#AskLoogs: Aggies 'building' on D

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
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Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.



Well, Texas A&M is not in a reloading mode yet. The Aggies are in "building" mode right now on defense.

This was a program that relied heavily on two freshmen along the defensive front in 2013 with defensive end Daeshon Hall and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden. This was not the positon coach Kevin Sumlin would have preferred to be in with these guys. In the 2014 class the Aggies currently have five defensive lineman committed, including No. 1-ranked DE Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), so depth and an upgrade in talent are being built in College Station. There is no magic wand to wave, however, to speed up the process. Sumlin knows that in the SEC high-powered offenses will only take teams so far. It’s similar to Bobby Petrino while at Arkansas. The good news is that Texas A&M has the ability to lure top-flight defensive personnel along the front and Arkansas couldn’t. The Aggies' defense is in development and they need to grow up fast as breaking in a new offense next fall will mean that the defense is going to have to be better. In order for Texas A&M to truly be a championship contender, it will have to improve greatly on defense which is why last year’s class and this year’s class have been heavy on that side of the ball.

A prospect grows in Kansas

January, 24, 2014
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video

OLATHE, Kan. -- As he embarked on a 700-mile trip that would take him from his home in Olathe, Kan., to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for Alabama's summer camp, Braden Smith was worried. Unlike almost any high school football player in his shoes, Smith, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound, four-star offensive guard from Olathe (Kan.) South, wasn't concerned about how he would perform in front of one of the legends of college football. Sure, he wanted to earn a scholarship from Nick Saban, but the pressure of the moment wasn't what troubled him.

Smith's mind drifted to his backyard, where his prized pumpkins, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, parsley and arugula were growing in the scorching Kansas City heat. Smith was worried his mother wasn't doing things the right way, so he called home every day to ensure she was following his explicit directions.

"He called to tell me exactly how much to water and when," Braden's mother, Jane Smith, said. "He's very protective of his garden. He would ask me 'Did you water? When did you water? You didn't water it too much, did you?'"

Most 17- or 18-year-old football prized recruits don't list gardening as one of their hobbies, but Smith, the No. 127 overall prospect and ninth-ranked offensive guard in the ESPN 300, isn't your typical recruit. He doesn't Tweet. He doesn't Instagram. His father, Dave, intercepts most interview attempts from reporters. In a time when prospects' every movement and social media actions are scrutinized for hidden meaning, Smith, one of the most heavily recruited players in Kansas City history, has taken a different approach to the process. It's a method that mirrors what happens in his garden.

"The whole step-by-step process interests me," said Smith, who turned down more than 50 scholarship offers and has narrowed his choices to Auburn, Texas A&M and TCU.


(Read full post)


The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: If USC is going to close strong, landing some of this weekend’s 11 official visitors are key; even though neither are going to land him, Alabama and Oregon earned high praise for their recruiting efforts with offensive lineman Braden Smith’s coach; and Lorenzo Carter has become priority No. 1 for several of the Southeast's top teams.

11 recruits set to visit USC


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video

Gerry Hamilton, Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill grade the 2014 recruiting efforts of Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. The Aggies currently have the No. 2 class, according to ESPN rankings.

TAMU to-do list: Find a go-to WR

January, 23, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the third part of a week-long series looking at the five most pressing concerns Texas A&M faces this offseason.

While quarterback Johnny Manziel dominated the headlines in his brief, two-year career at Texas A&M, he had a lot of help on offense.

One of the most important weapons Manziel had at his disposal was receiver Mike Evans.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayRicky Seals-Jones has the size and speed to take over as the Aggies' top playmaker at receiver.
The pair came to Aggieland in the same recruiting class, redshirted the same season and built a strong rapport as scout-team players in their first season.

Once they hit the field together in 2012 as redshirt freshmen, Evans quickly became Manziel's go-to receiver.

In two seasons, Evans caught 151 passes for 2,499 and 12 touchdowns. In 2013, he emerged as one of the nation's best receivers with a school-record 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns, which earned him a spot at the finalists' table for the Biletnikoff Award.

But like Manziel, Evans declared for early entry into the NFL draft. That brings us to our next item on the Texas A&M offseason to-do list, which is finding the next No. 1 receiver.

Because of the way the Aggies have recruited the last two seasons, they will have no shortage of options at the position. In addition to the receivers who were already on campus, the Aggies signed six receivers in the 2013 recruiting class and in the 2014 class, four prospects will wind up at receiver.

And it won't just be Evans' production that needs to be filled. The Aggies are saying goodbye to three starters as two others (Travis Labhart and Derel Walker) were seniors. Malcome Kennedy (60 receptions, 658 yards, seven touchdowns) is the lone returning starter and returning statistical leader in each major receiving category.

As an inside receiver who became a reliable target for Manziel, it stands to reason that Kennedy will see more opportunities. But who replaces Evans at outside receiver?

Ricky Seals-Jones, the Aggies' top-ranked recruit in the 2013 class, is an intriguing option, though it isn't necessarily a guarantee that he lines up outside. During preseason training camp last season, Seals-Jones received practice time at both inside receiver and outside receiver and made his biggest play of the season, a 71-yard touchdown reception against Rice, as an inside receiver.

He missed most of the season with a knee injury, but no matter where he lines up, he figures to play a prominent role in the offense in 2014 and could be a prime candidate to be a go-to guy with his size (6-foot-5, 240) and speed.

Several young receivers played in 2013 and will compete for the chance to start in 2014, such as LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Ja'Quay Williams, Jeremy Tabuyo and Edward Pope, all of whom were freshmen last season. Sabian Holmes, who will be a junior, and redshirt freshman Kyrion Parker could also be factors in the offense next season.

A lot of eyes will be on the offensive gem of the 2014 recruiting class though: ESPN 300 five-star athlete Speedy Noil. A high school quarterback at New Orleans Edna Karr, Noil is ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the country and will play receiver for the Aggies. Noil began classes earlier this month and will participate in spring football, giving the country's No. 7 overall player a head start when it comes to finding himself on the field in 2014.

Shifting power: Texas 

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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Texas A&M has gone through and overcome a major case of the “you can’ts.”

You can’t leave the Big 12 and compete in the SEC.

You can’t win with Kevin Sumlin, a coach off a successful stint at Houston in mid-major conference play.

You can’t outrecruit your archrival Texas. You can’t win. Period.

For every negative critique, Texas A&M has managed to silence the doubters. With everything positive that’s happened with the Aggies the last two seasons, this year’s recruiting class may be the biggest accolade next to winning back-to-back bowl games under Sumlin. With 21 commits – including 10 ESPN 300 players -- Texas A&M has the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, just behind Alabama.


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Thursday is a big day for ESPN 300 outside linebacker Otaro Alaka (Houston/Cy Falls).

Thursday, however, may be an even bigger day for both Texas and Texas A&M.

In one of the biggest recruiting battles remaining, Alaka will host visits from both the Longhorns and Aggies on Thursday, a day that could ultimately break what Alaka’s calling a tie in the race for his services. Currently a Texas commit, Alaka said before Mack Brown and the Longhorns parted ways that if Brown were to leave, he would consider other options.

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TAMU to-do list: Find the leaders

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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Editor's note: This is the second part of a week-long series looking at the five most pressing concerns Texas A&M faces this offseason.

Strong player leadership is something Texas A&M has been fortunate to have in Kevin Sumlin's first two seasons.

During the 2012 season, players such as linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, center Patrick Lewis and receiver Ryan Swope were among those cited by coaches and teammates as carrying that responsibility.

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsSoon-to-be senior Malcome Kennedy, who caught 7 TD passes last season, could be called upon as a leader on the Texas A&M offense.
As those players and others tabbed as leaders moved on, the Aggies looked to guys such as running back Ben Malena, left tackle Jake Matthews and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., among others. And certainly, the team's two best players, Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel, set a standard with their level of play.

As we continue our look at the offseason to-do list for Texas A&M, it seems appropriate that finding the next wave of leaders is high on the list, because all of those above names are gone via graduation or the NFL draft.

The Aggies will be young on both sides of the ball with underclassmen playing in several key positions, potentially even at quarterback. Offensively, senior tackle Cedric Ogbuehi could be one of the players the Aggies turn to.

Ogbuehi, who passed up a chance to enter the NFL draft early to return for his final season, has 30 career starts and has been an integral part of the Aggies' successful first two seasons in the SEC.

Soon-to-be senior Malcome Kennedy, the returning statistical leader among the Aggies receivers after the departure of three starters at the position, is another possibility. Going into 2012, receivers coach David Beaty applauded Kennedy's work ethic and improvement in the offseason and Kennedy emerged into a reliable target for Manziel throughout the season.

On defense, could Deshazor Everett -- who will be a senior -- be one of those candidates? He has 22 starts under his belt, all of which have come in the last two seasons, and he has been a linchpin in the Aggies' secondary with the ability to move between cornerback and safety. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder lauded Everett's willingness to do so when the Aggies were trying to mix and match players in the defensive backfield.

Younger players could be candidates as well. Players such as center Mike Matthews and running back Trey Williams, who will both be juniors, have received playing time in each of the last two seasons and are players to keep an eye on. Before a December arrest in which he was suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Darian Claiborne -- who started in nine games as a true freshman at a new position, middle linebacker -- seemed to be a potential candidate, though how he responds from his legal incident will be worth watching.

As the Aggies progress through offseason workouts and head into spring football in a couple months, there will almost certainly be players step forward and emerge as naturals in these roles.

Earlier to-do list posts:

SEC class rankings analysis 

January, 22, 2014
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video The SEC continues to dominate the Recruiting Nation class rankings nationally, with 13 of the 14 programs in the conference ranked in the top 40. That includes four of the top five, seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 30. As expected, Alabama continues to lead the pack, and the Crimson Tide has a large lead coming down the stretch.


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2013 SEC Super Seniors

January, 22, 2014
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For the fifth consecutive season, we pay homage to the top seniors in the SEC.

We’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period, and not one senior on each team. These guys all rose above and beyond in terms of on-the-field production, leadership and overall impact on their teams.

There were a lot of tough calls, and this senior class ranks up there with any we've seen in this league. What that means is that several deserving players were left off. We looked hard at how players fared against league competition, their consistency and whether or not they were able to make it through the whole season.

Here’s introducing our 2013 SEC Super Seniors. They’re listed in alphabetical order:

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis made one of the most memorable plays in college football history.
Chris Davis, CB/RS, Auburn: Davis' kick-six to beat Alabama was the play of the year in college football, maybe the play of the last quarter-century. But that's what he did -- make plays. Davis led the league in punt return average (18.7 yards), tied for the league lead in pass breakups (15) and was second on Auburn's team with 74 tackles. It goes without saying that he was one of the key figures in the Tigers' improbable run to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Much like Davis, Ford was one of the driving forces in the Tigers' rise from winless in the SEC in 2012 to playing for the national championship this season. Ford finished second in the league with 10.5 sacks, including two against Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and also tied for second in the league with 14.5 tackles for loss. He was the heartbeat of an Auburn defensive line that was clearly the strength of that defense.

E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri: Even though Gaines might have been overshadowed by some of the other marquee cornerbacks in the SEC to start the season, he demonstrated on the field that he didn't take a back seat to anybody. Gaines led SEC cornerbacks with 75 tackles and tied for second in the league with five interceptions. He was the essence of a shutdown cornerback, as evidenced by his work on Texas A&M star receiver Mike Evans, who had a season-low eight receiving yards, in the Tigers' 28-21 victory over the Aggies.

Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State: If you were to look up road-grader in the football dictionary, you'd almost certainly find a picture of the 6-4, 340-pound Jackson. One of the top interior offensive linemen in college football, Jackson was a rock in the middle of that Mississippi State offensive line. When the Bulldogs needed tough yards and/or key yards, they almost always ran behind big No. 61. Jackson started in all 52 games of his college career at left guard.

Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt: Go back over the last five or six years and count the quality defensive backs to come out of Vanderbilt's program. Ladler would be right up there near the top, and he saved the best for last with a tremendous senior season. He was the only player in the country (in the FBS ranks) with at least five interceptions and five forced fumbles and finished second among SEC defensive backs with 91 tackles.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: One of the best recruits the Aggies picked up last year was when Matthews decided to return for his senior season. He moved from right to left tackle and had an All-American senior season as Texas A&M led the SEC in scoring offense (44.2 points) and total offense (538.4 yards). Matthews excelled in pass protection, but was equally effective as a run-blocker.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiVanderbilt's Jordan Matthews made an SEC-record 112 receptions in the 2013 season.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Matthews leaves quite a legacy at Vanderbilt. Not only was he one of the centerpieces of a Vanderbilt team that won nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in history, but he set a slew of SEC records. His 112 catches this season were the most ever by an SEC player, and he's also the league's career leader in catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759).

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron fell short this season of securing his third consecutive national championship ring as a starting QB, but he'll still go down as one of the winningest quarterbacks in SEC history. The 2013 Heisman Trophy runner-up, McCarron was Mr. Clutch for the Crimson Tide and did some of his best work on the biggest stages. He was second in the SEC this season with 28 touchdown passes and third in passing efficiency.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Mosley blossomed into the ultimate do-it-all linebacker for the Crimson Tide and became the first player under Nick Saban at Alabama to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. But as good a tackler as Mosley was, he was just as good in coverage, blitzing the quarterback and chasing sideline to sideline. And as the "quarterback" of that defense, he was the guy who made the checks, got everybody lined up and helped clean up mistakes.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Sadly, Murray's senior season was cut short when he tore his ACL against Kentucky. He'd been a warrior all season for the Bulldogs despite losing just about all of the playmakers around him to injury. Murray was brilliant in some of Georgia's biggest games, including victories over LSU and South Carolina and even the heartbreaking loss to Auburn. He finished second in the SEC in total offense (296.5 yards per game) and leaves as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards (13,155) and touchdown passes (121).

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: Always a solid contributor for the Tigers, Sam emerged as a senior as one of the top big-play defenders in the SEC. He earned first-team All-American honors and led the league in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). His late sack and forced fumble in the AT&T Cotton Bowl resulted in a touchdown and was the decisive blow in Missouri's 41-31 victory over Oklahoma State.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Arguably the most underrated player in college football, Shaw engineered the third consecutive 11-win season for the Gamecocks and battled through an assortment of painful injuries to have his best season yet. He finished with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception and accounted for 31 total touchdowns. His gutsy performance off the bench in the comeback win over Missouri on the road was one of the performances of the year in the SEC.

SEC shoes to fill in 2014

January, 21, 2014
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Earlier, we took a look at some of the underclassmen leaving the SEC and who could replace them at their respective schools. Now it's time to look at 14 pairs of the biggest shoes to fill in the SEC in 2014.

These are either graduates or guys who decided to take their talents to the NFL early. It's never easy to replace top players, but the SEC has a tendency to just reload. Let's see if SEC teams can replace these 14 studs:

ALABAMA

AJ McCarron, QB: He won two national championships and went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. He was also the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and was an excellent leader. Alabama must now turn to junior Blake Sims and a host of youngsters to fill his spot as Alabama's starter.

ARKANSAS

Zach Hocker, K: A kicker? You bet. Hocker finished his career as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made, extra points attempted, field goals made, field goals attempted points. Hocker ranked in the top-five nationally among active players in field goals made, points, extra points made, extra points attempted and field goals attempted. He was also excellent on kickoffs and has no true heir in 2014.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI Tre Mason's productivity won't be easy to replace for Auburn.
AUBURN

Tre Mason, RB: Replacing the guy who set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,816) and total offense (2,374) won't be easy at all. Mason carried Auburn's offense for most of the season and led the SEC in rushing and rushing touchdowns (23). The Tigers now turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who both rushed for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Racean Thomas.

FLORIDA

Dominique Easley, DT: Though his season was cut short by an ACL injury, Easley was so dominant when he was on the field. He was the type of player who didn't have flashy stats but created so many plays for other people. Losing someone as disruptive as Easley really showed as the season continued, as the Gators failed to get consistent pressure on opposing backfields. Leon Orr and Darious Cummings get first crack at trying to replace Easley.

GEORGIA

Aaron Murray, QB: He won a handful of games, went to two SEC championship games and broke a ton of SEC records. Now, Murray is gone, and Hutson Mason has been given the duty of replacing one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Mason got his feet wet early when Murray went down late with an ACL injury, but now this is his team and it's his turn to be a leader.

KENTUCKY

Avery Williamson, LB: In his last two seasons in Lexington, Williamson totaled 237 tackles, including 116 solo stops. A leader of the defense, Williamson was all over the field, and it might take a committee to fill his shoes both in games and in the locker room. Kentucky was able to do more when Williamson was on the field, and now the Wildcats will need to find a new spark at linebacker.

LSU

Zach Mettenberger, QB: We got to really see what Mettenberger was capable of once he got comfortable running Cam Cameron's offense. He was third in the SEC with 3,082 passing yards and threw 22 touchdowns. His big-league arm and awareness will truly be missed, as the Tigers turn to a band of inexperienced quarterbacks, starting with Anthony Jennings.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG: Quietly, he was one of the country's best guards in 2013. He was the anchor of the Bulldogs' line and was arguably the team's best overall player in 2013. Mississippi State has Justin Malone returning from a season-ending foot injury, while former walk-on Ben Beckwith, who replaced Malone, and Jamaal Clayborn should compete for one of the guard spots.

MISSOURI

E.J. Gaines, CB: If not for Gaines' play, Missouri's secondary would have been in a lot of trouble last season. That means the loss of arguably the SEC's best cover corner will hurt that much more in 2014. What will make things even tougher for the Tigers is that two other seniors from the secondary will also be gone, but replacing Gaines is easily the toughest job of all.

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR: He might not have had the same sort of season as he did in 2012, but Moncrief was yet again Ole Miss' top offensive weapon in 2013. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's such a tough player to cover with his size and strength. He could hit the big play deep or make the tough catches in traffic. The loss of Moncrief now puts the pressure on sophomore-to-be Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels in receptions.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson will get the first crack at replacing Connor Shaw as South Carolina's QB.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Connor Shaw, QB: With all due respect to future top-five pick Jadeveon Clowney, Shaw's play, toughness and leadership will be tougher to replace in Columbia. He was the heart of this team and played through all sorts of pain to help lead the Gamecocks to their third straight 11-win season. Dylan Thompson backed him up for the past two seasons and now has to job of following Shaw's impressive career.

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT: One of the best offensive linemen in the league, Richardson will be very tough for the Vols to replace in 2014, especially with young quarterbacks littering the backfield. Making matters worse is that the rest of the entire starting offensive line will be gone too. But not having that anchor at left tackle hurts the most.

TEXAS A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB: Yeah, like replacing all the on-field theatrics from someone who won the Heisman Trophy and produced 9,989 career yards of offense and 93 touchdowns will be easy. Manziel could hurt a defense with his arm and legs and was only contained a few times during his two seasons as the Aggies' starter. No one will be able to produce the entertainment Manziel provided.

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 21, 2014
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So this is the new College Football Playoff? On Monday, tickets to the first-ever title game under the new format became available for purchase. But the cheapest premium seats -- sounds like something of an oxymoron, doesn't it? -- come at the hefty price of $2,000.

The SEC has 28 of the 98 players who are early entrants to the NFL draft. We’ve looked at those players who must be replaced in the SEC East. Here are the stars from the SEC West who will leave big shoes to fill.

Leaving: Auburn OT Greg Robinson

The replacement: Shon Coleman. There are a number of players to keep in mind as candidates to take over for Robinson, who shot toward the top of draft boards with a dominant junior season. Coleman seems like the favorite at left tackle, but right tackle Avery Young could slide across the line into Robinson's old position. Keep an eye on Patrick Miller, who has starting experience at right tackle, and Robert Leff, as well.

[+] EnlargeMatt Joeckel
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsMatt Joeckel has some game experience but he is no sure thing to replace Johnny Manziel.
Leaving: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

The replacement: Pick 'em. This might be the most interesting race on the list. Nobody can replicate the improvisational talents that made Manziel a Heisman Trophy winner, but the Aggies have a collection of players who will compete to become Johnny Football's successor. Matt Joeckel (22-37, 293 yards, 2 TDs) started in Manziel's place last season, but he won't win the job simply because he's a senior. Sophomore Kenny Hill (16-22, 183 yards, 1 TD) and early enrollee Kyle Allen will also challenge for the starting nod.

Leaving: Texas A&M WR Mike Evans

The replacement: Ricky Seals-Jones. Texas A&M has no shortage of receiving talent on campus, although matching Evans' 1,394 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns will be difficult. An intriguing candidate here is Seals-Jones, who caught a 71-yard touchdown pass against Rice before hurting his knee and missing most of the season. The 6-foot-5 freshman was a huge get for Kevin Sumlin's staff last season and could easily become the Aggies' next big-time receiving weapon.

Leaving: Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio

The replacement: Leon Brown. Incoming freshman Cam Robinson could make some noise in the competition to replace Kouandjio, but let's go with the safe choice in the 6-foot-6 Brown, who has the frame to slide into the tackle spot. Brown filled in for injured Anthony Steen at right guard against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Leaving: Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

The replacement: Nick Perry. Replacing Kiper's top safety prospect won't be easy -- especially with safety Vinnie Sunseri also jumping for the NFL -- but Perry looks like a safe choice here. The fifth-year senior is coming off season-ending surgery after appearing in only two games in 2013. He might get some competition from early enrollee Laurence Jones, so keep an eye on that competition during preseason practice.

Leaving: Auburn RB Tre Mason

The replacement: Cameron Artis-Payne. Although freshman Racean Thomas and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber are players to watch, next in line seems to be Artis-Payne, who played well behind Mason in 2013, rushing for 610 yards and averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

Leaving: LSU WR Odell Beckham

The replacement: Travin Dural. One of the most dynamic athletes in the country, Beckham's value as a return man and wideout cannot be understated. Speedster Dural played a limited role as a freshman (7-145, 2 TDs), but flashed some impressive playmaking skills when he combined with Anthony Jennings for a 49-yard, game-winning touchdown catch in the closing minutes against Arkansas.

Leaving: LSU WR Jarvis Landry

The replacement: Quantavius Leslie. The third-down security blanket for LSU's quarterbacks, Landry (77-1,193, 10 TDs) was one of the most clutch wideouts in the league. Juco transfer Leslie barely played in 2013, so he's hardly a lock here. If the Tigers secure a commitment from Malachi Dupre -- ESPN's No. 1 receiver and No. 17 overall prospect for 2014 -- he could also make an immediate impact.

Leaving: LSU RB Jeremy Hill

The replacement: Leonard Fournette. When available, Hill was one of the most productive backs in the nation. He had his share of off-field issues, which superprospect Fournette would do well to avoid. Recruiting analysts say Fournette is the closest thing to Adrian Peterson they’ve seen since the former Oklahoma star entered college, so he will almost certainly play early and play often. The Tigers also have veterans Terrance Magee (626 yards, 8 TDs) and Kenny Hilliard (310 yards, 7 TDs) to alleviate some of the pressure on the freshman.

Leaving: LSU DT Anthony Johnson

The replacement: Christian LaCouture. The Nebraskan was a key reserve on LSU's 2013 defensive line as a true freshman. LaCouture (11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss) needs to make huge strides between now and August, however, in order to solidify the middle of a line that lost both starters (Johnson and Ego Ferguson) to early entry into the draft.

Leaving: LSU DT Ego Ferguson

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Miller Safrit/ESPNLeonard Fournette, the top running back prospect in the country, should see an immediate role in LSU's backfield.
The replacement: Quentin Thomas. Thomas (9 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss) started against Iowa in the Outback Bowl when Ferguson didn't make the trip, so he might be the favorite here for now. Filling the holes left by Johnson and Ferguson in the center of the line will be one of the big keys when LSU opens spring practice.

Leaving: Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief

The replacement: Laquon Treadwell. It's not as if Treadwell didn't play a huge role already (team-high 72 catches for 608 yards and 5 TDs), but he will take over for Moncrief (59-938, 6 TDs) as the Rebels' top receiving option next season. He hasn't flashed the same downfield explosiveness yet, but Treadwell has already proved himself as a high-caliber SEC player.

Leaving: Alabama LB Adrian Hubbard

The replacement: Dillon Lee. Rising junior Lee -- who has stayed out of trouble since getting sent home from Alabama's trip to Miami for the 2013 BCS National Championship Game -- possesses the athleticism to take over for Hubbard at strongside linebacker without Alabama's defense missing a beat.

Leaving: Alabama DL Jeoffrey Pagan

The replacement: A'Shawn Robinson. Losing Pagan hurts, but Alabama enjoys enviable depth at defensive end with Robinson (team-high 5.5 sacks plus 8 tackles for a loss) and Jonathan Allen already establishing themselves and D.J. Pettway returning at the position.

Leaving: Alabama S Vinnie Sunseri

The replacement: Landon Collins. Alabama's playcaller in the secondary was one of the team's top leaders, but Collins is a superior athlete and should quickly emerge as one of the league's better safeties.

Leaving: LSU OG Trai Turner

The replacement: Fehoko Fanaika. Redshirt sophomore Turner made one of the stranger early entry decisions in the league, opening the door for former junior college transfer Fanaika to possibly fill the lone opening on the offensive line at right guard.

Leaving: LSU RB Alfred Blue

The replacement: See Jeremy Hill. The NCAA granted Blue a fifth year of eligibility following a season-ending knee injury in 2012, but he opted not to use it after rarely playing a leading role in LSU's backfield.

TAMU to-do list: Solidify the OTs

January, 21, 2014
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Editor's note: This is Part I in a weeklong series looking at the five most pressing concerns Texas A&M faces this offseason.

While quarterback Johnny Manziel's NFL draft announcement was perhaps the most anticipated and newsworthy, the biggest draft-related decision for Texas A&M might have come from one of Manziel's protectors, offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.

When Ogbuehi, a junior, announced that he is returning to Aggieland for his senior season, it was met with relief from many Aggies because of what it means for the immediate future. Manziel might have owned the highlight reels but the protection he received from his offensive line contributed significantly to the Aggies' overall offensive success in recent seasons.

[+] EnlargeCedric Ogbuehi
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherWith Cedric Ogbuehi returning for his senior season, Texas A&M will return four of five starters on the O-line.
Texas A&M has been blessed with elite offensive tackles in recent years. Luke Joeckel left school a year early after winning the Outland Trophy as a junior and was chosen second overall in the 2013 NFL draft. Jake Matthews, who spent the first portion of his career at right tackle before moving to left tackle for his senior season, graduated and is projected by many to be the first offensive tackle chosen in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft, and perhaps a top-five pick overall.

Ogbuehi, who said he received a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory board, decided to come back and perhaps make himself the next Aggies tackle to be chosen high in the first round of the draft in 2015.

That brings us to one of the Aggies' key tasks this offseason -- solidify those two offensive tackle spots for the new quarterback.

With Joeckel and Matthews, then Matthews and Ogbuehi serving as bookends, the Aggies have been fortunate to be able to possess great players at the two offensive tackle positions, critical to protecting your quarterback.

Now that Matthews is moving on, the Aggies will re-tool the tackles in hopes of finding the right mix. Where Ogbuehi lines up will be a big part of that.

It seems likely that Ogbuehi follows the plan Matthews employed, which is switching from right tackle to left tackle for his senior year. Earlier this season, Ogbuehi mentioned a desire to make that switch, telling 12th Man Magazine, "I plan to come back next season and make the move to left tackle for my senior year [and] go as high as possible [in the draft]."

Should that be the case, someone will have to fill Ogbuehi's previous spot at right tackle. Could it be one of the Aggies' other returning starters on the line, such as left guard Jarvis Harrison (who started twice at left tackle when Ogbuehi missed two games with a groin injury and Matthews flipped back to the right side briefly)? Is Joseph Cheek, who has been a reserve tackle, ready to move into the starting lineup? Or could it be one of the highly regarded recruits joining the Aggies from the 2014 recruiting class, such as junior college prospects Jermaine Eluemunor or Avery Gennesy?

Those are the questions on the minds of head coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and the rest of the A&M offensive staff.

Here's the good news for the Aggies: They return four starters along the offensive line as well as a reserve (Garrett Gramling) who logged a pair of starts. They don't appear to be hurting for depth; now the question becomes maintaining the high standard that has been set.
With signing day quickly approaching, there are several storylines developing throughout the SEC. Here’s a closer look at five things to watch for on national signing day:


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