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.
- There are mixed opinions on new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but some of his former players believe he’ll do well with the Tide, calling him an ‘offensive guru.’
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who accepted the Bobby Bowden Coach of the Year Award on Sunday night, saw a role model in the former coaching legend.
- More than half the teams in the SEC will be looking to replace their quarterback in 2014, which sets up some great battles beginning this spring.
- Florida is not happy about former coach Urban Meyer turning Tim Tebow into a recruiting tool for Ohio State.
- Johnny Manziel is gone, but Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital says the offense will remain dynamic no matter who the quarterback is.
- Both Alabama coach Nick Saban and Georgia coach Mark Richt want officiating crews to dictate the tempo of games, similar to how they do in the NFL.
- Michael Sam is the one in the headlines, but fellow defensive end Kony Ealy should be Missouri’s next first-round pick.
- When spring practice begins in Knoxville later this week, Tennessee will start the process of replacing its entire offensive line.
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes in each conference. For the full series, click here.
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating uptempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.
You know, the absurd number of injuries the Georgia football team dealt with in 2013 started with the head coach. Mark Richt, who had hip replacement surgery last year, wasn’t in the best of spirits when I visited his office in April. Rehab was tough and he wasn’t moving all that well. He seemed much more upbeat when I talked with him last week.
“I’ve about kicked it,” Richt said, laughing. “I don’t have to run or play on it, so I’ll be OK.”
Like Richt, the Bulldogs are on the mend -- and they do have to run and play on their healing parts. Florida, which also endured an inordinate number of major injuries last year, is likewise hopeful of a rebound.
Those regular SEC East contenders lead off our discussion of important spring injuries. Some teams are getting players back, while others will be missing pieces for their upcoming practices.
Richt aside, the medical omens were evident for both the Bulldogs and Gators. Freshman corner Reggie Wilkerson, who was likely going to be in the rotation for Georgia, tore his ACL in preseason camp. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell then did the same during the Clemson game, celebrating UGA’s first touchdown of the year. It was the most damaging flying butt bump in football history.
Meanwhile, when I visited Gainesville a few days before the Gators’ opener, they announced that vital offensive tackle Chaz Green had torn his ACL. From there, as you know, things spiraled. Georgia finished 8-5, Florida 4-8 and neither flirted with the division crown for which they fought head-to-head the season before.
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Need a little perspective?
The last time a school in this league wasn’t sporting a brand new crystal football in its trophy case, Nick Saban was coaching the Miami Dolphins. Gus Malzahn had just departed the high school coaching ranks, and Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel had yet to take a college snap.
“We all knew it wasn’t going to last forever,” Saban said.
Auburn, though, came agonizingly close to extending the SEC’s national championship streak to eight straight years last season, but didn’t have any answers for Florida State and Jameis Winston in the final minute and 11 seconds of the VIZIO BCS National Championship in Pasadena, Calif.
So for a change, the SEC will be the hunter instead of the hunted in 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff. And much like a year ago, the SEC’s biggest enemy may lie within.
The cannibalistic nature of the league caught up with it last season, even though Auburn survived an early-season loss to LSU to work its way back up the BCS standings and into the national title game.
Alabama and Auburn will both start the 2014 season in the top 10 of the polls, and Georgia and South Carolina could also be somewhere in that vicinity. And let’s not forget that Auburn and Missouri came out of nowhere last season to play for the SEC championship, so there's bound to be another surprise or two.
The league race in 2014 has all the makings of another free-for-all, and with a selection committee now picking the four participants in the College Football Playoff, polls aren’t going to really matter.
The translation: The playoff in the SEC will be weekly, or at least semi-weekly.
“When you have this many good teams, it’s really hard to play well every week,” Saban said. “If you have a game where you don’t play very well, you’re going to have a hard time winning.
“It’s the consistency and performance argument and whether your team has the maturity to prepare week in and week out and be able to play its best football all the time. If you can’t do that in our league, you’re going to get beat and probably more than once.”
While the SEC hasn’t necessarily been known as a quarterback’s league, the quarterback crop a year ago from top to bottom was as good as it’s been in a long time.
Most of those guys are gone, and as many as 10 teams could enter next season with a new starting quarterback.
“We’re all looking for that individual who can lead your football team and be a difference-maker at the quarterback position, and it seemed like every week you were facing one of those guys last season in our league,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Florida’s Jeff Driskel returns from his season-ending leg injury a year ago, and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will shape that offense around Driskel’s strengths in what is clearly a pivotal year for fourth-year coach Will Muschamp.
The Gators are coming off their first losing season since 1979, and if they’re going to be next season’s turnaround story similar to Auburn and Missouri a year ago, they have to find a way to be more explosive offensively. In Muschamp’s three seasons in Gainesville, Florida has yet to finish higher than eighth in the league in scoring offense and 10th in total offense.
There are big shoes to fill all over the league and not just at quarterback.
Replacing Alabama’s “defensive” quarterback, C.J. Mosley, and all the things he did will be a daunting task. The same goes for Dee Ford at Auburn. He was the Tigers’ finisher off the edge and a force down the stretch last season. Missouri loses its two bookend pass-rushers, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, while there’s no way to quantify what Vanderbilt record-setting receiver Jordan Matthews meant to the Commodores the past two seasons.
The only new head-coaching face is Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, who takes over a Commodores program that won nine games each of the past two seasons under James Franklin. The last time that happened was ... never.
Auburn will be trying to do what nobody in the SEC has done in 16 years, and that’s repeat as league champions. Tennessee was the last to do it in 1997 and 1998.
Alabama’s consistency since Saban’s arrival has been well-documented. The Crimson Tide have won 10 or more games each of the past six seasons and 11 or more each of the past three seasons. To the latter, the only other team in the league that can make that claim is South Carolina, which has three straight top-10 finishes nationally to its credit under Steve Spurrier.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done, but we think there’s an SEC championship out there for us,” Spurrier said. “That’s still the goal, and we’re going to keep working toward it.”
With Texas A&M having already kicked off its spring practice last Friday, the 2014 race has begun.
We'll see if there's another streak out there for the SEC.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Johnny Football became Johnny Baseball, at least for a weekend.
Johnny Manziel appeared at Red Sox spring training on Friday night at the team's annual casino charity event to benefit the Red Sox Foundation.
He posed for pictures with a number of players and staff, then showed up the next morning in camp, wearing a Red Sox jersey with the No. 2, the number he wore at Texas A&M, and his name on the back of the jersey.
Manziel has hired LRMR marketing, which represents LeBron James and has a marketing deal with Fenway Sports Management.
LRMR's boss, Maverick Carter, accompanied Manziel to spring training.
Through his representatives, Manziel declined to speak with reporters.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M started spring practice on Friday without two defensive starters.
Sophomore linebacker Darian Claiborne and sophomore defensive tackle Isaiah Golden are continuing to serve their indefinite suspensions after both were arrested on separate charges early Sunday morning.
Texas A&M athletic department spokesman Alan Cannon said on Monday that both were immediately suspended from all athletic activities per department policy. Coach Kevin Sumlin, who made his first public comments on the pair since their arrests, said it is unclear when they will return to practice.
"No timeline," Sumlin said. "Pending investigation and everything else, they're suspended indefinitely."
Golden, 19, faces a marijuana possession charge of less than two ounces; Claiborne was charged with a noise violation. Both were in a car parked in a handicap spot at an apartment complex at the time of their arrests. Both were released Sunday on bond. It was the second arrest in three months for Claiborne, who was charged with marijuana possession in December and subsequently suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Golden appeared in 11 games (six starts) for the Aggies last season. Claiborne, an All-SEC freshman team selection in 2013, appeared in 12 contests (nine starts).
Sumlin expressed concern over the off-field decisions his players made.
"It's a concern," he said. "Every program faces challenges, not just during the offseason, but during the season. I think we do a great job of educating our players, and it's an ongoing process.
The Aggies scored a commitment from 2015 offensive tackle Connor Lanfear, previously a Texas commitment, on Friday. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound junior from Buda (Texas) Hays Consolidated was making an unofficial visit to College Station.
The three-star prospect, who also had offers from Florida State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Miami, is the ninth commitment in Texas A&M's 2015 class.
"A&M really fits my personality," Lanfear said. "I mean, they have horses 500 yards from Kyle Field. That’s me. I grew up in the middle of a pasture. A&M is country and folks are up front and friendly out there."
Lanfear is the third player this year who committed to Texas A&M after being previously committed to Texas. In January, senior outside linebacker and ESPN 300 prospect Otaro Alaka and senior defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson both flipped from Texas to Texas A&M. Henderson enrolled in classes at Texas A&M in mid-January and Alaka signed a letter of intent with the Aggies on Feb. 5.
The Aggies now have two offensive tackles in their 2015 recruiting class. Lanfear joins ESPN Junior 300 prospect Trevor Elbert. Lanfear said the Aggies' membership in the SEC was a big factor in his decision.
"Texas A&M being in the SEC -- that’s a very big pull to me," Lanfear said. "It’s playing against the best of the best. I heard something like more than half the players that declared early for the draft came out of the SEC. That’s a large pull for me."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M enjoyed two years of one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and 2013 Heisman finalist Johnny Manziel. Today, as the Aggies open up spring football practice, life after Johnny Football officially begins.
Avid A&M fans know the main candidates for the starting quarterback job by now: senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and early enrollee freshman Kyle Allen. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital is charged with grooming Manziel's successor, and he has history working with talented quarterbacks.
The 28-year-old Spavital said all three will have a chance to win the starting job.
“Everybody's going to get a fair shot,” Spavital said. “I think competition brings out the best in everybody. I can tell you that the [quarterback meeting] room is not very comfortable right now, but that's what I want. They all want that starting job. Let's see who wants it the most."
“[Joeckel] plays within the system and he understands what needs to be accomplished,” Spavital said. “That's the reason why he started vs. Rice, because the kid doesn't mess up very often."
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Joeckel, the twin brother of current Jacksonville Jaguar offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, has been working in the Aggies’ offense longer than any quarterback on the roster. Last season, Matt Joeckel was 22-of-37 passing for 293 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in four appearances.
"Matt's the most experienced guy out of all of them in terms of running this offense,” Spavital said. “I was very pleased with how he handled himself. He plays to his strengths. He knows his limitations; he's not the most mobile quarterback, but he understands that. He's not going to try to make Johnny Manziel plays out there, he's going to go out there and try to make Matt Joeckel plays.”
Hill also received playing time last season and competed with Joeckel throughout training for the backup job. A product of high school football power Southlake Carroll, Hill is who some fans might handicap as the favorite based on the fact that he’s a dual-threat who has playing experience and plenty of potential.
During the Aggies' Chick-Fil-A Bowl preparation in December, the 6-1, 215-pound Hill earned some valuable practice time.
“The bowl prep was good for [Hill], it really was,” Spavital said. “Johnny was gone on those award shows and everything so it gave him the opportunity to rep the offense and run with the [first team] a couple times and try to get used to them.
“Kenny has come a long way. You can tell he was raised in a spread, no-huddle system. That comes pretty much second nature to him. He's starting to understand the offense, he's good at the communication and the operation part of it, which is a big deal. Going into Year 2 he can focus on the execution of it, where it is more situational stuff that he needs to keep getting better at it. He's smart enough and he has been around it enough that he can keep learning from his mistakes and moving on."
In five games Hill was 16-of-22 passing for 183 yards and a touchdown. Even though his time was mostly mop-up duty, getting him on the field was important, Spavital said, in case he winds up being the starter this fall.
“If you walk out into Kyle Field, you understand how intimidating that can be,” Spavital said. “There's a lot of eyes on you. No matter who the opponent is, there are going to be some nerves. We did the same thing with [center] Mike Matthews, just to get him acclimated, get him trained, get him traveling, let him see venues and crowds and environments that he's going to be a part of. I thought that was very important to get [Hill] some playing time just so he we won't throw him out there and say 'Hey, go win a game' next year."
Allen is the wild card. Ranked as the No. 1 pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, he has the physical tools required. As the No. 35 overall player in the ESPN 300, the four-star prospect comes to Aggieland with high expectations.
“Kyle was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country because of his playmaking ability,” Spavital said. “He has a very strong arm, he has a quick release, he's a bigger kid, about 6-3, 200 pounds. He's big in stature and he has a hell of an arm. From a coaching standpoint and how we handle it, you can look at that and there's a lot of good quarterbacks out there that can throw a ball and they can make a highlight tape look good. But when you talk to the kid, he's a very intelligent kid and I liked his confidence and the way he carried himself. That was what separated him from everybody else.”
Allen enrolled at Texas A&M in January. Though his lack of experience is a disadvantage, enrolling early affords him a real chance to compete. He sat in meetings with the coaches and began learning the offense during the staff’s installation.
"That's huge,” Spavital said. “Just him being here now, he can compete. We're not going to announce a starter until fall, about two weeks or a week-and-a-half before the game. It's going to give him an opportunity to go through our installation four times and play some live scrimmages in the spring and get acclimated to the speed and then also have a good summer and go into fall camp.”
It should be a compelling race to watch unfold.
“You can sense the competition,” Spavital said. “We try to keep it as laid back as possible but you can sense that everybody's wanting that starting job. I like it.”
When the Sealy (Texas) High School product announced he was headed to Aggieland on Dec. 11, 2012, he was ranked No. 1 nationally at his position and was considered the top overall prospect in the state at that moment.
When he arrived in College Station, Texas, Seals-Jones naturally came with high expectations and early on it appeared he might deliver on them sooner rather than later. In his first collegiate game, he caught a 71-yard touchdown and finished with three receptions for 84 yards in a win over Rice.
The Aggies didn’t get a chance to see what the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver had in store next because of a knee injury suffered in that game. He missed the following game and played briefly against Alabama before opting for season-ending surgery on the knee.
But this spring and later this season, look for Seals-Jones to deliver the goods.
He has a solid combination of size and speed and he’ll likely be a matchup problem for opposing defenses. The Aggies worked him out mostly as an inside receiver during preseason training camp last August, but he also received work as an outside receiver and is versatile enough to play both positions if necessary.
Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty is excited about what’s in store for Seals-Jones.
“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.”
He has the kind of size that A&M’s best receiver last season -- Mike Evans -- has. If Seals-Jones can develop his skills as a receiver at a fast pace, he could be on track to be a real star. With three starting receivers from the 2013 team gone, there are catches and yards to be had.
If he has the kind of spring that Beaty is hoping for, look for Seals-Jones to claim a lot of them.
What’s new: The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator (Jake Spavital, previously A&M's quarterbacks coach) and a new secondary coach (Terry Joseph, previously at Nebraska and replacing departed secondary coach Marcel Yates, who is now at Boise State). Aside from that, the coaching staff stayed stable and most of the newness will come on the field, as the Aggies face life post-Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews.
New faces: Texas A&M had seven recruits who enrolled in January and who will be available for spring football: quarterback Kyle Allen, junior college offensive linemen Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy, offensive lineman J.J. Gustafson, defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson, receiver Speedy Noil and junior college receiver Joshua Reynolds.
Also, outside linebacker A.J. Hilliard -- a transfer from TCU -- will go through his second spring in Aggieland, but 2014 will be the first year he is eligible to play for A&M after sitting out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Question marks: Some of the biggest question marks going into spring practice are related to off-the-field issues. Head coach Kevin Sumlin hasn't publicly commented on defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and Claiborne, both of whom were arrested over the weekend on separate charges. Athletics department policy calls for them to be suspended immediately and indefinitely while things are sorted out, but how much time will they miss this spring? As for on the field, most of the questions exist on a defense that was last in the SEC in points allowed, yards allowed, rushing and red zone efficiency last season. Will the young defensive line show improvement? Will the secondary play, specifically from the safeties, get better? Can two new faces at linebacker help the cause?
Key battle: The main one everyone will watch is at quarterback, where senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and Allen will square off. At right tackle, expect the junior college transfers, Eluemunor and Gennesy, to compete for the starting job initially. There are receiver positions up for grabs and a host of candidates. There's a spot at strongside linebacker up for grabs as well.
Breaking out: With Mike Evans gone, there are a lot of catches and yards to be had. Only one starter returns at receiver (Malcome Kennedy), but look for one of the young up-and-comers to break out. That guy could be Ricky Seals-Jones, who missed most of last season with a knee injury that he suffered in the season opener against Rice. Seals-Jones is big (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), fast and can be a matchup problem wherever the Aggies put him. Also keep an eye at running back for potential breakout players. The team's two leading rushers the last two seasons -- Manziel and running back Ben Malena -- are gone, so someone has to get those carries. Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams will get the chance to prove their worth, and someone will emerge as the No. 1 back on the depth chart.
Don’t forget about: Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris. For much of last season, you could say Everett was the Aggies' best and most versatile defensive player, flip-flopping from cornerback to safety and vice versa. His versatility gives the Aggies options in the secondary. Harris showed significant improvement last season as a sophomore over his true freshman season in 2012, when he started right out of the gate. If those two remain at corner, their veteran presence will provide some stability in the defensive backfield, and both have shown the ability to be playmakers.
All eyes on: The coordinators. Mark Snyder had a strong first season as the Aggies' defensive coordinator in 2012, but last season's defensive performance had Aggies frustrated. Everyone, including Snyder and his staff, is looking for significant improvement from a group that will be a year older after having a dozen freshmen on the defensive two-deep depth chart at times last season. On offense, Spavital takes over as the play-caller, a duty he assumed before the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. He'll call the plays straight from the sideline and, as the quarterbacks coach, should have a symbiotic relationship with Manziel's successor. It will be interesting to see what wrinkles are added to the offense and what it transforms to under the 28-year-old's watch.
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