COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of the most common questions asked by Texas A&M fans upon the start of spring football practice is related to the health of receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.
A prized recruit from the 2013 class, Seals-Jones got a chance to show Aggies fans only a brief glimpse of what could be, catching three passes last season -- including a 71-yard touchdown -- in the season opener before a knee injury derailed the rest of his season.
After undergoing season-ending surgery, Seals-Jones has been a participant in all five practices for Texas A&M this spring and shows no limitations, though coach Kevin Sumlin is taking a cautious approach with his budding young star and holding him out of a live scrimmage on Thursday.
Sumlin joked that he'll probably get a call from Seals-Jones and his parents during spring break, but he doesn't feel the need to rush the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver back into live action. After spring break concludes, Sumlin said he'll have team doctors check on his knee again.
"I just wanted to make sure," Sumlin said. "I don't think it's ready yet and we'll assess him when he comes back."
Fortunately for the Aggies, there is still more than five months until their first game, so he'll have plenty of time to be rested and ready. The Aggies are also still waiting for word from the NCAA on the status of the medical hardship waiver that they applied for to regain the year of eligibility Seals-Jones lost to the knee injury.
Sumlin said the necessary paperwork has been filed and he expects to get an answer before the 2014 season begins. He said he fully anticipates that Seals-Jones will get the eligibility restored because the time he missed falls within the guidelines the bylaw calls for (that the player's injury occurred prior to the start of the second half of the season and that he did not participate in more than three contests or 30 percent of the team's games, whichever is greater). Seals-Jones appeared in only two of Texas A&M's 13 games before undergoing the season-ending surgery.
"We've filed for it," Sumlin said. "I don't see why there's going to be a problem."
With the Aggies looking to replace three starting receivers, there is flexibility to where Seals-Jones could line up this fall. Most of his work in preseason training camp last season came as an inside receiver, but he did get some practice time as an outside receiver in the Aggies' offense.
"He's a big target inside," Sumlin said. "He's really easy to see in there with other guys and he's comfortable in there. We're dual-training a lot of our receivers this year instead of just keeping them in one spot, which is helping them and helping our offense and helping them understand spacing and what's going on."
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Thirty athletes from the West region in the ESPN Junior 300 met at Redondo Union (Calif.) High School on Sunday morning for the first Nike Football Training Camp of the spring. With hundreds of recruits in attendance, it wasn't surprising that many of the top prospects coming into the event stood out.
That is probably more true at safety than any other position. It’s a spot the Aggies have found challenges when trying to maintain or add talent and depth, with the latest hurdle coming recently as spring practice opened.
The loss of safety Kameron Miles, whom the Aggies announced officially on Thursday had been dismissed from the team for unspecified reasons, isn’t cause for panic because as head coach Kevin Sumlin pointed out, Miles didn’t see the field at all last season.
Safety is certainly a position where they need to see on-field improvement, both from the 2013 contributors who are returning this season (Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven) and the new bodies that could step in.
So while Miles -- an ESPN 300 recruit who signed in the 2013 class -- didn’t play (he redshirted after missing all of preseason training camp recovering from a knee injury), he certainly was a candidate to do so this season. Losing him is impactful, especially considering his potential and the rough end to Class of 2014 recruiting at the position.
Texas A&M had an ESPN 300 safety committed to them for months in Dylan Sumner-Gardner, but he switched his commitment to Boise State in early January after former secondary coach Marcel Yates left his post in Aggieland to accept the defensive coordinator position at Boise State. Even before Sumner-Gardner’s switch, the Aggies were still trying to add another safety to the 2014 recruiting class.
The loss made finding a safety even more urgent in the class. The Aggies long recruited ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (who signed with Oklahoma) and made a late run at ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw (who signed with Oregon), not to mention other ESPN 300 prospects whom they recruited earlier in the process but decided on other programs.
The Aggies were able to land a safety late in the 2014 recruiting cycle when three-star athlete Donovan Wilson (Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) committed four days before national signing day and inked a letter of intent with the Aggies. He will enroll at Texas A&M for the fall semester, but whether he will be able to have an impact this fall is unknown until he arrives on campus.
Texas A&M has commitments from two elite safeties in the 2015 recruiting class in ESPN Junior 300 prospects Justin Dunning and Larry Pryor Jr., but that has no bearing on this fall.
What is known is that the Aggies need the three who played the most last season to improve and for others to contribute. One name Sumlin mentioned on Thursday was junior safety Devonta Burns, a 6-foot, 214-pounder who contributed mostly on special teams last season.
“Devonta Burns is having a really, really good camp,” Sumlin said. “He’s been around here a long time and really was a good special teams player for us from game three, four, five, on. It’s about time for him to start showing up and he has. You’ve got three guys back there [Honeycutt, Matthews and Raven] who have played a lot, not always well, but have played and are experienced and need to step up. I think Devonta is right in the mix with the other three guys.”
The Aggies also have the services of 6-3, 213-pound sophomore Jonathan Wiggins, a 2013 signee who saw most of his time on special teams last season. Beyond him, the options consist of mostly walk-ons such as Sam Moeller (last year’s 12th Man) or perhaps even someone like Shane Huhn, a transfer from UTEP who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
Another potential option is using the secondary’s best player, senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, at safety. Everett has flip-flopped between cornerback and safety before, including on certain occasions last season when the Aggies needed the help. However, it appears that Everett is working exclusively at cornerback, and Sumlin said he doesn’t anticipate that changing, at least “Not right now.”
Everett said last week that he has seen improvement from the safety returnees, especially Matthews.
“He’s a different player now,” Everett said of Matthews. “He’s not lagging around or doing it his way. He’s playing hard, he’s going hard every play, he’s being vocal. That’s what we need at the back end from the safeties, because they have to communicate to everybody on the defense. He’s definitely changed.”
“Floyd is definitely understanding the defense more, and Clay has always been a smart player. With the new coaching change and the way we’re running it, it’s set up so that you can always make plays and always be in the right position, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
The Aggies’ secondary also have new blood in the form of Joseph, the former Nebraska secondary coach. The reviews for Joseph have been positive thus far, including from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who called Joseph a “technician” and “fundamentalist.”
Everett also has noticed his new position coach’s impact thus far.
“He’s a real vocal coach and he wants you to do it exactly the way he wants you to do it, and there’s no other way about it,” Everett said. “If you’re not going to do it his way, you’re not going to play, so you have to adjust to that and you have to go out there and do it his way.”
If Joseph has it his way, there will be more answers than questions at safety come August. Fortunately for the Aggies, three weeks remain in spring practice to find some.
The battle for that No. 1 pick will continue in the coming months, and ESPN NFL draft guru Todd McShay has already made a change at the top of his mock draft. In his recent Mock Draft 3.0, McShay now has UCF quarterback Blake Bortles going to the Houston Texans with the first pick. In his last mock draft, McShay had Jadeveon Clowney going to the Texans. Now, he has South Carolina's terrorizing defensive end going second to the St. Louis Rams. While Clowney delivered an impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.47 at the combine, he didn't go through all the drills in Indianapolis, causing some eyes to roll.
But McShay isn't knocking down Clowney, who is still the top-rated overall player on his draft board, because of the combine. No, Clowney moved down a spot because McShay believes Bortles is the top quarterback on the Texans' board, and they desperately need to get a top-flight signal-caller in this draft.
Clowney moving down to No. 2 isn't bad. He'll still make a ton of money, and my guess is he won't drop out of the top five come draft day. He might not have had as dazzling a 2013 season, like he did in his first two years in Columbia, S.C., but there's no doubting Clowney is a certified beast. He was NFL-ready before he took any snaps last season, and you better believe that any drive he might have lost going into his final year on campus will be resurrected by his future NFL coaching staff.
Passing on him early could be a big mistake.
As for the rest of the SEC, McShay has four more SEC players going within the first 10 picks, including a trio of Texas A&M Aggies -- quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 4, Cleveland Browns), offensive tackle Jake Matthews (No. 9, Buffalo Bills) and wide receiver Mike Evans (No. 10, Detroit Lions).
In all, McShay has nine SEC players going in the first round.
Let's take a look around the SEC as some schools have already opened spring practice and some are preparing for their first workout.
- Short on defensive linemen and flush with talented linebackers, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward says he will tinker with a 3-4 this spring.
- Gary Pinkel's new contract at Missouri pushes him over the $3 million salary threshold and runs through 2020.
- Georgia's Hutson Mason is focused on improving his mechanics and footwork as he approaches his lone season as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback.
- Arkansas' Bret Bielema told reporters on Thursday that he will not waver on his opinion that slowing down college offenses will improve player safety.
- Butch Jones says continuity is extremely valuable as his Tennessee program prepares to open spring practice.
- Ole Miss' Deterrian – formerly D.T. – Shackelford hopes to make the most of his his rare sixth season of NCAA eligibility.
- The Advocate's Scott Rabalais writes that LSU's new quarterbacks will bring a Johnny Manziel-like quality to the Tigers' offense that didn't exist when Zach Mettenberger was under center.
- Texas A&M's Manziel has agreed to an endorsement deal with Nike, by the way.
- Kentucky's new special teams coach Craig Naivar brings a Texas connection to the Wildcats' recruiting efforts.
- Eleven former SEC players were among those listed on the ballot for this year's College Football Hall of Fame class.
- In ranking the most talented rosters in college football for 2014, Athlon found that Alabama, Florida, LSU, Auburn and Georgia all rank in the top 10.
- AL.com's Brandon Marcello examines Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason's potential successors in Auburn's backfield.
- Surgeon Dr. James Andrews has examined former Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio's knee and says it is not in the bad shape several recent reports have claimed.
- Most SEC athletic directors prefer playing an eight-game conference schedule, but the league's presidents will have their say in the decision.
No reason was stated for the dismissal of Miles, an ESPN 300 recruit who signed with the Aggies in February 2013. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin declined to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Miles' dismissal when asked about it Thursday.
"My actions does not reflect my character, I made a mistake and I accept full responsibility and the consequences of my actions, Aggie always," Miles posted via Twitter on Wednesday evening. "I want to issue an apology to Coach Sumlin and the coaching staff, teammates, my family, WHMS for my misjudgment and the mistake I made."
Miles' Twitter account has since been deleted.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound safety did not suit up in a game during his Texas A&M career. He redshirted the 2013 season after missing preseason training camp with a knee injury, but likely would have been a candidate to receive playing time this season with the Aggies needing depth at the position.
In regards to how the news affects the Aggies' secondary, Sumlin said, "He didn't play last year, so we're going to have to try to find somebody to help us."
Miles, a West Mesquite (Texas) High School product, was a U.S. Army All-American coming out of high school and was ranked as the 13th-best safety in the country and the No. 1 safety in Texas in the 2013 recruiting class.
The Aggies began spring practice on Feb. 28, and are hosting their fifth practice of spring drills Thursday.
Here's a quick taste:
• Georgia players are buzzing about how an entirely new set of defensive coaches will give the Bulldogs a fresh start this spring.
• With Auburn's spring practice approaching on March 18, AL.com's Joel Erickson takes a look at the Tigers' quarterback depth chart.
• Quarterback was a subject of discussion at Alabama on Wednesday, too, as Nick Saban said that his staff will be in no hurry to name a starter.
• Florida on Wednesday released the contracts for the three new coaches on Will Muschamp's staff – including a three-year deal for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
• LSU's quarterback competition is front and center, as the Tigers prepare for their first spring practice on Saturday.
• DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan are among the candidates to become Ole Miss' backup quarterback behind Bo Wallace.
• Kentucky announced its ticket distribution plan for the April 26 Blue-White spring game.
• Missouri revealed on Wednesday that five players with eligibility remaining have “decided to graduate and not play football going forward” according to a team spokesman.
• Multiple reports on Wednesday night declared that Texas A&M has dismissed safety Kameron Miles.
• Vanderbilt assistant Vavae Tata will not coach with the Commodores in 2014 after pleading guilty on Wednesday to a February DUI charge. His long-term status with the program remains unclear.
• South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Clemson's Dabo Swinney are united on at least one point -- their relief that college football's rules committee withdrew a controversial 10-second rule designed to slow down college offenses.
• The Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown looks at five questions facing the Tennessee football team as it prepared to open spring practice.
• Bret Bielema covered a variety of subjects in speaking with the media at Arkansas' pro day.
One was to move over to left tackle after spending the previous three years as a right tackle and show NFL personnel he was versatile enough to handle both. The other was to play on the same offensive line with his younger brother, Mike, Texas A&M’s starting center in 2013.
Because he performed all drills last month at the NFL scouting combine, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Matthews did not perform any of the same testing measures on Wednesday but performed several offensive line drills for scouts and NFL player personnel people.
“I thought I did well,” Matthews said afterward. “They put me through a bunch of different stuff and showcase what I'm capable of and that I'm able and I thought it went well."
After the pro day, he met with the St. Louis Rams and said he did some work on the whiteboard, among other things. The son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake has numerous people in his own family to draw advice from in these types of situations.
"It helps a lot,” Matthews said. “It's kind of like I've been training for this process for my whole life. I think we calculated it earlier and I'm the seventh Matthews to go into the NFL. It's really humbling, especially being a part of this family and all the tradition with football that we have and such a great background: I'm truly blessed to be a part of it."
The opportunity to spend 11 out of 13 games starting at left tackle was something Matthews felt was valuable when it came to assessing his NFL future.
"It helped a lot, especially after playing three years of right tackle showing I was capable of going over and playing well on the left side,” Matthews said. “[It showed] how versatile I am and that I'm able and can do anything teams want me to do."
Most projections have Matthews going in the top 10 of the draft and possibly being the first offensive tackle drafted. He wasn’t the only potential first-round pick present at the pro day on Wednesday -- quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans were in attendance too -- but both were simply there to support their other teammates performing and did not work out for scouts or NFL personnel. Both are performing at their own pro day on March 27 at Texas A&M and performed at the NFL combine last month.
Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were present at Texas A&M’s pro day.
Other Aggies performed at the pro day included Nate Askew, defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, cornerback Tramain Jacobs, linebacker Steven Jenkins, receiver Travis Labhart, running back Ben Malena and receiver Derel Walker. Because of their rehabilitation from injuries, tight end Nehemiah Hicks and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. did not perform, and Ennis -- who is recovering from knee surgery -- performed only in the bench press.
Askew had perhaps the most impressive day among Aggies outside the “big three” projected first-rounders. The linebacker, who began his Texas A&M career as a receiver, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and recorded a 38-inch vertical while measuring 6-foot-3 and weighing 241 pounds.
Malena, the Aggies’ leading running back the last two seasons, clocked 4.54 seconds in the 40 while checking in at 5-8 and 194 pounds. He also had the second-most repetitions in the bench press, lifting 225 pounds a total of 22 times.
The coaches who want to go fast frown at the thought of a restrictor plate being placed on their offenses, while a few defensive-minded coaches, namely Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, are concerned that player safety is compromised by increasing the number of plays in a game.
“This is the only game in history of any sport where the college game is longer than the pro game,” Saban said.
Compared to the rest of the country, the SEC wasn’t a league last season that necessarily lived in the fast lane, at least as a whole.
Ole Miss averaged the most offensive plays per game (79.8), but only ranked 21st nationally. Texas Tech was first nationally with an average of 90.3 plays per game.
Not surprisingly, Alabama and Arkansas were at the bottom of the SEC. The Crimson Tide averaged 65.9 plays and the Hogs 64.7 plays.
Auburn, which is renowned for its hurry-up, no-huddle attack under Gus Malzahn, was tied for fifth in the SEC along with Texas A&M with an average of 73.8 plays per game.
In 2012, before to Malzahn’s arrival as head coach, Auburn averaged just 60.5 plays per game, which ranked last among 124 FBS teams.
The Aggies went the other way in Kevin Sumlin’s second season in College Station. They averaged 83.5 plays per game in 2012 and dipped to 73.8 last season, a difference of nearly 10 plays per game.
Here’s a rundown of the entire SEC in the last two seasons in terms of offensive snaps per game:
1. Ole Miss: 79.8
2. Missouri: 75.5
3. Georgia: 74.6
4. Mississippi State: 74.2
5. Auburn: 73.8
6. Texas A&M: 73.8
7. South Carolina: 72.5
8. Vanderbilt: 70.8
9. Florida: 68.9
10. LSU: 67.7
11. Tennessee: 67.7
12. Kentucky: 66.8
13. Alabama: 65.9
14. Arkansas: 64.7
1. Texas A&M: 83.5
2. Ole Miss: 76.2
3. Missouri: 75.7
4. Tennessee: 75.1
5. LSU: 70.8
6. Arkansas: 70.5
7. Vanderbilt: 69.2
8. South Carolina: 69
9. Georgia: 67.8
10. Florida: 67.2
11. Kentucky: 67
12. Mississippi State: 66.8
13. Alabama: 66.3
14. Auburn: 60.5
- After putting on a show at the combine, offensive tackle Greg Robinson didn’t participate in on-field workouts at Auburn’s pro day. He’s still aiming for the No. 1 spot in May’s draft.
- It wasn’t long ago that John Calipari did to Kentucky basketball what Saban did to Alabama football, but at this rate, expect Saban to get back on top before Calipari.
- Spring practice has always been closed to Florida fans, but coach Will Muschamp is changing his policy this year.
- LSU opens practice Friday. Here are six key positions battles to keep an eye on this spring.
- A new deal is imminent for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. It will pay him at least $3 million and include raises for his assistant coaches.
- When Ole Miss opened practice Tuesday, Denzel Nkemdiche was nowhere to be found. He’ll miss the entire spring as part of his punishment for an offseason arrest.
- South Carolina is proving that winning can be contagious throughout the sports program, and Steve Spurrier is at the center of it.
- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says the spring game is good for the fans but worthless for the team. The Aggies won’t have one this year because of stadium renovations.
Sometimes you hit it big with them. Sometimes you swing and miss.
With spring practice cranking up for a handful of SEC schools, we’ve come up with our top-five impact junior college newcomers in the league. These guys are all already on campus and will go through spring practice. They’re listed alphabetically.
Dontavius Blair, OT, Tennessee: With the Vols losing all five starters on their offensive line from last season, they need reinforcements. The 6-foot-8, 313-pound Blair is the odds-on favorite to replace Antonio Richardson at left tackle. Blair was rated as the nation's No. 6 offensive tackle prospect in the ESPN Junior College 50.
C.J. Johnson, DT, Kentucky: The Wildcats lost Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble in the middle of their defensive line, so there’s plenty of opportunity for the 6-3, 295-pound Johnson to show what he can do this spring. Kentucky held on to Johnson despite Miami pushing hard until the very end.
Abu Lamin, DT, South Carolina: The Gamecocks need a run-stuffer in the middle, and the 6-4, 295-pound Lamin fits that bill. He has three years of eligibility remaining and has the kind of burst off the ball and overall athleticism to develop into much more than just a run-stopper for the Gamecocks.
Christian Russell, LB, Ole Miss: The 6-foot, 230-pound Russell is big, fast and physical and has outstanding closing speed. The Rebels signed him with the hope that he could step in for Mike Marry in the middle. Russell was ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 inside linebacker prospect in the country among junior college players.
D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn: The 6-3, 213-pound Williams is the epitome of a big-play receiver. He was rated the top overall junior college prospect in the country regardless of position and has all the physical tools to emerge as Auburn’s No. 1 option in the passing game next season.
A few more to watch:
The Aggies’ biggest names are all expected to be present at the McFerrin Athletic Center -- quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews -- though Manziel and Evans won’t be working out for scouts until March 27.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin is expecting all NFL teams to be represented at Texas A&M’s pro day, which will feature a dozen players.
“Ever since we’ve been here every team shows up, with a couple of different representatives,” Sumlin said. “We had a couple guys who did real well at the combine. Obviously, Mike was here last week and was real pleased with how he did things. I talked to Johnny [on Sunday] night and he’ll be back in town. I think it’s big when you have those types of marquee players [like them] and Jake. It creates opportunities for other players who weren’t at the combine and I think that’s a big deal.”
Other Aggies who will be present and are expected to work out are linebacker Nate Askew, defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, tight end Nehemiah Hicks, defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., cornerback Tramain Jacobs, linebacker Steven Jenkins, receiver Travis Labhart, running back Ben Malena and receiver Derel Walker.
Evans, Manziel and Matthews are all projected first-round picks and the fact that their presence brings plenty of NFL personnel is a positive, Sumlin said. The same has happened in the past with previous high draft picks who came out of Texas A&M.
“I forget how many guys we got that got into [NFL training] camp but it was a large number of guys that at least got an opportunity that maybe they wouldn’t have had if there’s not a Luke Joeckel here, if there’s not those types of guys,” Sumlin said. “It attracted a lot of guys and just about all of those guys got in camp which is, after that, that’s about all you can ask. Can they all make it? No. But it gave them an opportunity and I think that’s the bigger picture than just the three guys that went to the combine.”
Manziel did almost everything except throw at the NFL scouting combine, running a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle. He had a 31½ inch vertical jump, his height was measured at 5-foot-11¾ inches and his weight 207 pounds.
Evans measured at 6-5, 231 and ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and recorded a 37-inch vertical jump. Matthews measured at 6-5, 308, had a 30½ inch vertical and performed the three-cone drill in 7.34 seconds.
The pro day begins at 9:30 a.m. and is closed to the public.
- According to a report, Missouri and coach Gary Pinkel have agreed to a new deal.
- How LSU got its purple and gold colors from Mardi Gras and how the Tiger nickname came about.
- Which Alabama public officials bought Auburn tickets in 2013?.
- Here are three former Auburn players who have the most to prove at Pro Day.
- Georgia coach Mark Richt talks about the recruiting impact new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has on Georgia.
- Texas A&M hit the practice field in pads for the first time this spring.
- South Carolina is showing that "winning is contagious" throughout its sports program.
- Here are five Alabama players who will have to step into big roles for the Crimson Tide in 2014.
- Tennessee has a lot to replace in its defensive front seven in 2014.
- Kentucky's new football recruiting page breaks down the Wildcats' 2015 targets.
With Mike Evans gone, the Aggies are looking for their next star at the position, one that has seen records broken several times in the last few years.
There is a lot of talent among the Texas A&M receivers, but it is mostly unproven and inexperienced talent. With spring football underway, the Aggies coaches have a chance to discuss and dissect the multitude of openings they have at wide receiver.
The most productive returning receiver is veteran Malcome Kennedy. He is the lone returning starter, having hauled in 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Beaty has praised Kennedy's work ethic and leadership before, and Kennedy emerged as a reliable target for Manziel last season.
Now it's about figuring out who the starters will be, which eight receivers will occupy the two-deep and who will separate themselves from the pack. One player most people seem excited to have back in the fold is redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, who sat out most of last season with a knee injury he suffered in the season-opening win over Rice.
"Getting him back healthy is a blessing for us," Beaty said. "The guy’s got unlimited potential. We really needed him back. I look for him to make huge waves for us."
Through two practices so far, coaches say the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Seals-Jones doesn't appear to show any ill effects from knee surgery.
"He looks good to me out there," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. "He's a big target and he's obviously going to bring a whole other element to what we're trying to do. He can stretch the field vertically, and he's very big and physical on the perimeter."
Perhaps the most exciting name to Aggies fans among the receiver group is one of the newest: five-star recruit Speedy Noil. Ranked as the nation's No. 1 athlete prospect in the 2014 ESPN 300, he is already drawing positive reviews from teammates and coaches in his short time on campus.
Beaty called Noil “the best receiver in the country” in the 2014 recruiting class.
“As explosive as anybody I've ever seen,” Beaty said. “Combination of strength, speed and explosiveness. Really smart guy.”
One player who could emerge as an option at outside receiver is redshirt freshman Kyrion Parker. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Parker has several physical gifts.
"This guy is as talented as any receiver I've ever had," Beaty said. "He's got to grow up and mature, and I've watched him do that before my eyes. He's starting to grow into his own. I look for great things from him in the future. He does things that other people can't do. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he's got great hand-eye coordination. He can go get the ball deep. He's a better route runner than Mike [Evans] probably was at this point in his career."
There is also an assortment of receivers who received modest playing time last season at varying levels: LaQuvionte Gonzalez (21 catches, 240 yards), Edward Pope (nine catches, 65 yards) and JaQuay Williams (four catches, 71 yards). Any of the three could be factors this fall.
“LaQuvionte Gonzalez grew up a ton this year,” Beaty said. “You'd like to redshirt a guy like that, but we weren't able to. He was a guy that benefited from it. ... I think you're going to see him do some great things.
“JaQuay Williams, another really good talent that can do a lot of great things and has come a long way from the time he got here at this time last year. Ed Pope, another guy that I'm looking for to step up and compete. He's got to do a better job of putting on weight and getting really serious about this because there are some real guys here now.”
With so many inexperienced receivers and only one real seasoned veteran in Kennedy, head coach Kevin Sumlin said getting all of these players as much work as possible is the most important part of spring for the receiver group.
“Reps, reps, reps,” Sumlin said. “Reps right now are as important as anything.”
When it comes to figuring out which of the above names are going to emerge as prominent players, Beaty said it’s simple to figure out.
“Here's what's going to happen: The serious, committed guys, those guys will rise to the top,” Beaty said. “The ones that are here just kind of messing around, those guys will drop to the bottom. There are just too many good players here now.”
Spring start: March 15
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Succeeding McCarron: The Crimson Tide must find the person who will step into AJ McCarron’s shoes. There are several quarterbacks on campus: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman. The person most have pegged as the favorite, however, won’t be on campus until the summer: Jacob Coker. A transfer from Florida State, Coker is finishing his degree before enrolling at Alabama. But new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get a chance for a long look at the others this spring.
- What’s next for Henry?: Running back Derrick Henry has the fans excited after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance (eight carries, 100 yards), and he brings great size to the position (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). T.J. Yeldon is a returning starter who is more experienced and battle-tested, and there are still other talented backs on the roster, such as Kenyan Drake. But plenty of eyes will be on the sophomore-to-be Henry.
- Replacing Mosley: Linebacker C.J. Mosley was a decorated star and leader, so his presence will be missed. Alabama has plenty of talent in the pipeline; it’s just not tremendously experienced. Watch for Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland.
Spring start: March 16
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Keeping it positive: It’s been rough around Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks closed their season with nine losses in a row; coach Bret Bielema is a focal point in the unpopular NCAA proposal designed to slow down hurry-up offenses; and leading running back Alex Collins served a weeklong suspension last month for unspecified reasons. The Hogs could use some positivity.
- A new DC: The Razorbacks will be working in a new defensive coordinator, Robb Smith. He came over from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the linebackers coach. Smith made a significant impact at his last college stop, Rutgers, where he led the Scarlet Knights' defense to a No. 10 ranking in total defense in 2012.
- Year 2 progress: Making a drastic change in scheme isn’t easy to do, which is what the Razorbacks tried to accomplish in Bielema's debut season. In the second spring in Fayetteville for Bielema, things should come a little more easily as the Razorbacks continue to institute Bielema's brand of power football.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Picking up where they left off: The Tigers put together a memorable, magical 2013, and with eight starters returning on offense, keeping that momentum going is key. Replacing running back Tre Mason and O-lineman Greg Robinson won't be easy, but there is still plenty of talent on offense to aid quarterback Nick Marshall.
- Marshall's progress: Marshall’s ascent last year was impressive, but can he continue it? He’s great with his feet and made some big-time throws last year. As he continues to progress as a passer, it should add another facet to the Tigers’ explosive, up-tempo, multifaceted attack.
- Improving the defense: The Tigers lost five starters from a group that was suspect at times last season. But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a history of improving defenses from Year 1 to Year 2, and it should be interesting to see if he can do that at Auburn.
Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 5
What to watch:
- Jennings next at QB?: Anthony Jennings engineered a memorable, game-winning drive in the regular-season finale against Arkansas, leading the Tigers 99 yards downfield, capped by a 49-yard touchdown pass. His performance in the Outback Bowl was far from impressive, though, as he went 7-for-19 passing for 82 yards and an interception in the Tigers’ win over Iowa. Still, he is considered the favorite to replace Zach Mettenberger. Competing with Jennings is Penn State transfer Rob Bolden and freshmen Hayden Rettig and Brandon Harris.
- Starting over at WR: LSU loses two 1,000-yard receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, plus a senior (Kadron Boone). That’s a lot of production to replace. Travin Dural, who made the game-winning catch against Arkansas, is back, as is Quantavius Leslie and Armand Williams. The Tigers have a host of redshirt freshmen joining the mix (John Diarse, Avery Peterson and Kevin Spears) and bring in several freshmen (Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, D.J. Chark) to compete for playing time. But replacing 72 percent of the 2013 receiving yardage will be challenging.
- Finding safeties: Craig Loston has moved on, and the Tigers don’t have a returning starter at safety. But they do have Jalen Mills, who slid from his cornerback spot to safety to start in the Outback Bowl. Corey Thompson, Ronald Martin and Rickey Jefferson all return, and ESPN 300 recruit Edward Paris Jr. is already on campus and will participate in spring practice.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- All eyes on Prescott: With some strong performances to close out the season in the Egg Bowl and in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, quarterback Dak Prescott certainly played the part of an elite SEC quarterback. He'll enter the season with more national attention after putting together some gutsy performances while pushing through some personal adversity last season after the death of his mother.
- Malone stepping in: Justin Malone was on pace to start at right guard last season, but was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury in his foot in the season opener against Oklahoma State. With Gabe Jackson gone, the Bulldogs need another solid interior lineman to step up, and a healthy 6-foot-7, 320-pound Malone could be that guy.
- Offensive staff shuffle: The Bulldogs added some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, bringing in young quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Utah quarterback. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, though head coach Dan Mullen will continue as the playcaller in games.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 5
What to watch:
- Wallace’s development: Coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Bo Wallace will be helped by having more practice this time around; last year, January shoulder surgery had Wallace rehabilitating most of the offseason, and Freeze believes it affected Wallace's arm strength later in the season. A fresh Wallace going into the spring can only help, and as he’s heading into his senior season, the coaching staff will look for more consistency.
- Status of Nkemdiche and Bryant: Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested last month and suspended. Ole Miss is investigating the situation, but their status remains undecided.
- A healthy Aaron Morris: During the season opener against Vanderbilt, Morris tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The offensive guard was recently granted a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility. Getting Morris back healthy for 2014 is important for the Rebels as he is a key piece to their offensive line.
Spring start: Feb. 28
Spring game: None (final practice is April 5)
What to watch:
- Life after Johnny Manziel: Texas A&M says goodbye to one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and must find his successor. Spring (and fall) practice will be the stage for a three-way battle between senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Only one of those three has started a college game (Joeckel), and he played in just one half last August. Whoever wins the competition will be green, but all three have the ability to run the Aggies’ offense.
- Retooling the defense: The Aggies were pretty awful on defense last season, ranking among the bottom 25 nationally in most defensive statistical categories. They have to get much better on that side of the football if they want to be a real factor in the SEC West race, and that starts in the spring by developing the young front seven and trying to find some answers in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions.
- New left tackle: This spring, the Aggies will have their third different left tackle in as many seasons. Luke Joeckel rode a stellar 2012 season to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Senior Jake Matthews made himself a projected top-10 pick for this year's draft while protecting Manziel last season. This season, Cedric Ogbuehi gets his turn. Ogbuehi has excelled throughout his Texas A&M career on the right side of the offensive line (first at right guard, then at right tackle last season) and is looking to follow in the footsteps of Joeckel and Matthews.
Sumlin Interested To See New QBs
6:00 PM ET Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss 9:15 PM ET Temple Vanderbilt
12:00 PM ET Tennessee-Martin Kentucky 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State Missouri 4:00 PM ET Arkansas Auburn 5:30 PM ET Clemson Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET Wisconsin LSU