Texas A&M's defense has been a point of emphasis this offseason as the Aggies look to improve on a rough 2013 on that side of the football.

One of the storylines throughout spring practice was the new face on the defensive coaching staff: secondary coach Terry Joseph.

After former Aggies' secondary coach Marcel Yates left after last season to accept the defensive coordinator job at Boise State, coach Kevin Sumlin sought Joseph, who was at Nebraska. With spring practice in the books, it appears he has had a quick impact.

"[He's an] attention-to-detail guy," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "Kids are bought in, are listening. You're seeing some things that were mistakes last year that aren't showing their face right now."

Reducing mistakes will be key, because those contributed to the group's overall inconsistency last season. The Aggies have veterans at cornerback and safety and they have talent, but getting them on the same page or reducing the number of mental errors is important if Texas A&M wants improvement in that area.


Returning are both starting cornerbacks from last season, Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris, as well as all three safeties who saw a start, Clay Honeycutt, Floyd Raven and Howard Matthews. Junior Devonta Burns finds himself in the mix at safety and nickel cornerback, and several young cornerbacks -- Victor Davis, Noel Ellis, Tavares Garner and Alex Sezer -- made strides.

Joseph, a Louisiana native, has spent time coaching in the SEC with stops at LSU and Tennessee. The biggest difference with Joseph on hand has to do with his approach, according to one player.

"The intensity," Everett said. "Coach Joseph is on us every play. He doesn't let anybody get a play off. If you have violations with your eyes or your technique, you're running after practice or what we call 'painting the lines.' When you're getting punished for bad techniques, it makes you really focus on what you need to do so that in the game it will come second nature to you and you won't have to focus on it and you can play football."
Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans went from relative unknown to bonafide star in college football circles and now is preparing for the NFL draft.

With the sophomore departing early, the Aggies hit the recruiting trail to find someone who they hope could be the next Evans, ESPN 300 receiver Frank Iheanacho.

The comparisons have been drawn for several reasons. The Houston Westside High School product, like Evans, was a varsity basketball player first before deciding to join the varsity football team as a senior and both have impressive size (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and leaping ability.

We caught up with the U.S. Army All-American to talk about the comparisons and much more.

Q: You recently attended one of Texas A&M's spring football practices and spent some time with coach Kevin Sumlin. How did that go?

[+] EnlargeMarshon Lattimore, Frank Iheanacho
AP Photo/Eric GayFrank Iheanacho could be Texas A&M's replacement for Mike Evans.
Iheanacho: "It was good. I got to see how practice works, chat it up with all the players and get to learn about the offense. It got me more anxious to get there. [Sumlin and I] were just chatting it up. He told me he can't wait until I get down there to play and practice for them."

Q: How big a factor was Sumlin in your decision to sign with Texas A&M?

Iheanacho: "He's the type of coach that you can build a relationship with pretty easily. He's cool to talk to. He understands the game and understands where you're coming from so I felt like the connection is easy to make. The vibe that I got from him was good. He's a coach I want to play for."

Q: What was it like for you to go from virtually unknown in football circles to one of the top 100 recruits in the country and receive the accolades and attention that you did?

Iheanacho: "It was dream come true for me, honestly. I grew up always wanting to be considered one of the best. That's what I worked for. When the moment actually came, it was crazy. I'm still awestruck about everything that happened."

Q: Was it ever overwhelming?

Iheanacho: "Yeah it was definitely overwhelming. You ask yourself a lot of questions. 'How did this happen?' In my situation, coming on so late, 'Do you deserve to have this role?' You just learn to accept it and appreciate everything that you're given."

Q: I know many who followed your recruitment know your backstory, but for those who don't, summarize your journey to the gridiron

Iheanacho: "I grew up as a little kid playing basketball and started playing organized in the eighth grade. I was in the AAU circuit and I worked hard every day trying to get my school paid for. That was the goal. I played football in my freshman and sophomore year but I never really took it seriously. It wasn't something I felt was in my future. I decided I was going to go straight to basketball and focus on that. My friends brought me back [to football] my senior year and it just took off from there."

Q: Many people make the comparison between you and Mike Evans because of your paths. How do you react to that?

Iheanacho: "It's a compliment. He's going to be a great player in my eyes. I'm flattered to have that comparison. At the end of the day, I want people to remember my name and that's what I'm striving for. I want to be a player people look up to and I want to be considered the best."

Q: Did you get to know Mike throughout your recruitment?

Iheanacho: "Yeah. He's a cool dude. He accepted me from the jump. I actually just talked to him [Thursday]. He had great things to say about the program and how things are going to go."

Q: How helpful is it to have that relationship with someone who has gone down the path you're trying to travel?

Iheanacho: "It gives me a positive vibe about what I'm doing in life. I listen to him and the No. 1 think he told me is to listen to [receivers] coach [David] Beaty and he'll steer me in the right direction. That's what I plan to do."

Q: Most people call you by your nickname, "Nacho." How often do folks mispronounce your actual last name?

Iheanacho: (Laughs) "Hundreds of times. But 'Nacho' has been with me since forever."

Q: For those who don't know, how do you say your last name?

Iheanacho: "Eye-HAN-uh-cho"

Q: What have you been doing during the offseason as you prepare for your arrival in Aggieland this summer?

Iheanacho: "I've just been getting ready and prepared for the next season. Just working hard and trying to get better at my craft."

Q: Is playing early a goal that you've set?

Iheanacho: "I set that as a goal. When I come through, I'm going to work hard to achieve that goal."

SEC lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Spring games galore this weekend! Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be in action on Saturday. But news isn't just on the field; there's plenty off the field, too:
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With a backfield as deep as Texas A&M's was in 2013, it wasn't easy to find a healthy number of carries for everyone.

Four scholarship running backs, all with different talents, shared carries not only with each other, but with quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was the team's leading rusher and had the most carries of any Aggie each of the last two seasons.

[+] EnlargeTra Carson
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsTra Carson is making a push for more carries in Texas A&M's backfield rotation.
For instance, Tra Carson's role primarily consisted of short-yardage situations, including third downs and goal-to-go scenarios. Given his size (6 feet, 230 pounds), it seemed appropriate. But in several instances, including late in the season against Missouri and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke, Carson showed he was more than a power back: he had some agility and speed also.

"Maybe y'all should have [been surprised] because y'all hadn't seen me do it," Carson told reporters last week. "But I wasn't surprised."

With Manziel and running back Ben Malena -- last season's leader in touches and yards among the running backs -- having moved on, there are likely to be more touches to go around this fall for the running backs: Carson, Brandon Williams, Trey Williams and redshirt freshman James White.

Carson put together a solid spring and is positioning himself to be more than a situational back this fall.

"He's really smart, he understands what we're doing," running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "He's running the ball really well right now, and as you know, when he gets that opportunity to get in the secondary he can really hurt you."

When he arrived in Aggieland, Carson needed some work and patience. A transfer from Oregon, he had to sit out the 2012 season per NCAA transfer rules. McKinney said there was some obstacles for Carson, but he waited his turn and met that challenge head on.

"Tra's biggest issue when he first got here has been conditioning," McKinney said. "He's lost about 15 pounds since he's been here. He's picked up our offense."

Carson said he was initially drawn to Oregon coming out of high school because of his friendship with current NFL running back LaMichael James, who hails from the same high school that Carson does -- Texarkana (Texas) Liberty-Eylau -- and was playing for the Ducks at the time Carson committed.

Though he appeared in 10 games as a true freshman, Carson decided Oregon wasn't the right fit and decided to return to the Lone Star State.

"For me, it was the weather, it was too far away from home," Carson said. "I wasn't ready to make that adjustment as an 18-year-old kid out of high school. Now that I'm matured, it's just different."

Carson said he and James remain close friends to this day.

Now a junior, Carson is working to be a well-rounded player -- not just a running back -- for the Aggies. He played on special teams last season and continued to get work in that phase this spring, earning practice time as a member of the kickoff return team, though not as the primary return man. Malena served a similar role last season.

With 58 carries in 11 games last season, Carson has yet to be a full-time player. If Carson has to carry an increased load this season, McKinney has no doubt that he can.

"He just understands what we're doing really well," McKinney said. "He's really great in protection. He's not just a big back that's in the third-down and goal-line package. He's a guy who can make people miss and he can play in our open sets as well as our big sets. He's a complete back."

Getting to know Kyler Murray 

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
10:00
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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 -- When describing quarterbacks, there are certain words and terms that are often used.

Those often heard are winner, clutch, leader, resilient, precise, competitive, field general, accurate, playmaker, calm, cool and collected, among others.

In the case of Under Armour All-America quarterback Kyler Murray, they might all apply.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:
HillBob Levey/Getty ImagesThe Aggies' quarterback race might not be settled by the time the season begins.
As my travel schedule would have it, I visited the South Carolina and the Texas A&M campuses in the past couple of weeks. I noticed that each team’s coaches were curious about the other, which is only natural since they play the first game of the college season on Aug. 28. (It’s the first game on the new SEC Network, by the way.)

When I was in Columbia, some of the assistants and team officials were laughing because of what South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier had said the day before. He was asked a generic question about the Aggies. Spurrier responded by complimenting A&M’s progress since joining the SEC, and he then offered one of those lines you’ve come to expect from the Head Ball Coach.

“They’ve got a coach that makes $5 million, so they must be pretty good,” Spurrier said, grinning.

I asked Kevin Sumlin, the $5 Million Man, if he had heard about the exchange.

“Oh, yeah,” Sumlin said, laughing. “I love Coach Spurrier.”

The game is still a few months away, but they’re clearly on each other’s radar. Here are some takeaways I had from the Gamecocks’ and Aggies’ spring camps, as they continue preparations for their opener.

The Aggies should be better on defense, but ... there was nowhere to go but up

You’ll hear a lot about Johnny Manziel being gone, and rightfully so, but A&M’s defense is the more pressing matter.

Help is on the way, but will it be enough to improve what was the 109th-ranked defense in the country -– and last in the SEC -- in yards per play in 2013?

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Like many of Texas A&M's defensive players, Jordan Mastrogiovanni was thrown onto the field sooner than most anticipated.

He got his first career start in the Aggies' most anticipated game of 2013, the Sept. 14 clash against Alabama. He appeared in all 13 games last season and made another start in the Aggies' Chick-Fil-A Bowl game win over Duke.

[+] EnlargeMastrogiovanni
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Texas A&M coaches expect sophomore linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni to be a defensive leader in 2014.
Most incoming recruits relish the chance at early playing time, but for the ESPN 300 prospect out of Dallas Jesuit, the excitement was also met with a dose of reality.

"To be honest with you, it was overwhelming at times," Mastrogiovanni said. "To think that a year [before] I was playing in front of 2,000 people in a high school football game, that's just one of those things where you have to man up and take care of your responsibilities and do the best you can."

What was overwhelming about it? In a word, everything.

"Really, every aspect of the game," he said. "The players, the calls, just looking up in the stands and seeing 100,000 people, that's something not many people get to experience. As an 18-year-old kid looking up, it's something that not a lot of people get to experience."

In the bowl game against Duke, Mastrogiovanni started at middle linebacker in place of the suspended Darian Claiborne, who served as the starter for most of the season. Linebackers coach Mark Hagen recalls the difficult start the defense had across the board against the Blue Devils, as the Aggies surrendered 38 first-half points while a handful of glossy-eyed freshmen, Mastrogiovanni included, tried to figure things out.

"It was a disaster from the opening kickoff in the bowl game," Hagen said. "Nothing went right. I think like most of our guys they were questioning themselves in the locker room and it was just a matter of going out there and getting a stop and I think you saw the confidence start to come back a little bit. It was a playing time issue really as much as anything [for Mastrogiovanni], just not having a ton of [first-team] reps."

But as the Aggies regrouped in the locker room, Mastrogiovanni spoke up and the defense collected itself. The unit allowed only 10 points in the second half as the team completed its come-from-behind effort to steal a 52-48 win.

"At halftime I went in and was pretty frustrated with my performance and the rest of the defense's," Mastrogiovanni said. "I tried to take over as the leader at that point and I said 'Turn the page. Don't even think about it.' That's what Johnny [Manizel] was saying too. I really think we went out there and bought in on what the coaches and players were preaching in the locker room. I think you can see on tape that we were a lot more physical and we trusted each other so it paid off."

The Aggies are hoping the instinct the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker showed that night carries over into this season, because he figures to be Texas A&M's starting middle linebacker. Mastrogiovanni spent the spring working with the first team. The Aggies are looking for improved play -- and leadership.

"I think we lacked a lot of it last year," coach Kevin Sumlin said of the defensive leadership. "We need a guy who's going to step up and talk and make sure we know everything and that we play with some confidence. I think that whole year has given him some confidence and some credibility among his teammates. It's one thing for you to be confident, but what about the guys around you? Mastro has spoken up."

Spring football, which wrapped up for the Aggies on Saturday, was productive for Mastrogiovanni. He became much more comfortable in his role as the middle linebacker and showed the qualities the coaching staff seeks.

"I just think you see a totally different person out there," Hagen said. "Much more comfortable, he's taking charge, he's getting our guys lined up which is over half the battle on defense."

The coaches want him to continue to progress, but so far he has given them reason for optimism. The one thing Sumlin wants him to work on is, of all things, his voice, so his teammates can hear him.

"I give him a hard time because I tell him to put some bass in his voice," Sumlin said with a smile. "I keep forgetting he's a freshman. He has played a bunch of football here. 'Yell from the diaphragm, act like a middle linebacker, put some bass in your voice.'"

With Claiborne likely to move to the weakside linebacker position and the Aggies mulling over a number of options for strongside linebacker, Mastrogiovanni's play is key. Texas A&M is looking to improve a defense that was last in the SEC in most major defensive statistical categories and struggled mightily against the run. It also didn't deal with offensive wrinkles well, something that having an experienced middle linebacker with the leadership qualities coaches are looking for will help improve.

Mastrogiovanni doesn't want to see another season go by with the Aggies ranking in the bottom 30 nationally defensively, like they did in 2013.

"That's just unacceptable, especially for a program the caliber of Texas A&M," he said. "The fans deserve better and we need to push ourselves. That's not the product we want to put out on the field. We're driven, we're motivated, we just don't want to have another defensive season like that."

Red River recruiting

April, 9, 2014
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HOUSTON -- Both Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy know Oklahoma does not have a deep enough talent pool for both programs to win at the highest level relying primarily on homegrown recruits. So they've made it a priority to look south of the Red River to stockpile talent. The approach has worked quite well for years, as the Sooners and Cowboys have won conference titles with rosters loaded with Lone Star State prospects.

But the recruiting climate in Texas has changed dramatically over the past three years thanks to the Johnny Football-fueled rise of Texas A&M and the turnaround job Art Briles has done at Baylor. Schools that used to only have to truly recruit against the Longhorns for the state's top prospects are now locked in three- or four-team tussles. Suddenly, the ability of OU and OSU to go deep in the heart of Texas has been met with resistance. Could the days of the Cowboys and Sooners landing players like Dez Bryant, Justin Gilbert, Tommie Harris, Russell Okung, Trent Williams and Adrian Peterson be over?


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SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
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The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?
The SEC has long been a line-of-scrimmage league. It's no coincidence that the team winning the title going back a decade or more has almost always been outstanding in the offensive line.

SportsNation

Which of these teams will have the SEC's best offensive line in 2014?

  •  
    14%
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    16%
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    23%
  •  
    13%
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    34%

Discuss (Total votes: 17,611)

It's not absolute. The team with the best offensive line doesn't always win the title, but good luck in finding a recent SEC champion that was just average in the offensive line. Case in point: Was anybody better up front offensively last season than Auburn?

Looking ahead, we're asking you (the fans) to tell us who in the SEC will carry the banner in the offensive line this fall. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll break down the results later this week.

We've come up with five choices, including Auburn. The Tigers lost star left tackle Greg Robinson, who's being projected as a top-5 pick in May's NFL draft. But they're still plenty salty up front, led by All-SEC center Reese Dismukes.

The other four choices -- Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M -- also have a chance to be really good. And that's not to say that one of the other nine teams in the league could end up with the SEC's top offensive line by November. After all, how many people were touting Auburn as the best offensive line in the league this time a year ago?

Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M all return four starters. Alabama returns three.

Of note, the SEC returns an extremely talented crop of centers. The tackle position is equally loaded with LSU's La'el Collins, Florida's Chaz Green, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, South Carolina's Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell, and Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil.
[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayTexas A&M receiver Ricky Seals-Jones was limited to parts of two games in 2013 because of a knee injury.

Texas A&M receiver Ricky Seals-Jones plans to fight the disorderly conduct (language) charge he was levied following an arrest early Sunday morning, according to his attorney.

Cameron Reynolds, an attorney based in Bryan, Texas, said the freshman receiver is "absolutely" fighting the charges and that Seals-Jones was struck by another individual while he was trying to help a friend leave the Northgate bar district in College Station.

"Ricky Seals-Jones is absolutely fighting these charges," the statement reads. "He had nothing to drink and was at home when a friend called him to come to Northgate to give him a ride home. Ricky went to Northgate to help his friend toward the car when someone struck him. When Ricky turned toward him that person cursed him and called Ricky the 'N' word. Words were exchanged and Ricky was arrested. The other individual was not arrested.

"I have personally spoken with an independent witness who confirms these facts. Ricky volunteered to take a breath test since he had not consumed alcohol but this request was never granted."


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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — While Texas A&M had no formal Maroon and White game to cap spring football as construction continues at Kyle Field, the Aggies did conduct one last scrimmage on Saturday at the Coolidge grass practice fields to close things out.

The 15th and final practice of the spring for the 2014 Aggies went as smoothly as coach Kevin Sumlin could have hoped, as no major injuries were reported. It put a cap on an interesting spring for the squad.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsSenior cornerback Deshazor Everett was generally pleased with how the defense played during Texas A&M's final spring scrimmage.
"It went well," senior offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "Young guys got a lot of reps. The three quarterbacks, they battled hard. Overall, it was a fun last spring [as a senior]."

Ogbuehi called the offensive performance "kind of shaky" on Saturday and noted that the Aggies' defense performed well. It appears Texas A&M is still jelling with new players at the key skill positions on offense and with a couple new faces on the offensive line. Starting left guard Jarvis Harrison sat out the spring, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

"There are still young quarterbacks and new quarterbacks, a young O-line," Ogbuehi said. "We'll get there, but it was kind of shaky today and hats off to the defense. They played fast and hard and it's good for them."

Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, one of the leaders of the Aggies' defense, seemed mostly pleased with how his unit fared.

"I think [Saturday] was pretty good," Everett said. "We had a few plays that we should have made a play, but we didn't. But I can't really say there are any lowlights. We went out there and competed with the offense."

The defense is a focal point for observers this offseason as the Aggies ranked last or near last in the SEC in most major defensive statistical categories last season. Everett noted how the unit progressed from scrimmage to scrimmage as March turned to April.

"The first scrimmage, we went out there and we competed just like this," Everett said. "The second scrimmage, it [didn't go] as well, but we still came out in the second half of the scrimmage and did a good job with the offense. This scrimmage, we pretty much stopped them and competed with them. That's what we need to do so we can go into the season with this motivation, that we can compete with anybody."

The future tasks for the team are clear. The defense must improve. The veteran secondary has to become more consistent, especially at safety. The defensive line needs to improve its level of play and depth and the Aggies hope to find the right mix at linebacker, a group that's likely to include a lot of youth.

On offense, the quarterback battle among Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen will carry into the summer and preseason training camp. An offensive line that returns four of five starters should help, as should a running back group that returns three lettermen, but there are battles for jobs in both areas. There also will be many new faces at receiver.

After 15 practices, the Aggies believe they have improved and will spend this summer trying to continue that progress.

"We're still far away from where we need to be," Ogbuehi said. "But we're progressing every day. It's a plus, but we're still far from where we need to be that great team."

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"

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Sumlin Interested To See New QBs
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin breaks down his team's quarterback competition and some of the other young prospects the Aggies have heading into this season.
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