Texas A&M Aggies: Jake Spavital

Texas A&M travels to SMU for a nonconference clash on Saturday, which will be the Mustangs’ first game under interim head coach Tom Mason after June Jones resigned from the post on Sept. 8.

Last week, Chris Low took a look at possible candidates that SMU might consider as it searches for its next head coach. Two potential candidates are on the Aggies’ staff: offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and receivers coach/recruiting coordinator David Beaty.

While it’s unclear if either Beaty or Spavital would have interest in the job (or how much interest SMU has in either of them) and there's a long way to go in the coaching search, let’s look at each of their coaching backgrounds and what kind of fit they could potentially be.

David Beaty

Experience: Beaty is in his third year as the Aggies’ receivers coach and second as their recruiting coordinator. He also spent time at Rice as an offensive coordinator (under Todd Graham) and receivers coach and at Kansas as a co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. His roots are in Dallas high schools, though -- he got his coaching start in Garland, Texas, at Naaman Forest High School and coached at four different high schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Pros/cons: Beaty has a reputation as a stellar recruiter. Ask the high school coaches in the Dallas area and they’ll tell you he’s one of the most respected around and he’s a big reason the Aggies have had significant success getting top-flight players out of that fertile area. Having experience at Rice, a private school that plays in a Group of 5 conference, would help at a place like SMU, which falls in that category. The one thing Beaty doesn’t have is extensive experience as a coordinator, though he does have some.

Analysis: SMU hasn’t recruited its own area well and Beaty would fix that in a hurry. He would be a good fit and would be able to utilize his strong relationships with the local coaches.

Jake Spavital

Experience: Spavital is in his second year as the quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M and his first as the sole offensive coordinator for the Aggies. He’s young (29) but has stops at Tulsa (2008), Houston (2009), Oklahoma State (2010) and West Virginia (2011-12), though the first three were as a graduate assistant or quality control coach. He was the quarterbacks coach at West Virginia.

Pros/cons: He has worked with great college quarterbacks (Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel) and has worked under highly-regarded offensive minds (Gus Malzahn, Dana Holgorsen, Kevin Sumlin) and has worked with and maintains a strong relationship with Kliff Kingsbury. He’s highly thought of and the early returns on the job he’s doing as A&M’s offensive coordinator are good. The primary drawback is his youth and inexperience -- he has only been A&M’s offensive coordinator for four games.

Analysis: Sumlin himself said Spavital “no doubt” has qualities of a future head coach but it might serve him best to gain more experience. Texas A&M is on the rise and if the offense continues to roll like it has, other opportunities will come. If Spavital were to end up at SMU, he would likely be able to get the offense on track quickly. He doesn’t have the recruiting reputation that Beaty does but Spavital is considered a good recruiter.

Assessing A&M QBs Hill, Allen

September, 10, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On the first play of Texas A&M’s 73-3 win over Lamar, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital dialed up a deep pass play for his sophomore quarterback, Kenny Hill.

In the second quarter, when true freshman Kyle Allen entered the game for his collegiate debut, Spavital did the same.

The intentions were the same in both instances, even if the results were different: Hill underthrew the pass but connected with Speedy Noil for a 44-yard gain; Allen overthrew his attempt, intended for Jeremy Tabuyo, and it fell incomplete.

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Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Kyle Allen was sharp in his debut, going 12-of-16 for 122 yards with 2 TDs and an INT.
But it was a growth opportunity for both quarterbacks, who battled tooth-and-nail in the offseason for the starting job that Hill won but Allen continues to nip at his heels for.

“It's fun,” Spavital said. “You look at the quarterbacks in that room and say 'Hey, we're going deep the first play of the game.' It kind of brings some excitement in there and know that we're still going to be out there attacking and we're trying to score as many points as we possibly can.”

Hill, who became an overnight star after his record-breaking debut against South Carolina, played well for his second time out. The sophomore from Southlake (Texas) Carroll turned in a solid performance Saturday: 17-of-26 passing, 283 yards and four touchdowns in roughly two quarters of work.

He remains the starter now and for the foreseeable future (coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t the type to rotate quarterbacks) but even though he smashed some of Johnny Manziel’s records in his first start, that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve.

“I thought he was not as accurate with those intermediate-to-deep balls as what he should be, but going into that game, I wanted to kind of break some tendencies and kind of take some shots downfield with it,” Spavital said. “We ended up taking a lot and I thought he did all right with it … It'll change up the rhythm of your offense and I just kind of wanted to see how he'd handle adversity but he'd throw an incompletion and come back and answer with it pretty cleanly [with a completion]. But I definitely think taking shots downfield we need to get some more work on.”

While Hill works on improving his deep ball, Allen must work on decision-making. His first collegiate drive ended in an interception after he scrambled away from pressure and forced a ball into traffic. Still, he finished 12-of-16 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

“We went out that first drive and he executed it pretty cleanly until that third-down-and-2 call,” Spavital said. “We did a play-action pass and he got caught in a bad situation and he just needs to be a little bit smarter with the ball and just chalk up his loss and throw it away. But after that I thought he came out and consistently ran the offense pretty well.”

Sumlin noted that even though the two had a heated competition in camp, the two remain close. He cited Hill’s eagerness to greet Allen after the true freshman threw his first touchdown pass and Allen showing genuine happiness for Hill when he succeeded. Teammates echoed that sentiment, as did Hill.

“We've been cool since the day he walked in here,” Hill said of Allen. “He's a great kid. I love him. You want to see your teammates do well. When he threw that first touchdown pass, I think I was just as happy as he was.”

It’s something Sumlin is happy to see: two talented quarterbacks making each other better and sharing in each other’s success.

“That's genuine,” Sumlin said. “In a situation that we're in, I think that says a lot about the competition, I think it says a lot about the respect for each other's ability and that's why I said they both deserved to play and they're comfortable. Kenny's probably a little more comfortable because he has played more. Kyle got better as the game went on.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- A couple days after Texas A&M named its starting quarterback, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital expanded on the decision to give sophomore Kenny Hill the nod for the Aggies' season opener Aug. 28 at South Carolina.

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Bob Levey/Getty ImagesAs the Aggies' starting QB, sophomore Kenny Hill can now focus on preparing for South Carolina on Aug. 28.
While there were several reasons for Hill's selection, the biggest one was his experience in the Aggies' offense, after having spent a year in the system already. That gave him an advantage over true freshman Kyle Allen, who arrived on campus in January.

"I just kind of went back to my gut feeling and the maturity of [Hill] and being around this system for one year," Spavital said Monday night. "There were a lot of other factors but that was the one that kind of stood out the most to me because he's sat here and watched Johnny for a year and he's going to be put in some situations that he has probably -- hopefully -- seen before and he can get us out of those bad looks."

Hill, a product of Texas high school power Southlake Carroll, has experience running an no-huddle up-tempo spread system dating back to his high school days.

Spavital, 29, admitted the decision was tough because both played at a high level throughout training camp. Hill's opportunity to play in four games last season, compete for a job in the Aggies' 2013 training camp, watching Johnny Manziel operate the offense and traveling to other venues in the SEC were all plusses in Spavital's book.

"The maturity and the checks that he was doing [at the line of scrimmage are what] separate him the most to me right now, I just like where he was at," Spavital said. "He knows when to run the ball and when to get the ball out on the perimeter and have those kids make some plays."

The commonly used cliché of the backup being "one play away" from getting on the field applies in Allen's case, a highly-regarded recruit in the 2014 class who ranked No. 1 nationally among pocket passers. Spavital said Allen continues to prepare as if he would be running with the first team.

The bottom line for Spavital was choosing the player the Aggies believe give them the best chance to beat South Carolina. Playing well at Williams-Brice Stadium in that nationally-televised showcase could set a positive tone for the Aggies' season, one in which many question marks exist on both sides of the ball considering the plethora of young players in key roles.

"That's the direction we went," Spavital said. "We wanted to get the announcement out now so [Hill] could have at least 12 days before he hits the field for South Carolina and everything could die down and he can get settled in place and get some good reps with the ones.

"He's been great. Probably relieved. There's a burden taken off his shoulders. I think he's happy, ready to move forward and pretty anxious on watching South Carolina and seeing what kind of game plan and how we're going to attack them."

Spavital ready for challenge at A&M

August, 13, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Choosing a successor for a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in college football history would be enough to keep most offensive coordinators up late, obsessing over every detail in hopes of making the right decision.

If Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital is stressed out about that task, which is at the top of his to-do list this month, he doesn’t show it. The laid-back 29-year-old has taken everything in stride this offseason, his second at A&M and first as the Aggies’ lone offensive coordinator and playcaller.

Jake Spavital, Johnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAfter working with Johnny Manziel, it's now up to Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, right, to pick his successor.
Overseeing the quarterback battle that will yield Johnny Manziel’s successor seems anything but overwhelming for the budding star assistant. That’s important because keeping Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill on an even keel when one of them makes their first career start on Aug. 28 at South Carolina is a priority.

“When they go out there to South Carolina, they're going to be wide-eyed, and that's tough,” Spavital said. “For a first start, that's a very tough atmosphere to go into.”

Of course, things are a little different in Aggieland now than they were at this time a year ago. Texas A&M’s Bright Football Complex became a fishbowl as national media swarmed in the middle of an NCAA investigation into Manziel. Overseeing the polarizing Manziel was quite an initiation for Spavital.

By season’s end, Spavital was handed play-calling duties for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which the Aggies won 52-48 over Duke, and a new chapter began for the Oklahoma native.

"That was a wild game,” Spavital recalled. “It reminded me back of the Conference USA days when it was just shootouts all the time. It was a very memorable game."

Conference USA is where Spavital got his coaching start. He started in his hometown of Tulsa as an offensive quality control coach for then-Golden Hurricane offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Then he landed a graduate assistant job in Houston, where he studied under Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin. Spavital followed Holgorsen to Oklahoma State, then West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed him to succeed Kliff Kingsbury as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator in 2013.

Sumlin has shown a knack for hiring quality offensive minds. Holgorsen, the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Sumlin in 2008-09, is now the head coach at West Virginia. Kingsbury, who served that dual role from 2010-11 in Houston and in 2012 at Texas A&M, is now Texas Tech's head coach. Spavital appears ready to continue that trend.

He arrived with the experience of working with Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith on his résumé. A close friend of Kingsbury, with whom he crossed paths at Houston, Spavital still talks to Kingsbury daily, and that proved valuable when Spavital tutored Manziel. Now, they continue to exchange offensive ideas, something they’ve done for years.

“I talk with Kliff every day to see if he's doing anything differently,” Spavital said.

This season, Spavital enters without a Manziel-like talent but two gifted quarterbacks, nonetheless. Neither is proven, but both were decorated recruits: Allen as the nation’s top-ranked pocket passer, Hill as a Texas state champion and one-time state player of the year. Before camp began, Spavital sat both down and let them know where they stood.

“I told them [before camp] they're all even right now and we're splitting reps 50-50,” Spavital said. “Each day, we hope to get equal amounts to run with the ones and twos. I got it all planned out; we're going to put them all in the same situations.”

Sumlin, who has a strong history with signal-callers himself, said he’s “pretty hands-on” with quarterbacks. Spavital said Sumlin lets his opinion be known, but he doesn’t micro-manage.

"He's great,” Spavital said. “He lets me go out there and do my thing with the installations and how I'm going to rep the kids. We talk on a daily basis and he gives his opinion on what he thinks. ... We’ll have many discussions by the time we announce a starter, I promise you that.

“It's good just to bounce ideas off of each other and get some advice from him, and he’s pretty good at not stepping on my toes and letting us go out there and see what direction this offense is going to go."

The new NCAA rule allowing coaches to meet with players in the summer allowed Spavital to speed up his installation timetable. By time training camp started, the entire offense was installed, which wouldn’t have been the case previously. Spavital was able to change his practice script accordingly, which allowed for more creativity and evolution of the offense in camp while monitoring Hill and Allen’s progress.

The Aggies will announce their starting quarterback within the next week. No matter who it is, Spavital is confident.

"I think they're both capable of coming in here and doing big things,” he said. “I'm pretty fortunate to have both of these kids. I think they can go and compete for a starting job anywhere across the country. I think they both have the capability to take this offense where it needs to go.”

Camp notes: QB battle continues

August, 11, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M wrapped up its eighth day of training camp on Saturday with a 92-play scrimmage at the Coolidge practice fields, giving the Aggies coaches their first real chance to evaluate their personnel in live situations. The starting quarterback battle between sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen continues with head coach Kevin Sumlin calling it "dead even" on Saturday, minutes after the scrimmage.

In reality, the coaches' video evaluation of that scrimmage and the first nine practices will be significant. This upcoming week will be a huge one in the battle for the starting job. Sumlin typically likes to name a starter roughly two weeks before the season opener and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said at the opening of training camp that Aug. 16-18 would be the dates targeted for naming a starter.

What are the coaches looking for? Several things, but consistency, taking care of the football and production are at the top of the list.

"I just want to see them make some plays, I want to see the offense start clicking," Spavital said. "I want to see the ones who are going to get those first downs that are going to lead into touchdowns. This offense is really heavy off of rhythm and we can't just go out there and three-and-out all the time. I want to see them get into the rhythm of things and make some plays and put us in the best position to succeed."

Special quarterback packages

Spavital noted that the team has practiced special personnel packages with a pair of the Aggies’ young talented receivers getting a turn at quarterback.

"We also have other packages with other guys playing quarterback," Spavital said. "We haven't gotten too detailed into it but Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil [are the guys]."

Both spent plenty of time playing quarterback for their respective high schools, Seals-Jones at Sealy (Texas) High and Noil at New Orleans Edna Karr.

Williams, Mastrogiovanni, stand out

Sumlin said two young players in particular stuck out to him in Saturday’s scrimmage: running back Brandon Williams and linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni.

"Brandon Williams, I thought he had a big day running the ball," Sumlin said. "He's been on a mission all camp. He came in great shape, was very physical, had some good runs and did some really good things.

"Jordan Mastrogiovanni made some plays today on the perimeter and some tackles for losses. I'd say off the top of my head those two guys kind of jumped out to me."

Recruits react to renovations

While Kyle Field continues its redevelopment, the Aggies unveiled new state-of-the-art locker rooms and several other renovations on the first floor of the Bright Football Complex earlier this month. The project, which generated national buzz for the Aggies, has been a hit with recruits as well, several of which visited Aggieland this weekend for the scrimmage.

"It's been great," Sumlin said. "Guys are coming up here and we're touring the facilities and just like when you guys saw it, their reaction is about like yours: 'Wow.'"

A few quick hits:
  • Senior left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi sat out Saturday’s scrimmage for precautionary reasons while dealing with a bruised heel, according to Kevin Sumlin. Ogbuehi missed one mid-week practice and returned the next day, but Sumlin said it started hurting so they decided to allow Ogbuehi to rest and get it healthy. Sumlin does not consider the injury to be serious.
  • Starting cornerback De'Vante Harris is out indefinitely with what Sumlin called a "urinary tract injury." Harris missed the scrimmages and several preceding practices because of the issue. "It was kind of a freak deal the other night and he was admitted to the hospital but got out. I don't know what the prognosis is and how long that's going to be."
  • Though Kyle Field is still undergoing renovation, the grass has been put in place and Sumlin said the team will have three chances to work out in the stadium prior to their home opener on Sept. 6. The team hasn’t been able to work out inside the stadium since last season ended when the Kyle Field redevelopment project began.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M begins preseason training camp today. In about four weeks, they'll take the field at South Carolina to open the 2014 season. Here are some things to watch throughout camp:

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Bob Levey/Getty ImagesFormer three-star recruit Kenny Hill, a sophomore, played in five games last season. Could he be the successor to Johnny Manziel?
1. The quarterback battle: Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen? That's the question that has been asked and will continue to be until coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital make a decision on who the starting quarterback will be on Aug. 28 at South Carolina. Hill, a sophomore, has slightly more experience after seeing some playing time in a backup role last season. Allen, the true freshman, enrolled early in January to catch up. Allen had a solid spring, as did Hill until an arrest for public intoxication caused him to miss the final two scrimmages and the final week of spring practice. But both players were told they were on even footing entering summer 7-on-7 workouts. How much each has progressed in the past three months will be displayed early on in training camp. Expect a decision midway through August.

2. Defensive line depth: The Aggies lost two starting defensive linemen for off-the-field reasons: defensive end Gavin Stansbury (left team for personal reasons) and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden (dismissed after two arrests). For a team that struggled to stop the run last season, that doesn't help as the unit tries to find the quality depth necessary to succeed in the SEC. Fortunately for the Aggies, they get two players who missed spring football because of injuries back for training camp -- sophomore defensive ends Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall, both of whom saw playing time last season. There are also several veterans (Julien Obioha, Alonzo Williams, Tyrell Taylor) and youngsters (Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Zaycoven Henderson) not to mention a few incoming recruits to help the unit, but the Aggies have to find answers quick to improve on a disastrous 2013.

3. Safety play: Sumlin hasn't been shy about saying it and it's true: the Aggies have to get better play from their safeties. They return three players who started last season -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt. Matthews got positive reviews from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder in the spring. Keep an eye on Devonta Burns, who saw time in the spring at safety and nickel cornerback, as someone who could be in the mix. And an influx of 2014 recruits could help here as well.

4. Fabulous freshmen: The Aggies' 2014 class was a top-five haul for a reason. They brought in some big-time talent, so don't be surprised if some of those freshmen make waves quickly in camp. Receiver Speedy Noil already impressed in the spring and will look to build on that this month. Five-star defensive end Myles Garrett is the highest-ranked player nationally the Aggies have signed since Reggie McNeal in the 2002 class. With depth concerns on the defensive line and Garrett's college-ready physique, it's safe to say he'll find a way on the field in short order. Henderson, who was an early enrollee, likely figures into the rotation at defensive tackle. And of course, all eyes are on Allen at quarterback to see if he can win the starting job.

5. Right side of the O-line: Sophomore Germain Ifedi, who started all of 2013 at right guard, saw much time at right tackle during spring drills and is listed as the starter there heading into camp. If that holds, the battle on the offensive line -- a unit that returns four of five starters -- will likely be at right guard where Joseph Cheek saw first-team action and junior college transfer Jermaine Eluemunor saw second-team work in spring. Veteran guard and starter Jarvis Harrison, who missed spring because of shoulder surgery, should be ready to go at left guard. He has a capable backup behind him in Garrett Gramling, who started two games last season and saw virtually all the first-team work at left guard this spring. Left tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi) and center (Mike Matthews) is set in stone.

A few other notes:

" Redshirt freshman cornerback Victor Davis, who was arrested on a shoplifting charge in his hometown of Rosenberg, Texas, last month, is still serving an indefinite suspension. Sumlin said on Wednesday that Davis still has some things to do internally in order to get back in the team's good graces.

" Sumlin noted that every one of the class of 2014 recruits is qualified academically and on campus. Kealvin "Tank" Davis, the Aggies' offensive tackle recruit from Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial, was the last player Texas A&M was waiting on in that regard and he arrived on campus Wednesday and will be ready to go. This is the second consecutive year the Aggies have not lost a signee to qualification issues (the 2013 class only had one player who didn't make it to campus, Kohl Stewart, who was a first-round pick in the MLB draft).

" The Aggies will practice in helmets only Friday and Saturday, have meetings only on Sunday (no practice), helmets and shoulder pads on Monday and Tuesday and they'll have their first full-padded practice on Wednesday. Thursday will be their first two-a-day practice followed by a single practice on Aug. 8, then a scrimmage on Aug. 9.
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Like any recruit, the impact of Kyler Murray's decision to commit to Texas A&M won't be fully known until his time in Aggieland is done. And no matter what anybody says, nobody is certain what is next for the five-star quarterback as he awaits what most Aggie fans have long considered a preordained destiny -- playing quarterback for Texas A&M, like his father, Kevin Murray, did so well in the 1980s.

Let the man whom many Aggies like to compare Murray favorably to -- Johnny Manziel -- serve as evidence. Manziel came out of high school with nowhere near the recruiting fanfare that Murray has, even though his exploits on the high school gridiron were the stuff of legend. Manziel was an unheralded three-star recruit with an offer list nowhere near the caliber of Murray's, but Manziel, in his brief stay, turned into one of the best collegiate quarterbacks the game has seen. Conversely, Garrett Gilbert was once a five-star quarterback considered a sure thing by just about anyone who saw him and he didn't even get the opportunity to finish his college career with the team that recruited him, Texas. Instead, he wound up at SMU.

None of this is new to those who follow recruiting, but it serves as a reminder that nothing is a sure thing. We can only go by what we know. However, that shouldn't take away from what the gravity of the news of Murray's commitment means to Texas A&M because what we know about Murray, who is No. 14 in the ESPN 300 now is that he's pretty damn good.


The numbers speak for themselves. Two state championships at the highest classification of Texas high school football. This fall, he will attempt to win a third consecutive title. In his last two seasons at Allen High, he has thrown for 5,673 yards and 63 touchdowns and rushed for 2,644 yards and 44 touchdowns. All it takes is a glimpse of his highlight video, a seat at an Allen game or a click of the remote when he led the Eagles to one of their two state championships to be convinced that Murray is special.

Just about anything you want in a quarterback, Murray has it. Arm strength? Check. Accuracy? Check. Mobility? Check. Pocket presence and awareness? Double check. Leader? Check, check, check.

Having Kevin Murray, a successful collegiate quarterback in his own right and someone who tutors prep quarterbacks to this day, as a mentor certainly has helped Kyler. You can see it in the little things he does that most other prep passers can't, like ably sidestepping a pass rush while remaining in the pocket and keeping his eyes up to make an accurate throw down field. His awareness in the pocket and what's going on around him is easy to see. The last high school quarterback I saw in person who had the kind of pocket presence Murray has is Andrew Luck.

And if the throw isn't there, Murray can tuck and run, evidenced by the fact he has compiled more than 1,200 rushing yards each of his last two seasons. His elusiveness and escapability is partly why so many Aggies believe he could be Johnny Football 2.0, though truth be told we might never see another quarterback quite as elusive as Manziel was.

The only thing he lacks that most coaches prefer in a quarterback is height; he's 5-foot-11. But the Drew Breeses and Russell Wilsons and Manziels of the world continue to open the door for the current young crop of quarterbacks to overcome that hurdle.

Make no mistake, this is a huge acquisition for the Aggies. They offered only two quarterbacks in the 2015 recruiting class -- Murray and Jarrett Stidham -- and did so on the same day almost a full year ago. Once Stidham committed to Texas Tech, all the eggs were firmly in the Murray basket and it paid off on Wednesday for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and the rest of the coaching staff. Their thorough efforts have produced some ripe fruit.

This could have a ripple effect on the rest of the 2015 recruiting class also. Murray is well-respected in the Lone Star State. Could it have an impact on the Aggies' recruitment of ESPN 300 Texas prospects such as Malik Jefferson, DaMarkus Lodge or help solidify current commits, such as Daylon Mack? Having Murray in the boat certainly helps. Any time a program lands a player ranked No. 1 at his position, which Murray is, it helps the perception of a recruiting class and that can be a factor with teenagers who are undecided but want to play for a winner.

In 2015, Murray will join a squad thin on quarterback depth. SophomoreKenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen are battling for the starting job this year. Hill has playing time experience from mop-up duty as a backup in 2013; Allen came in as 2014's No. 1-ranked pocket passer and is doing everything he can to make his case for winning the starting job.

The winner of that battle won't be known until August and by the end of the season we'll have a much clearer picture on where the winner stands and what Murray joining the picture means for A&M. But if his skill set and ability carries over to the next level, the Aggies have themselves quite a bright future at the most important position in the game.

Aggies everywhere have been waiting on this day since before Murray was even officially offered by A&M. Now that the day has come, they're rejoicing, and if the Aggie legacy can live up to the lofty status that his recruitment suggests, it could translate to a significant step forward in the Aggies' attempt to climb to the top of the SEC and perhaps even into the new College Football Playoff.
It would be easy to assume that 15 spring football practices would bring some clarity to the Texas A&M quarterback race.

Instead, there were seemingly as many questions coming out of spring as there were when it began.

The arrest and subsequent suspension of sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, one of three Aggies who entered spring competing for the right to succeed Johnny Manziel, complicated matters in the final week of spring practice as senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen spent the final week of spring drills splitting reps.

The announcement Wednesday of Joeckel's decision to transfer cleared things up somewhat, but it's still a marathon until the Aggies pick a starter.

Hill, who was suspended on March 28 following an arrest for public intoxication, has since been reinstated to the team and will have to stay out of trouble moving forward. He has experience on his side, having appeared in five games last season and having plenty of experience in a no-huddle, up-tempo spread-style offense like the Aggies run.

Allen, who went through customary true freshman growing pains in the early portions of spring practice while working to grasp the offense, came along nicely toward the end of spring drills, throwing a quality deep ball and handling the entire menu of plays that offensive coordinator Jake Spavital threw at him.

Joeckel's departure thins out the quarterback depth, leaving the Aggies with just two scholarship players at the position (look for walk-on Conner McQueen to be the third-string quarterback). Joeckel was still in the race when he made his decision, and the Aggies would have liked to have his veteran presence around, but he clearly felt his chance to start in 2014 was better somewhere else than Aggieland. And keep in mind, the Aggies continue to look for a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, with the focus currently set on ESPN 300 prospect and two-time Texas Class 5A Division I state champion Kyler Murray, son of former Aggies quarterback Kevin Murray.

With Joeckel out, it's a two-man race between Allen and Hill until mid-August, but it's too early to call a winner just yet. That's not the way A&M coach Kevin Sumlin works. He prefers to wait until approximately two weeks before the season opener before calling the quarterback competition, something he stayed true to in 2008 (his first year at Houston) and in 2012 (his first year at Texas A&M).

So Hill and Allen will continue to battle it out this summer and when preseason training camp begins in late July or early August. Speculation will run rampant as it did in 2012 (when many observers felt Jameill Showers led Manziel coming out of spring ball, though Manziel ultimately won the job), but the bottom line is we won't truly know who's trotting out into the offensive huddle first on Aug. 28 against South Carolina until Sumlin says so in about four months.
Editor's note: With Texas A&M taking a brief hiatus from the football field concurrent to the school's spring break this week, we'll look back at notes and nuggets from the first five practices of spring football for the Aggies. Here's the fourth installment:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M has only had a week's worth of spring practice. There are still many months to come until the Aggies are even close to naming a starting quarterback, but the battle to become the next signal-caller in Aggieland is in full swing.

How did it look after five practices?

"I've seen a bunch of guys that are pretty good," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There's a great competition."

Each of the three candidates -- senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen -- have been able to rotate turns working with the first team throughout the early practices and each have made progress, according to Sumlin.

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Bob Levey/Getty ImagesSophomore Kenny Hill is one of three players vying to replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's starting quarterback.
"Matt's really competing at a high level and he should. He's been around here forever," Sumlin said. "He understands the offense and has played in games and has really, really, improved.

"Kenny is a lot more focused right now and is doing some good things. The young guy [Allen] has come in and is making strides every day. You don't expect him to be where those guys are at this point."

While each has their strengths, you won't find any with the scrambling ability that their predecessor, Johnny Manziel, had. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner's elusiveness separated him from other quarterbacks. Joeckel, Hill and Allen better resemble the prototype that fits the offense Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital have spent the last six years working in.

"These types of quarterbacks that we have here are similar to what I had at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, and you've just got to utilize their strengths and take advantage of what they do best," Spavital said. "They're obviously probably going to be more pocket-passer guys, but I think some of them are mobile enough to maybe get some things out there on the perimeter."

Each quarterback is at a different stage in terms of how much of the offense they've been given, Sumlin said. For Joeckel and Hill, that's an advantage. For Allen, who has been on campus since January as an early enrollee who signed with the 2014 recruiting class, inexperience is the primary hurdle right now.

"He's got to learn the offense," Sumlin said of Allen. "We have to put him in a position where he can be successful with not giving him the whole menu and letting him play in a style that benefits him and where he's comfortable. Realistically, Matt should have everything. Kenny should have a little less than everything and [Allen] should have a lot less than both those guys at this point. We're a third of the way through [spring]. He shouldn't have everything. He'll get more and more as we go and we'll be able to assess a little bit more. After five practices I think all of those guys are right where you thought they'd be."

SEC's lunch links

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
12:24
PM ET
Spring practice kicks off for four more teams in the SEC this week. Here’s a look at the latest news and notes around the league in today’s lunch links.

Breaking down Texas A&M's QB battle

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
9:00
AM ET


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."

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesFormer three-star recruit Kenny Hill, a sophomore, played in five games last season. Could he be the successor to Johnny Manziel?
The most experienced is Joeckel. He started the 2013 season opener against Rice when Manziel had to sit the first half while serving a suspension resulting from an NCAA investigation. Joeckel finished the day completing 14 of 19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown.

“[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.”

Opening spring camp: Texas A&M

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
10:30
AM ET
Schedule: The Aggies begin spring practice on Friday and will go through the first week of April, while taking off spring break week in between. Because of the redevelopment project of Kyle Field, the Aggies will not have their annual maroon-and-white spring game.

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.

[+] EnlargeCedric Ogbuehi
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherWhoever Texas A&M names at quarterback will have Cedric Ogbuehi protecting him at left tackle.
On the move: Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi moves from right tackle to left tackle to fill the void left by Jake Matthews. On defense, linebacker Darian Claiborne -- who started nine games at middle linebacker -- moves to his natural position of weakside linebacker.

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.
While the head coaching carousel turns frequently each offseason, the movement is even more active among assistant coaches. Guys come and go and that includes coordinators, even at the big-time programs.

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt were among the SEC schools that saw changes in coordinators on at least one side of the ball this offseason, and there's no doubt those changes will have an effect on their new programs. But which new coordinators will make the biggest impact? Here's four that catch our eye:

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreIt will be Jeremy Pruitt's task to bring the bite back to Georgia's defense.
Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia: It doesn't get much better than hiring a coordinator fresh off a national championship, but that's what Georgia pulled off. Head coach Mark Richt added Pruitt, who guided the Florida State defense to a No. 1 national ranking in scoring defense (12.1 points allowed per game) and No. 3 ranking in yards allowed per game (281.4). His specialty is the secondary, as he spent three seasons as Alabama's defensive backs coach before moving to Florida State last season. Georgia's young defense was 45th nationally in yards allowed per game (375.5) and 78th in scoring defense (29 ppg). Pruitt has a strong reputation as a recruiter, as well, and should be able to make an instant and significant impact on the Bulldogs this fall.

Lane Kiffin, Alabama: Much maligned as a head coach, Kiffin has taken his fair share of criticism, which was often justified, during his head coaching stops at Tennessee and USC. But he's not being hired to run the program, just the offense, so most of the pressures that come with being "the man" won't exist for Kiffin as the offensive coordinator. At Alabama, coordinators rarely meet with the media, so there won't be a lot of Kiffin soundbites or quotes out there, allowing him to focus on the task at hand. Nick Saban thinks highly of Kiffin's play-calling ability and offensive mind, and that's an area Kiffin has a strong reputation. The Crimson Tide ranked sixth in the SEC in yards per game (454.1), sixth in red zone efficiency (66 percent) and fourth in points scored per game (38.2). Those are all areas Kiffin can help improve, though he'll have to develop a new quarterback, the successor to Heisman Trophy finalist AJ McCarron. Kiffin was offensive coordinator of a national championship team at USC, which certainly doesn't hurt as he returns to the coordinator role.

Kurt Roper, Florida: Florida's offense has nowhere to go but up after finishing last in the league in points scored per game (18.8), yards per game (316.7), red zone efficiency (44.2 percent) and goal-to-go efficiency (43.5 percent). That's where Roper comes in. He helped Duke set a school-record for touchdowns as its offensive coordinator. He has worked with three quarterbacks who have thrown for 3,000 or more yards in a season, including Eli Manning. He has SEC experience, making stops at Ole Miss, Tennessee and Kentucky, and this league is where he has spent the bulk of his assistant coaching career. The Gators will spread it out, and Roper will be charged with developing Jeff Driskel, who hasn't yet lived up to the potential some hoped he would when he signed in the 2011 recruiting class. Expect Roper to have an impact on Driskel and the offense as a whole, and the Gators should be much strong on that side of the ball this fall.

Jake Spavital, Texas A&M: Texas A&M's offense was pretty good, which is understandable with Johnny Manziel at quarterback. But Spavital has the challenging task of steering the Aggies' offense post-Johnny Football, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. That's three probable first-round picks leaving the offense, not to mention losing three starting receivers and the team's top running back from last season, Ben Malena. Spavital, who was the Aggies' quarterbacks coach last season, was given the play-calling and offensive coordinator reigns for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and oversaw a unit that produced 52 points in a victory, but this will be his first fall as a full-time college playcaller. Just 28 years old, the up-and-coming Spavital must choose and develop Manziel's successor (either sophomore Kenny Hill, senior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kyle Allen) and figure out who the go-to receiver will be in 2014. The young assistant does have a history of working with or being around great college quarterbacks though, having been at Houston when Case Keenum was there, at Oklahoma State with Brandon Weeden, and at West Virginia with Geno Smith.
Editor's note: This is the first part in a weeklong series of predictions for Texas A&M spring football practice, which begins on Friday.

Those who have paid close attention to Kevin Sumlin's history with quarterbacks know one thing is certain when it comes to picking a new starter: Patience is required.

Since Sumlin's head coaching career began in 2008, he has overseen two preseason starting quarterback competitions. One constant existed in both: The starter wasn't picked until midway through fall training camp.

[+] EnlargeMatt Joeckel
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsIf history is any indication, don't expect Matt Joeckel or any of the other Texas A&M quarterback candidates to be awarded the starting job in spring practice.
So while Texas A&M fans will discuss and dissect ad nauseam the three primary candidates to become the Aggies' starting quarterback, a spot now vacant with Johnny Manziel pursuing NFL dreams, Sumlin, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and the rest of the A&M coaching brass will likely preach patience.

We can attempt to glean clues from spring football practice, which the Aggies begin on Friday, but if you think the heir apparent to Manziel will lay claim to the quarterback throne in April once Texas A&M wraps up spring drills, you'll be disappointed.

This quarterback race will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen will take the field in the coming weeks, battling it out for the right to succeed A&M's second Heisman Trophy winner.

As they rotate repetitions with the first-team offense and showcase their skills during practices and scrimmages, it will be easy to make assumptions based on their performances. Player X leads, Player Y needs to improve in these areas, etc.

But if the last battle Sumlin and his staff oversaw was any indication, it's unwise to base entire opinions on spring football. Many believed that Jameill Showers led Manziel in the race to become the starting quarterback in 2012 based on their respective spring performances. While that might have even been true, it didn't mean it was Showers' job. As we all know now, Manziel made enough improvement over the summer that when training camp arrived in August, he earned the confidence of the offensive coaching staff and was ultimately tabbed the starter roughly two weeks before the Aggies opened the season. Showers became the backup, and Manziel went on to make history.

Sumlin even seemed to take pleasure in letting the media know that "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

Spavital has even said, flatly, that the timeline for announcing a starter will be the same as it has been in Sumlin's recent history.

"We're not going to announce until the fall, a week and a half, two weeks before the game," Spavital told ESPN.com earlier this month.

All three quarterbacks will get a fair shot. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, which have been documented well. Joeckel brings size and experience, Hill brings a dual-threat ability and history of competing in an up-tempo, spread-style attack, and Allen brings the physical tools coaches look for in a quarterback as well as leadership qualities, even though he's the youngest and greenest of the group.

It will be a long spring and summer as Aggies wait for the competition to play out. The result, no matter what it is, will be full of intrigue.
Editor's note: This is the fifth and final part of a weeklong series looking at five position battles to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M.

Texas A&M has several areas where it needs improvement or will have to replace an outgoing veteran who was productive and reliable. Spring practice is a place where those things can be accomplished.

But for all the new faces and position battles that will ensue, there's one that Aggies will watch the closest: quarterback.

[+] EnlargeMatt Joeckel
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsMatt Joeckel will be among the Texas A&M QBs battling to replace Johnny Manziel.
The last two seasons the Aggies were fortunate to have one of college football's best to ever play the position at this level, Johnny Manziel. Spring will be about a lot of things, but what will garner the most attention is who will be the successor to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and how will all the candidates perform throughout the competition.

The battle will include three primary candidates: senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen.

Joeckel and Hill battled for the backup quarterback job -- and the right to start a game -- last fall while Manziel was under investigation by the NCAA for allegations that he profited from signing autographs. When Manziel was suspended for the first half of the season opener against Rice, Joeckel got the starting nod. He was solid, completing 14-of-19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown in two quarters of play. For the season, Joeckel, the twin brother of former A&M left tackle and current Jacksonville Jaguar Luke Joeckel, was 22-of-37 for 293 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in four games of action.

At 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, Joeckel doesn't feature the mobility of a dual-threat quarterback, but he's an accurate passer. He has also been in Texas A&M's offense longer than any other quarterback on the roster.

"He's the most experienced out of all of them in terms of running this offense," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "I was pleased with how he handled himself."

Hill, a Southlake (Texas) Carroll product, also received playing time during the 2013 season, even though he didn't get to appear against Rice. In five games, he was 16-of-22 passing for 183 yards and a touchdown and showed well in his college debut, which came in the second half of a blowout win over Sam Houston State.

Hill, a 6-1, 215-pound dual-threat quarterback, has a lot of experience in spread, uptempo offenses and has made positive strides in practices throughout last fall.

"Bowl preparation was good for him," Spavital said. "When Johnny was gone at awards shows it gave him a chance to run with the [first team] and get used to them. He has come a long way."

Allen comes in with plenty of credentials for a high school prospect. He was the No. 1 pocket passer in the country and has good size at 6-3 and 200 pounds. Spavital said he was impressed with how Allen handled himself publicly, his intelligence and his physical gifts.

"His playmaking ability, he has a very strong arm, a quick release," Spavital said. "He has a hell of an arm."

All eyes are on the quarterback anyways, but when these three begin competing, Aggies everywhere will be paying attention.

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