The Aggies have had strong depth at the position since coach Kevin Sumlin arrived.

This season is no different. Even though one back graduated (Ben Malena), three lettermen return from a season ago: Tra Carson, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams.

But it's the fourth scholarship back, one who redshirted a season ago, who opened eyes during spring football for the Aggies: James White.

"I think the surprise has been James White," Sumlin said in late March. "He has really come on to be pretty solid. He's a guy that's going to play special teams for us this year and then we'll see where he fits in this group. James does everything pretty good. He's big enough at 215, 220 [pounds]. He has soft hands, is a good runner, a good blocker, so he's another guy that gives us a mix."

Because of the presence of three players who have SEC experience in Carson and the Williamses, there likely won't be many spare carries to go around, but White has shown he can contribute in several ways. While working on special teams, White has been part of the kickoff return team in a role similar to that of Malena the past two seasons and Carson last season.

At 6-foot, 218 pounds, White has good size and a wide range of skills to go with that size. The depth and versatility he can provide will be welcome in the SEC, where the Aggies have shown it isn't easy to get through a season without incident. Last season, Carson, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams all missed at least two games while recovering from injuries. All four active scholarship backs on the roster were used last season. Don't be surprised if that's the case this fall, too.

Throughout the spring, White showed he's ready to contribute.

"He's picked up on the offense," running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "The tools are there. He can run the ball, he's big, he's physical, he can catch it as well as any of those guys. Just learning the offense and protection is really important for him to pick up right now."
Editor's note: This week we'll take a brief look at Texas A&M players who surprised us with their performances during spring practice, which wrapped up for the Aggies earlier this month.

Safety has been a position where depth has been fleeting for Texas A&M.

The Aggies had their fair share of struggles there in 2013, both in performance and depth. Coach Kevin Sumlin acknowledged during spring football that the Aggies have to get better, and one name that hasn't been prominent in recent seasons began to emerge this spring as a potential contributor this fall: Devonta Burns.

The junior didn't play his first two seasons on campus, redshirting in 2011 and not seeing the field in 2012, but last season he began to find a role as a contributor on special teams and appeared in eight games.

But this spring, Burns emerged as an option in the secondary, both at safety and as a nickel cornerback.

"Devonta Burns has continued to come on and is trying to earn his way on the field, whether it's safety or nickel ... because he's making plays," Sumlin said in the final week of spring football.

The Aggies return three safeties that started last season (Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven) but entered the spring with little depth beyond those three, especially after they dismissed Kameron Miles, who redshirted last fall but could have been a potential contributor this fall. Burns' emergence, not just at safety but as a versatile secondary option, should be helpful.

Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, who Sumlin said will remain at corner this season rather than shifting back and forth, noticed Burns' progress at both safety and nickel throughout the spring.

"He's done a pretty good job with that," Everett said. "He's understanding both positions. ... That's going to be a big help to us and give us more depth."

Ball security in the SEC

April, 18, 2014
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Turnovers are the great equalizer in football.

Teams that turn it over consistently don't win very often, and teams that force turnovers typically find ways to win.

Looking back at the SEC in the last three seasons, it's not surprising that Alabama and LSU lead the way in turnover margin. The Tigers are plus-36 and the Crimson Tide are plus-24 during that span. They've combined to win two of the last three SEC titles and played each other for the national championship in 2011.

Alabama has been especially good at not turning the ball over. The Crimson Tide haven’t turned it over 20 or more times in a season since 2007, Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. Alabama and LSU are the only teams in the league that haven’t had a 20-turnover season at least once over the last three years. During that three-year span, Alabama has turned it over just 44 times.

By contrast, Ole Miss has turned it over 75 times during the last three seasons, which is the most in the league. Arkansas is right behind the Rebels with 74 turnovers, and the Hogs have forced the fewest turnovers in the SEC since 2011 (47). Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the only SEC teams to turn it over more than 20 times in each of the last three seasons, although Texas A&M was a member of the Big 12 in 2011.

In the last three seasons, South Carolina's defense has led the way when it comes to creating turnovers. The Gamecocks have forced 86 turnovers. LSU is second with 82. The Gamecocks have intercepted an SEC-high 52 passes in the last three seasons. Vanderbilt is second with 48 picks during that span.

Ole Miss has thrown the most interceptions (44) in the last three seasons, just one more than Tennessee (43). Alabama has thrown the fewest picks (18).

Below is the turnover margin for all 14 SEC schools in the last three seasons. Missouri and Texas A&M were in the Big 12 in 2011.

1. LSU: 82 gained, 46 lost -- plus-36
2. Alabama: 68 gained, 44 lost -- plus-24
3. Mississippi State: 78 gained, 55 lost -- plus-23
4. South Carolina: 86 gained, 64 lost -- plus-22
5. Missouri: 77 gained, 57 lost -- plus-20
6. Georgia: 77 gained, 66 lost -- plus-11
7. Vanderbilt: 77 gained, 69 lost -- plus-8
8. Florida: 62 gained, 61 lost -- plus-1
9. Kentucky: 52 gained, 55 lost -- minus-3
10. Tennessee: 60 gained, 64 lost -- minus-4
11. Ole Miss: 67 gained, 75 lost -- minus-8
12. Auburn: 55 gained, 65 lost -- minus-10
13. Texas A&M: 53 gained, 66 lost -- minus-13
14. Arkansas: 47 gained, 74 lost -- minus-27

SEC lunch links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Alabama, Auburn and Missouri will all hold their spring games this weekend. To get you ready for all the action, be sure to check out Friday’s lunch links.
Kentucky and Texas A&M both lost quarterbacks Wednesday, which means the race for their starting jobs is down to two.

SportsNation

Which team in the SEC has the most precarious quarterback situation in terms of talent, depth and experience heading into 2014?

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    28%
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    14%
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    10%
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    17%
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    31%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,088)

Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, and Matt Joeckel is leaving Texas A&M. Now, the reality might be that neither one of those guys was going to win the job. But in both cases, the Wildcats and Aggies are going to put a quarterback on the field in the fall who has very little experience.

They're hardly the only ones in that boat in the SEC.

Only three teams in the league are bringing back an established quarterback who started all or most of the season a year ago. Auburn returns Nick Marshall, while Dak Prescott is back at Mississippi State and Bo Wallace at Ole Miss. Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson returns at South Carolina, but most of his work to this point has been coming off the bench in relief, although he did have the memorable performance against Clemson two years ago in a start when Connor Shaw was injured and couldn't play.

The bottom line: There aren't a ton of rock-solid quarterback situations in the SEC as we exit the spring.

Your homework assignment (the fans) is telling us who has the most precarious quarterback situation heading into the 2014 season. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll unveil the results in the next few days.

Obviously, the landscape can change pretty dramatically. Did anybody really know what Texas A&M had at quarterback with Johnny Manziel entering the 2012 season?

The five schools we've come up with as candidates all have some major question marks.

At Kentucky, sophomore Patrick Towles and true freshman Drew Barker are now battling it out. And at Texas A&M, it's down to a redshirt freshman (Kenny Hill) and a true freshman (Kyle Allen). Hill has already been in trouble this offseason, too.

Brandon Allen is the guy at Arkansas, but struggled through an injury-marred season a year ago. The Hogs finished last in the SEC in passing offense.

True freshman Brandon Harris outplayed sophomore Anthony Jennings in LSU's spring game, so this summer and the preseason should be quite interesting on the Bayou.

And at Alabama, the Crimson Tide's starter for the 2014 season might well be attending classes at another school. Jacob Coker is transferring from Florida State and won't be on Alabama's campus until he graduates from FSU in May. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims has taken the lead this spring in the Tide's quarterback derby as he adjusts to Lane Kiffin's pro-style offense, but will have to hold off Coker. Whoever wins the job at Alabama will have very little, if any, meaningful game experience.

SEC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
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Let them eat a late lunch!

Getting to know DaMarkus Lodge 

April, 17, 2014
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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

DESOTO, Texas -- With all the multiple camps, combines and special events happening each spring, DaMarkus Lodge chooses not to be a regular on the circuit.

It’s not that Lodge is against them, or that he thinks he’s above them. The ESPN 300 receiver has simply prioritized his life as a student-athlete. The camp circuit happens to be a middle-of-the-pack priority.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

It would be easy to assume that 15 spring football practices would bring some clarity to the Texas A&M quarterback race.

Instead, there were seemingly as many questions coming out of spring as there were when it began.

The arrest and subsequent suspension of sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, one of three Aggies who entered spring competing for the right to succeed Johnny Manziel, complicated matters in the final week of spring practice as senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen spent the final week of spring drills splitting reps.

The announcement Wednesday of Joeckel's decision to transfer cleared things up somewhat, but it's still a marathon until the Aggies pick a starter.

Hill, who was suspended on March 28 following an arrest for public intoxication, has since been reinstated to the team and will have to stay out of trouble moving forward. He has experience on his side, having appeared in five games last season and having plenty of experience in a no-huddle, up-tempo spread-style offense like the Aggies run.

Allen, who went through customary true freshman growing pains in the early portions of spring practice while working to grasp the offense, came along nicely toward the end of spring drills, throwing a quality deep ball and handling the entire menu of plays that offensive coordinator Jake Spavital threw at him.

Joeckel's departure thins out the quarterback depth, leaving the Aggies with just two scholarship players at the position (look for walk-on Conner McQueen to be the third-string quarterback). Joeckel was still in the race when he made his decision, and the Aggies would have liked to have his veteran presence around, but he clearly felt his chance to start in 2014 was better somewhere else than Aggieland. And keep in mind, the Aggies continue to look for a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, with the focus currently set on ESPN 300 prospect and two-time Texas Class 5A Division I state champion Kyler Murray, son of former Aggies quarterback Kevin Murray.

With Joeckel out, it's a two-man race between Allen and Hill until mid-August, but it's too early to call a winner just yet. That's not the way A&M coach Kevin Sumlin works. He prefers to wait until approximately two weeks before the season opener before calling the quarterback competition, something he stayed true to in 2008 (his first year at Houston) and in 2012 (his first year at Texas A&M).

So Hill and Allen will continue to battle it out this summer and when preseason training camp begins in late July or early August. Speculation will run rampant as it did in 2012 (when many observers felt Jameill Showers led Manziel coming out of spring ball, though Manziel ultimately won the job), but the bottom line is we won't truly know who's trotting out into the offensive huddle first on Aug. 28 against South Carolina until Sumlin says so in about four months.
video The departure of senior Matt Joeckel means that Texas A&M is down to two in its quarterback race. From here on out, it's all about sophomore Kenny Hill and early-enrollee freshman Kyle Allen.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Kenny Hill threw for 183 yards and a touchdown in limited playing time last fall.
The question now becomes who has the edge at the position entering summer workouts and fall camp?

It really is up in the air. Coach Kevin Sumlin is not expected to announce a starter until August, much like when he chose Johnny Manziel to be the starter before the 2012 season. Sumlin isn't the type to make a decision like this early, so there's plenty of time for both guys to prove themselves before the season opener against South Carolina on Aug. 28.

While Allen, a U.S. Army All-American and former ESPN 300 member, arrived in College Station with a mountain of hype and expectations, the more experienced Hill might still have a leg up on the rising star. Yes, Hill was indefinitely suspended this spring after he was arrested in late March on a public intoxication charge, but that setback won't disqualify him from taking the starting job this fall.

After all, Manziel was also arrested -- much later in the process, too -- and did just fine with the quarterback battle in 2012. He also turned out to be a pretty decent starter for the Aggies.

Now, Hill isn't Manziel. He isn't going to make the kind of jaw-dropping plays that made Manziel so much fun to watch and so tough to defend, but he knows the offense the best and has the only on-field experience. Hill played in five games last season, throwing for 183 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-22 passing. With that said, Hill is on thin ice and certainly can't afford to have another off-field transgression if he wants a shot at being the starter.

Hill's suspension set him back this spring, giving Allen more opportunities. Allen showed the expected freshman jitters and errors this spring. He was far from perfect and still has a way to go in this offense. He might have an advantage in the arms race, as he threw arguably the best ball of all the competitors this spring. Allen might be the quarterback of the future with his talent and upside, but that doesn't mean he'll be the quarterback of 2014.

Hill has some work to do to get fully back into his coaches' good graces, but his knowledge of the offense gives him an advantage at the moment. Both will likely see playing time this fall, but Sumlin isn't one to swap quarterbacks in and out on a regular basis during the season.

Eventually there's going to be one guy for the job, and the next few months will still go a long way in determining who starts for the Aggies at quarterback in the fall.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
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Finish your taxes on time? Then sit back and enjoy Wednesday’s lunch links.

Lessons from spring: OL is deep

April, 16, 2014
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The last two seasons, Texas A&M hasn't had to tap deep into its offensive line because the Aggies have had good fortune health-wise at the position.

In 2012, the Aggies had the same starting five offensive linemen for all 13 games and in 2013, they had the same starting five for 11 of their 13 games, missing only tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for two games in the middle of the season.

But with left guard Jarvis Harrison sitting out the spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Aggies were able to see that they do have quality depth on their offensive line should they need it.

Harrison's absence made way for two players to find their way into the lineup with the first team this spring: Garrett Gramling and Joseph Cheek.

Texas A&M returns four of five starters from 2013: Ogbuehi, Harrison, center Mike Matthews and right guard Germain Ifedi. The right tackle spot is open for competition and though the spring began with junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor competing for the position, the majority of the spring saw Ifedi manning that spot.

With Ifedi shifted over and Harrison out, that left the two guard spots open, which both Gramling and Cheek ably filled during spring drills.

Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson made it clear during spring football that "we're not earning any jobs right now" and that his players were focusing on technique and fundamentals. Still, Ifedi established himself as a candidate to be the future right tackle and Gramling -- who started at left guard the two games Ogbuehi was out while Harrison played left tackle -- has positioned himself to compete for a starting guard job.

"I've got Joe Cheek over at the right guard and Garrett at the left guard and you add Jarvis to that mix and there's three guys for those two positions," Anderson said. "We'll find out who wins it in fall camp."

Eluemunor spent most of the spring working at guard and Gennesy at tackle and Anderson wanted both to get comfortable in their new surroundings. He also noted that both were training at both right guard and right tackle.

"I think that's important," Anderson said. "They need to do be able to do both in case we get into an injury scenario."

Ogbuehi, who played right tackle last year, spent the spring getting acclimated to the left side of the offensive line. He felt good about his progress from the first spring practice to the last one on April 5.

"I feel a lot better," Ogbuehi said. "I feel better than I was last year at right tackle."

Matthews, who is entering his junior season at center, will be a steady presence for the Aggies in the middle.

"Mike has total control of the offense," Anderson said.

The standard this group has to live up to is a high one. The last two seasons, the Aggies have been considered one of the country's best offensive lines, paving the way for a top-10 offense and protecting quarterback Johnny Manziel. It's a unit that produced the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft (Luke Joeckel) and likely will produce another top-10 pick next month (Jake Matthews). Even SEC fans are picking the Aggies to be the league's best unit this season.

Though it remains to be seen how this group develops, there certainly is no shortage of options for the Aggies up front.
Maybe it's a surprise to some, and maybe it shouldn't be. Either way, Texas A&M's offensive line will be the cream of the crop in the SEC in 2014, according to the fans.

More than 17,000 people voted in our SportsNation poll last week, and the Aggies were a clear winner. They received 34 percent of the vote. LSU was second with 23 percent and then Auburn with 16 percent, Alabama with 14 percent and South Carolina with 13 percent.

The Aggies will have a bit of a new look up front offensively in 2014. Senior Cedric Ogbuehi is moving from right tackle to left tackle and is another in a long line of outstanding tackles to play at Texas A&M. Luke Joeckel was the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Jake Matthews is being projected as a top-10 pick in May's draft, and Ogbuehi also has the makings of a first-rounder when the 2015 draft rolls around. He got a first-round grade from the advisory board this past year but decided to return for his senior season.

Ogbuehi is one of four returning starters up front for the Aggies, who should also have more depth next season. Senior left guard Jarvis Harrison was out all spring with a shoulder injury, and senior Garrett Gramling worked with the first team. He played well enough that he could work his way into the starting lineup. Every good offensive line is stout right up the middle, and junior Mike Matthews returns as one of the top centers in the league. He has excellent command of the offense in terms of all his checks and calls.

The right tackle job is the big question, although sophomore Germain Ifedi worked there this spring after playing last season at guard. The 6-5, 330-pound Ifedi is a mammoth individual, but seems to move well enough to play outside at tackle. Junior college tackles Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor will benefit from having gone through the spring, and junior Joseph Cheek got a lot of first-team work at guard this spring.

The big surprise coming out of the SportsNation poll was that South Carolina received the fewest votes. The Gamecocks also return four starters and have three players -- tackles Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell and left guard A.J. Cann -- who are likely to be drafted. This also will be their third season playing together. When it's all said and done, here's betting that the Gamecocks are as good as anybody up front offensively in 2014.

We'll see how it all plays out in the fall.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 15, 2014
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The tax man cometh ...

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