Texas A&M Aggies: Jake Spavital
The question of whether quarterback Johnny Manziel will play on Saturday is one that remains unanswered, but the Aggies have been through this type of uncertainty once already this season.
Manziel, who suffered an apparent right shoulder injury in last week's game against Auburn, is receiving treatment and rehabilitating daily in hopes of starting this Saturday when the Aggies host Vanderbilt. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin called Manziel's status "hopeful" a couple times this week but has offered little more than that.
The Aggies had uncertainty before their season opener against Rice as the school, the team and Manziel awaited the results of an NCAA investigation into an autograph-signing controversy surrounding the Heisman Trophy winner. The team allowed both junior Matt Joeckel and freshman Kenny Hill to compete for the backup job. The announcement of a half-game suspension was delivered three days before the game. Later that week, the Aggies tabbed Joeckel as the starter for the game, and he played a solid first half against Rice.
Both have seen action this season and when Manziel exited the game at the 14:36 mark in the fourth quarter of the Aggies' 45-41 loss to the Tigers, it was Joeckel who entered in his place. Joeckel was 1-of-3 passing for 12 yards in his brief appearance before Manziel returned with 9:06 remaining.
"Matt was called and has been in the fire before," Sumlin said. "We put him in on a third down situation [Auburn] territory. Kenny was chomping at the bit to go, and our practice rotation will change a little bit depending on what Johnny can or can't do as far as practice goes [this week]."
When asked earlier this week whether he would consider playing Manziel on Saturday even if he didn't practice throughout the week, Sumlin said "We'll see."
No matter what Manziel's status turns out to be, the Aggies will have a solid plan. Should Joeckel get the nod, he's started a game before, and the Aggies are in the friendly confines of Kyle Field on Saturday so that helps. He has appeared in three games this season, completed 19-of-31 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown.
Should Hill happen to be pressed into action, he too has played in some live action. He made his debut in Week 2 against Sam Houston State, led a touchdown drive on his first possession and is 6-of-11 passing for 83 yards in his two appearances this season.
"I was very pleased with them," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said earlier this month when asked about his two backup quarterbacks. "I thought Joeckel earned the right to get in there and compete, and he started the Rice game. I thought he did a great job moving the ball. And then Kenny coming in during the Sam Houston State game and throwing a touchdown and moving the ball, they both still have a long ways to go ... but I've got to be pleased with how they performed."
Neither necessarily brings the unique skill set to the table that Manziel does, but teammates and coaches alike say they're confident in whomever calls the signals come Saturday.
"We have great backups in Matt and Kenny," senior receiver Travis Labhart said. "I am comfortable with those other guys, and I know the other receivers are. But obviously you want Johnny back there because of who he is."
The talk centered on his offseason. Or the NCAA investigation into an autograph controversy in which he was involved. Or hand gestures he made to opponents and a flag he drew for unsportsmanlike conduct against Rice.
Through five games, Manziel is No. 1 in the SEC in completions (140), passing yards (1,489), passing touchdowns (14) and completion percentage (71.4 percent). His touchdown-to-interception ratio (14-to-4) is excellent, as is his yards per attempt (10.6). And yes, he can still run the football.
In leading the Aggies to a 4-1 record, it'd be hard to ask for much more from Manziel.
"[I've seen] more confidence, more excitement," Texas A&M right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "He's gotten a lot better since last year. He trusts his arm more, so that's good. You can tell he's a great overall player."
Manziel's on-field play has been good enough to keep him in the thick of the Heisman Trophy discussion, despite the fact that Texas A&M lost to Alabama on Sept. 14. Manziel threw for 464 yards and ran for 98 against the Crimson Tide. It also didn't hurt that wiedout Mike Evans had a career day and has been one of the nation's best receivers all season.
But this is not a carbon copy of the 2012 edition of Manziel. He has shown more patience in the pocket, leading to fewer scrambles, without taking away his effectiveness as a runner.
Through the first five games last season, Manziel carried the ball 72 times and had double-digit carries in four of the contests. This year through five games, he has just 48 carries and has 10 or more carries in a game just twice so far.
His yards-per-carry average is similar (6.88 through five games last season, 6.54 so far this season), but he has been perhaps just as effective or more so carrying the football. Manziel has significantly improved on third-down rushes, with 70 percent of his third-down carries resulting in first downs. Last season through five games, only 45.5 percent of his third-down carries wound up as conversions.
He has also reduced the number of rushes that result in zero or negative yardage. Only seven carries (14.6 percent) have netted that type of result this year, compared to 21 carries (29.2 percent) that went for zero or negative yards in his first five games last year.
"I think he’s done a better job of seeing the field and not bailing right away as he did a year ago," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "And when he ran, he’s used pretty good judgment in getting out of bounds and sliding, which he didn't do last year, which we begged him to slide. He’s probably slid more in the first five games than he slid all of last year, which is another sign of growing up. He’s protecting the football and not being reckless."
Manziel's progress is a result of his work, improved maturity and a better understanding in his second year operating the Aggies offense.
"He's more comfortable with what's going on. He's repped it so many times, he knows where the players are going to be," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "We put an emphasis on him throughout the spring to stay more in the pocket and get to his third and fourth progressions. ... He made some great scrambles (this season). You never want to handcuff him with that, but we can help him out and be more of a threat if he can sit in that pocket longer and throw some balls downfield for completions instead of always reverting to run."
His teammates have noticed his improved patience as well.
"We watched film and this past game he was sitting back there waiting and he could have easily ran, but he was trying to find somebody to get open downfield," receiver Derel Walker said. "I would say he's trying to become more of a pocket quarterback to show everyone that he can do that job and still be able to scramble. That's very important."
Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney noted that there were no designed run plays for Manziel in the game plan against Arkansas last week. But that doesn't mean he's going to refrain from running at all -- Manziel still carried the ball nine times for 59 yards.
Sumlin said Manziel has also been given more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage and has handled that part of it well, too.
"He’s got some parameters, [but] he’s been able to get us into some good plays," Sumlin said. "What it is, is keeping us out of horrendous plays, negative yardage plays. And I know he understands that a lot more this year in year two than in year one, and he should.”
And even as he endured the scrutiny earlier in the year, Manziel's play remained at a high level. That's something that has impressed Spavital and just about everyone else in Aggieland.
"You've got to commend him for it," Spavital said. "I don't think anybody that has ever played the college football game has been through that much scrutiny and pressure. I think he's lived up to the expectations and he just enjoys going out there and playing."
With the Crimson Tide coming to Kyle Field for a rematch with the Aggies, anticipation has built throughout the offseason. The Tide are again No. 1, defending their BCS championship from a year ago and the Aggies still have their linchpin, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made his most compelling case for the trophy that afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
As the heavily hyped clash approaches, let's look back at some of the keys to last year's game and how they might affect the rematch.
1. Credit to the Texas A&M defense
When dissecting Texas A&M's upset of Alabama last season, many cite the Aggies' offensive explosion en route to a 20-0 first-quarter lead as one of the most difficult things for Alabama to deal with. And while the Aggies used creative playcalling and personnel packages, their fast pace and precision execution to score three touchdowns on their first three drives, the Aggies' defensive effort had as much -- or more -- to do with their ability to take that kind of commanding lead.
The Crimson Tide's next offensive drive started on a much better note for Alabama, with Lacy gaining 23 yards on his first two carries. But everything halted as the Aggies created a turnover when quarterback AJ McCarron tried to find Kenny Bell in the middle of the field. As a McCarron pass hit Bell in the chest, safety Howard Matthews delivered a hard, clean hit to Bell, who dropped the pass. Porter was there to intercept the pass, and that set up the A&M offense with great field position after a 16-yard return to the Alabama 41.
One of the key players throughout the day for the Aggies' defense was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. A former defensive end who moved to defensive tackle at the start of the 2012 season despite lacking what would be considered "SEC size" for a tackle, Nealy played an integral role in the Aggies' run defense. Evidence of that was on display at the start of the Crimson Tide's third drive of the game.
On the first play of the drive, Alabama handed off to T.J. Yeldon on the left side and the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Nealy, who lined up at nose tackle on that play and for much of the day, used his quickness to beat center Barrett Jones and tackled Yeldon for a loss of 4 yards. The Crimson Tide went three-and-out on that drive as well as the Aggies forced McCarron's hand with a safety blitz and Matthews got into the backfield untouched, forcing an incomplete pass. The defensive effort by the Aggies forced McCarron to start the game 1-of-5 passing for 5 yards.
And even though the Tide were able to gather their bearings and make a strong comeback with some big plays on offense, the Aggies still found ways to make plays on defense. Matthews plugged a gap on third-and-2 when Yeldon tried to cut back for first-down yardage, holding the Crimson Tide to a third-quarter field goal. Safety Steven Terrell stripped Yeldon in the fourth quarter on the play after a 50-yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper. And of course, cornerback Deshazor Everett picked off McCarron on the Tide's final offensive play with 1:36 remaining.
The drawback for Texas A&M in the rematch is that many of the above names are gone. Nealy, Porter, Terrell and other key players -- such as defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Jonathan Stewart -- have graduated. They've been replaced by younger, more inexperienced players who have taken their lumps in the first two games. The Aggies also haven't had their full complement of defensive players because several served suspensions in the first two games. Saturday will be the first opportunity for all of their key guys to play together this season.
Lacy is gone for the Tide, as are several offensive linemen. The Tide struggled in that area in their season-opening win against Virginia Tech. So there will be adjustments on both sides with the differences in personnel.
2. Finding the "Y"
Manziel went to receiver Ryan Swope, the "Y" receiver who lines up in the slot on the right side of the offensive formation, early and often against the Crimson Tide. Early in the game the passes were of the short, quick variety, hitch routes that gained incremental yardage, almost like running plays.
Swope graduated as well, but look for the guy who made the catch on the play after Swope's 42-yard reception -- Malcome Kennedy -- to be a factor. Kennedy caught a 24-yard touchdown pass on the next play and having experience in a game like that can only help him this Saturday. The question is, can Kennedy bring the kind of consistency that Swope did in catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Alabama?
And should he be healthy for the game, 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones could be a factor at that position as well. Seals-Jones missed the Sam Houston State game last Saturday with a knee injury.
3. McCarron can scramble, too
While Manziel is known for his scrambling, McCarron showed he has good mobility as well.
McCarron isn't nearly as fleet of foot, but he did show the ability to escape pressure and make quality throws. On two instances in the Crimson Tide's first scoring drive, he evaded the Aggies' pass rush and found Cooper for a first-down completion.
In the second half, McCarron scrambled and tried to find Cooper. He avoided an interception from Everett (who was ruled out of bounds on the catch), but nevertheless, scrambling is a tool McCarron can use if the Aggies dial up extra pressure Saturday.
4. Defending Manziel on the ground
But the Tide did a much better job containing Manziel in the final two quarters. In the second half, he finished with 10 rushing yards on nine attempts.
This season, Manziel is making an effort to improve as a pocket passer without taking away his playmaking ability. The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator and playcaller (Clarence McKinney) and a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital). It will be interesting to see how much running Manziel does Saturday and how Alabama handles it.
5. Big plays in the Alabama passing game
Cooper, now a sophomore for the Tide, had a huge game in last year's matchup, catching six passes for 136 yards.
He had a catch of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown reception, both in the fourth quarter. The first came on an out-and-up, when he beat Everett one on one. The next one came when the Aggies sent Everett on a cornerback blitz and Cooper beat Matthews deep for a touchdown.
While he showed plenty of his skills, it wasn't a clean or particularly memorable performance. Head coach Kevin Sumlin said he is probably partially to blame -- and his quarterback agreed -- given the restriction against scrambling that Sumlin places on him in practice.
But after Manziel serves his two-quarter suspension and takes the field Saturday against Rice, the shackles will be off. No more scramble restrictions -- Johnny Football will be allowed to let it rip with his arm and his feet again.
That's not just good news for Manziel -- it's good news for the Aggies as well. While this offseason included much work by Manziel on becoming a better pocket passer, he's still going to be who he is. It's not far-fetched to think that because of his increased grasp on the Aggies' offense in his second year in the system, his passing totals will increase and rushing totals will decrease. It's an area he showed progress during the second half of the 2012 season. But the coaches don't want to take away what made him great last year.
"Johnny wants to be a better pocket passer," Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said this spring. "You can see him progress as the year went on, and he's going to keep getting better at it. The main thing is you don't want to handcuff him and you want Johnny to be Johnny. His ability to scramble and make plays and get out of the pocket is the reason he won the Heisman. You want to just keep working on the little things and get him to be a better passer, but at the same time, you just want that kid to keep balling the way he is."
His scrambling ability carried tremendous value for the Aggies last season. Many know the basics of his 2012 campaign: 5,116 total offensive yards and an SEC-record 47 total touchdowns. He led the SEC in rushing yards (1,410) and led the Aggies to victory at eventual BCS champion Alabama.
But dive deeper into the numbers and it becomes even more evident what he meant to the Aggies' 11-2 season, which vaulted them to their best postseason ranking (No. 5) since 1956.
The Aggies did much of their best work last year on third downs. They were tied for No. 1 in college football with Marshall for the best third-down conversion rate last season, turning 54.6 percent of their third-down situations into first downs. Third down is also when Manziel shined.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Manziel was the best in the country at converting third downs via the pass, doing so 51.6 percent of the time (the FBS average was 37.3 percent). Of course, his scrambling ability was also critical on third down as he ran for 28 first downs, 19 of which came with 5 yards or more to go. That also was best in the country, as no other quarterback had more than 12 first-down runs on third-and-5 or longer.
That scrambling ability accounted for a 857 rushing yards, 60.7 percent of his season total. If you combined the rushing yards on scrambles of Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Ohio State's Braxton Miller from 2012, it still comes up 30 yards short of Manziel alone. Fifteen of his scrambles gained at least 20 yards, which was also the best in the SEC.
The players who go up against Manziel in practice know how hard it is just to chase the redshirt sophomore.
"Even getting within 5 yards of him is hard," sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said on Tuesday.
Manziel also had one of best offensive lines in the country in front of him and will have a strong front five again, anchored by offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi.
Manziel didn't just run when he scrambled, either. Of his 26 touchdown passes last season, eight came on scrambles. He also threw for 26 first downs on scrambles, 14 of which came on third down.
In total, according to ESPN Stats & Info, 20 percent of Texas A&M's offensive yards, 24 percent of the Aggies' touchdowns, 25 percent of their plays of 20 or more yards and 18 percent of their first downs came when Manziel scrambled. They gained 1,438 of their 7,261 offensive yards when he scrambled. Take those yards away and the Aggies dip from second nationally in total yards to 30th.
Manziel's progress as a pocket passer this offseason has been lauded by the coaching staff. Spavital said earlier this month that Manziel during camp has "been staying in the pocket, going through his progressions, and I think it's making him a better pocket passer."
But the Aggies coaches won't be upset if he still decides to break that pocket and make magic happen.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The saga involving Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and the NCAA investigation into allegations that he profited from signing autographs saw a resolution Wednesday, as it was determined that Manziel will be suspended for the first half of the Aggies' season opener against Rice on Saturday.
While the investigation was ongoing, many turned their attention to the quarterbacks on the roster not wearing No. 2 on the chance that one of them might have to play. With Manziel missing a half, the Aggies will begin Saturday's showdown against the Owls with either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill calling the signals.
Both were engaged in a three-way backup quarterback competition during preseason training camp, one that included redshirt freshman Matt Davis, who last week decided to transfer to Tyler (Texas) Junior College, leaving just two contenders. On Tuesday, coach Kevin Sumlin did not name a backup and said the battle between the two is an "ongoing competition."
What does each player bring to the table?
Joeckel's advantage is experience. Though he doesn't have much game experience -- appearing in five games and attempting 11 passes last season -- it's still more than Hill, and Joeckel has already spent a season working in the Aggies' offense, serving as the No. 3 quarterback last season. He's more of a traditional pocket passer.
"He's a big kid [6-foot-4, 234 pounds] but not the most mobile guy, so you'd probably call the game a little differently than with Johnny in the game than him," Aggies quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said earlier this month.
The 6-1, 215-pound Hill, who has no collegiate experience, comes from a Texas high school powerhouse, Southlake Carroll, known for producing Division I quarterbacks. Chase Daniel, Greg McElroy, Kyle Padron and David Piland are among those who signed with Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the past decade.
"He's talented," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. "He was the Gatorade Player of the [Year in the] state. He's a dual-threat guy. With what they did at Southlake Carroll -- a lot of the Texas high schools are going to a similar offense to what we're running. I think it prepares guys like him to play at this level. The operation of it is real similar to what he's already done."
Spavital has made sure to give Hill plenty of practice repetitions during camp to help him grasp the offense. Teammates say both have competed well in training camp.
"Both of those guys have really done great things when they've had their opportunities during practice," senior running back Ben Malena said. "Both of those guys are really smart guys, and they've both had their opportunities to make plays and they have. It's great competition at the backup quarterback spot."
Sophomore center Mike Matthews echoes that sentiment.
"As [Hill has] progressed, he's really proven to me that he's a real good quarterback," Matthews said. "He can move around the pocket. If it comes down to it, he can scramble and run with the ball, and he's also been throwing the ball pretty well. Matt, he's an older guy, 6-5, more of a pocket passer, so I'm confident with both of them."
Sumlin said he has tried to rotate each quarterback with the first team in certain instances during training camp. It's something he has done in the past simply so his backup quarterbacks can build a camaraderie with the first unit should they ever be pressed into duty.
Hill and Joeckel's teammates are confident they'll play well no matter who is calling the signals.
"The backup quarterbacks are putting in the time and effort," Matthews said. "I believe in them. Matt and Kenny, they come in every day and they put the work in, so I'm confident in the quarterbacks that we have. So if it turns out that [Manziel] isn't able to play, I'll be confident in our backup quarterback."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Just like the quarterback for whom he became a favorite target, Mike Evans was a relative unknown outside of Aggieland at this time a year ago.
A redshirt freshman without much organized football under his belt -- he played just a year of varsity football at Ball High in Galveston, Texas -- Evans became much more well known to the college football world as Johnny Manziel's favorite target in 2012.
This spring, Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital used a unique term to describe what Evans -- who led the Aggies with 82 receptions and 1,105 receiving yards in 2012 -- became to the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.
"I call him his 'Panic guy,' " Spavital said. "When you're in a panic, you turn and you find Mike Evans and throw it at him. And he did a lot of that last year."
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Evans won't surprise anybody this season, as opponents are now well aware of what he can do. Whether it was making a clutch catch to help the Aggies pull out a comeback win at Ole Miss, using his physicality to stiff-arm his way past smaller defensive backs or simply becoming a consistent option for Manziel, the sophomore receiver is looking to build off a strong first season.
And yes, he can get better, according to his coaches. That's not an ideal thought for opposing secondaries.
"Probably the biggest thing for himself [that he can improve] is route running," receivers coach David Beaty said. "Just the art of route running and understanding how to control that big ole body and play with bent knees, his posture being a little bit lower, really being able to use that tool, playing lower and creating more explosiveness."
Beaty would like to see Evans improve near the goal line as well.
"With his 6-5 frame, we need more production from him down by the red zone," Beaty said. "He should be a human red-zone highlight film himself. We need him to step up and do that, along with the rest of the guys -- it's not just going to be Mike. But we've got to be able to throw it up to that big sucker and have him come down with it."
Aside from Evans, there are openings for three starters at receiver because of graduation.
The heir apparent to Ryan Swope, who was the team's second-leading receiver last year and leader in touchdown receptions, is junior Malcome Kennedy.
Perhaps best known for making the touchdown catch that gave the Aggies their final points in a 29-21 upset win at No. 1 Alabama, Kennedy is the new starter at Swope's old 'Y' receiver position, which is essentially the slot receiver to the right side of the offensive formation. Kennedy's goals are clear.
"Being a playmaker," he said. "I made a few plays last year, but people only saw a few of them: the Alabama play and a few plays against Missouri. I'm ready to be a go-to guy. The position that I play, the 'Y' for Texas A&M, that's the go-to man."
Senior Derel Walker, who had an impressive spring game, has been working as the first-team outside receiver opposite Evans during preseason training camp and could be the starter there. Beaty called Walker the "brightest surprise" of his group since spring. At the other slot position opposite Kennedy, sophomore Sabian Holmes has received much of the first-team work in camp after playing part time last season as a true freshman.
And the six freshmen who were part of the Aggies' top-10 recruiting class that signed in February are making their presence felt as well. One in particular that has caught the eye of almost everyone during camp is former Sealy (Texas) High School standout Ricky Seals-Jones.
If there's anyone on the Aggies roster that could compare to Evans in body type it's Seals-Jones, whom Evans called "bigger" than him earlier this month. At 6-5 and now 240 pounds, Seals-Jones was an ESPN 300 selection who was ranked as the No. 8 receiver in the country coming out of high school.
"The guy's all muscle," strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson said. "This guy is 18 years old and he looks like a grown man. Chest, abs, everywhere there are muscles. I just have to make sure for 70, 80, 90 snaps that he can keep rolling."
Head coach Kevin Sumlin said that Seals-Jones, who has practiced a lot as the 'Y' with the second team, will get plenty of playing time.
"He's got real ability," Sumlin said. "He's very athletic, but he's got to learn the nuances of the position. He's seeing a lot of different blitzes; we're throwing things at him. I think with Malcome in there right now, it's giving us some flexibility that he doesn't have to start right away. We can kind of bring him along, which is good with him. But he's definitely going to have a role in our three and four-wide and maybe even some two-wide package, but he's got real talent and he's working on it.
"He's big and he's fast and he's got real good hands."
LaQuvionte Gonzalez, a quick, versatile weapon out of Cedar Hill, Texas, who was also an ESPN 300 recruit, figures to have a role. So does four-star signee Ja'Quay Williams out of Georgia. And the Aggies figure to use more tight ends in their attack this season with the return of senior Nehemiah Hicks and the addition of 6-foot-7, 270-pound Cameron Clear out of Arizona Western College.
If training camp is any indication, Manziel will have plenty of quality targets in addition to Evans this fall.
While making a stop in one of the seemingly dozens of interview rooms, a reporter surmised that Manziel was tired of talking about his offseason and was simply ready to return to the football field. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, cracked a smile and confirmed that assessment.
"Can't wait," he said. "No more talking off the field. All the talking's done on the field."
Interestingly, the mid-July media extravaganza in Hoover, Ala., is about the last day we've heard Manziel speak publicly, unless you count a handful posts to his Twitter account in the time between media day and the start of Texas A&M's preseason training camp on Aug. 5.
As the college football world has focused on Manziel's eventful offseason -- and most recently, news of an NCAA investigation into allegations that he profited from signing autographs -- Manziel has remained silent as he focuses on the 2013 season.
So, how do you tell the Heisman Trophy winner to do better?
"All you have to do is watch video," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said.
What does the video reveal?
"You saw him progress as a quarterback as the year went on," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "Those first five games or so, he was just freelancing and doing his own thing."
Sumlin has noted several times in the past year that Manziel was a better quarterback in the second half of the season. His grasp of the offense and ability to throw downfield have improved.
The stats support that assessment. In the final six games, Manziel had a better completion percentage (73.4 percent, compared to 63.8 percent in the first seven), more yards per attempt (9.31 vs. 7.95), a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (12-to-3, compared with 14-to-6) and, as a result, a better passer rating (169.5 vs. 144.5 to 169.5).
The area in which he can make serious strides this year is his pocket presence.
"That's what we focused on throughout the spring because we know what Johnny can do when he's outside the pocket, running the ball," Spavital said. "I try not to let him scramble in practice and he gets frustrated at times and you'll see some pretty wild plays out there, but he's been staying in the pocket, going through his progressions, and I think it's making him a better pocket passer."
Sumlin said he has seen Manziel improve in several aspects of his game during the offseason.
"He continued to work at everything. In the classroom, understanding the whole picture, operational procedure, he's a lot better there," Sumlin said. "Mechanically, he's better. He understands some things. It's like playing golf. Once you understand the mechanics, you can kind of correct yourself when things aren't going right. I think he's worked very hard in the offseason to understand the mechanics and, really, the complete offense. I don't think there's one area that he has really concentrated on, I think he has worked on his total game."
The operational procedure that Sumlin speaks of, which simply is his ability to run the offense, is something Spavital noted that Manziel has down solid. Spavital said in the spring that Manziel is now able to get the play signal, operate and spend the rest of the time focusing on what the defense is showing.
In the first year of this Air Raid-style spread offense with its high pace of play, some of the basics were hardest to grasp early on. And that's not just for the quarterback, but all of the offensive players.
"I guarantee you Johnny vs. Florida -- I've never asked him about it -- I guarantee you he went out there and Kliff [Kingsbury] signaled in the play and he made sure the receivers knew what they were doing and made sure the back knew what he was doing and made sure the O-line knew what they were doing and then he just snapped the ball and ran the play," Spavital said. "Well, now, it's second nature to him and you signal the play to him and he just operates it and he can focus on the defense. He can change the play if he needs to and you don't get caught in as many bad plays because he's seen all the bad looks. He's learned his lessons from it. That's the way you get better in this offense; you learn from your mistakes."
Spavital has worked with several quarterbacks who have run this style of offense: Case Keenum at Houston, Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State and Geno Smith at West Virginia. The common thread in all of them, he said, is that the second year running this offense is the year that the quarterback makes a significant step forward because everyone grasps the scheme better.
"It's the year that they go off," Spavital said.
Back at SEC media days, Manziel himself said he wants to be smarter about when he chooses to break the pocket and run.
"There were times where I'd take off running and you've got a guy running down the field on a post that you knew on Monday of the week that that route was going to be open if this coverage was this, this and this. And yet, pressure comes up and you need to step up in the pocket, but then I decide to run," Manziel said. "Maybe the play turns out to be a success, maybe it doesn't, but just making it easier on myself is the bigger thing.
"You can sit there and take a nice easy step, do everything, have your fundamentals and make the throw and let them walk in for a touchdown, or whatever the situation may be. But just continue to get better downfield and seeing the vision [is the key]. All that will come with the more playing time and the more time you're out on the field. I know from the Florida game to Oklahoma, it's a crazy amount of difference."
One thing that the coaches don't want to do, Spavital said, is make Manziel robotic.
"Johnny wants to be a better pocket passer," Spavital said. "You can see him progress as the year went on and he's going to keep getting better at it. The main thing is you don't want to handcuff him and you want Johnny to be Johnny. His ability to scramble and make plays and get out of the pocket is the reason why he won the Heisman. You want to just keep working on the little things and get him to be a better passer, but at the same time you just want that kid to keep balling the way he is."
1. Manziel mania
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So much for losing momentum on the recruiting trail.
Any thoughts Texas A&M fans might have had about the Aggies losing their swagger when it comes to prospects likely had their faith restored on Monday afternoon as ESPN 150 quarterback Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) committed to the Aggies on Monday, A&M's second commitment in as many days.
Allen's commitment comes fewer than 24 hours after the Aggies landed Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson, making for a big-time start to the summer camp season and putting the Aggies at a dozen commitments in the 2014 class.
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One of the most notable stops of the week occurred when Aggies' quarterback coach Jake Spavital stopped by Bossier City (La.) Parkway High School on Tuesday to see 2014 quarterback Brandon Harris.
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Assistant coaches began to hit the road this week and with the majority of the 2014 prospects in Texas undergoing mandatory state-standardized testing this week, it was an opportune time for coaches to get outside of the Lone Star State to see prospects.
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The Allen (Texas) High School quarterback led his team to a Texas Class 5A Division I state championship and has seen several schools begin to pursue him in recruiting. To date, the 2015 prospect has five scholarship offers.
In addition, he's in the middle of a baseball season, with his Allen team sitting in first place in its district on the doorstep of the state playoffs as of Monday. Though an accomplished quarterback, Murray has also been successful on the diamond, hitting .372 with 20 stolen bases this season for the Eagles while manning second base.
It's been quite a year for Murray.
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