Texas A&M Aggies: Joseph Cheek

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.

Texas A&M spring wrap

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Three things we learned in the spring about the Texas A&M Aggies:

1. The O-line and running game are in good shape: These might be the two deepest areas on the squad. The Aggies have four solid scholarship running backs, and the offensive line depth was illustrated while starter Jarvis Harrison sat out with a shoulder injury, paving the way for Garrett Gramling and Joseph Cheek to work with the first team.

2. The defensive line depth will be better: The Aggies returned all the defensive linemen who contributed last season plus bring an influx of talent from the 2014 recruiting class. The unit needs as much help as possible, and they'll be able to rotate players this season in order to keep everyone fresh.

3. Terry Joseph's impact is felt: The Aggies have a new secondary coach, and by all accounts he's having an effect on the returning defensive backs. That's one area Texas A&M has to improve big time, and the potential is there with a lot of experience returning. Joseph is demanding and detail-oriented and so far has been impactful.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill? One of the original three quarterbacks competing for the job transferred (Matt Joeckel) leaving only two standing: Hill, a sophomore and Allen, a true freshman. Hill has the experience edge but got into some offseason trouble, Allen made big strides and has a big arm but still has learning to do. Winner will be named in mid-August.

2. Will the defense be significantly better? It can't get much worse than it was a season ago, when the Aggies ranked last or near-last in the SEC and in the bottom 30 nationally in most major defensive categories. They return nine defensive starters and are adding even more depth, but the level of play has to get better.

3. Who's the next big receiver? The Aggies have produced some top-notch receivers recently. Last season, Mike Evans emerged as one of the nation's best, Ryan Swope preceded him with a stellar record-breaking career at Texas A&M, and Jeff Fuller set plenty of school records himself before Swope. Who will follow in their footsteps at receiver?

One way-too-early prediction:

The offense will continue to be one of the country's best and the Aggies' record won't be drastically different from last season. Many might think that without Johnny Manziel, Evans and Jake Matthews that the Aggies will see a drop-off, but the continued influx of talent will keep A&M winning football games. There will be some growing pains, but another 9-4 season is very possible.

Lessons from spring: OL is deep

April, 16, 2014
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The last two seasons, Texas A&M hasn't had to tap deep into its offensive line because the Aggies have had good fortune health-wise at the position.

In 2012, the Aggies had the same starting five offensive linemen for all 13 games and in 2013, they had the same starting five for 11 of their 13 games, missing only tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for two games in the middle of the season.

But with left guard Jarvis Harrison sitting out the spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Aggies were able to see that they do have quality depth on their offensive line should they need it.

Harrison's absence made way for two players to find their way into the lineup with the first team this spring: Garrett Gramling and Joseph Cheek.

Texas A&M returns four of five starters from 2013: Ogbuehi, Harrison, center Mike Matthews and right guard Germain Ifedi. The right tackle spot is open for competition and though the spring began with junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor competing for the position, the majority of the spring saw Ifedi manning that spot.

With Ifedi shifted over and Harrison out, that left the two guard spots open, which both Gramling and Cheek ably filled during spring drills.

Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson made it clear during spring football that "we're not earning any jobs right now" and that his players were focusing on technique and fundamentals. Still, Ifedi established himself as a candidate to be the future right tackle and Gramling -- who started at left guard the two games Ogbuehi was out while Harrison played left tackle -- has positioned himself to compete for a starting guard job.

"I've got Joe Cheek over at the right guard and Garrett at the left guard and you add Jarvis to that mix and there's three guys for those two positions," Anderson said. "We'll find out who wins it in fall camp."

Eluemunor spent most of the spring working at guard and Gennesy at tackle and Anderson wanted both to get comfortable in their new surroundings. He also noted that both were training at both right guard and right tackle.

"I think that's important," Anderson said. "They need to do be able to do both in case we get into an injury scenario."

Ogbuehi, who played right tackle last year, spent the spring getting acclimated to the left side of the offensive line. He felt good about his progress from the first spring practice to the last one on April 5.

"I feel a lot better," Ogbuehi said. "I feel better than I was last year at right tackle."

Matthews, who is entering his junior season at center, will be a steady presence for the Aggies in the middle.

"Mike has total control of the offense," Anderson said.

The standard this group has to live up to is a high one. The last two seasons, the Aggies have been considered one of the country's best offensive lines, paving the way for a top-10 offense and protecting quarterback Johnny Manziel. It's a unit that produced the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft (Luke Joeckel) and likely will produce another top-10 pick next month (Jake Matthews). Even SEC fans are picking the Aggies to be the league's best unit this season.

Though it remains to be seen how this group develops, there certainly is no shortage of options for the Aggies up front.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With four returning starters, the offensive line is a position group the Texas A&M coaches feel good about.

But the battle to be the right tackle, the lone starting spot up for grabs, is one of the most intriguing storylines of spring practice.

One name that continues to surface is sophomore Germain Ifedi, who worked at right tackle again on Tuesday when the Aggies resumed practice after taking a week off for spring break.

[+] EnlargeGermain Ifedi
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsRising sophomore Germain Ifedi is angling to be Texas A&M's right tackle, moving outside from right guard.
Last season, Ifedi started every game at right guard. With right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi moving to left tackle, Ifedi has made it clear he's interested in the possibility of following in Ogbuehi's footsteps and sliding outside.

"He likes playing tackle," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said of Ifedi. "We'll see. He's competing, and the way he's playing right now, he really doesn't want to give it up."

Sumlin noted Ifedi's efforts to stay in shape. The 6-foot-5 lineman has tipped the scales as high as 340 pounds in the past but trimmed down when he entered the starting lineup last season. He checked in this week at 327 pounds.

"I was on him a little bit about his weight and he pulled his shirt up and his belly wasn't hanging over," Sumlin said with a smile. "He's catching up with his body."

Ifedi's emergence allows the Aggies to shift players around on the offensive line, including the pair of junior-college transfers who began spring competing for the right tackle job: Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy.

"It's given us an opportunity to really take the two new junior-college guys and put them with the twos so they can really hone in and learn," Sumlin said.

With starting left guard Jarvis Harrison sitting out while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Aggies have also inserted Garrett Gramling -- who started two games at left guard last season -- at Harrison's position for the spring and veteran tackle Joseph Cheek at Ifedi's old right guard spot.

Sumlin stressed that with Harrison, "we know what he can do," and he said he fully expects Harrison healthy and ready for preseason training camp in August. But Ifedi's emergence as a competitor to be the right tackle opens up several possibilities for 2014.

"The thing about the offensive line is you want to create what we call a nickel, and not five pennies," Sumlin said. "The five best guys aren't always the best O-line. [It's] the guys who can communicate and the guys who can play. We'll figure that out.

"I think the experience that Germain is getting at tackle gives us some real different combinations without having to put an inexperienced player on the field right away at South Carolina."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Going into spring football there was one spot on the Texas A&M offensive line expected to play host to serious competition for a starting job: right tackle.

Initially, two junior college transfers, Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor, were the early candidates expected to compete for the position.

But with versatile talent across its offensive line, Texas A&M had other options to explore as well. So far, the Aggies have done just that in experimenting with yet another candidate: sophomore Germain Ifedi.

"With the two new JC guys and then moving Ced [Ogbuehi] to left [tackle], we've actually experimented with a little Germain Ifedi at right tackle," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He thinks he's skinny anyways at 324 [pounds]."

The 6-foot-5 Ifedi was the Aggies' full-time starter at right guard last season, his first as a starter after redshirting in 2012.

The Aggies like having versatile offensive linemen and have utilized them as such in the past. Last season, Jake Matthews played left tackle but spent two games at right tackle. Ogbuehi played right guard and right tackle previously before making the switch to left tackle this spring. Jarvis Harrison, who is sitting out spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, has been the left guard but also spent two games at left tackle last season.

So it should come as no surprise that the Aggies are mixing and matching to see what works best.

"We've created a little bit more energy during practice with those guys up front and a bunch of new guys out there anyway moving positions and trying to earn them," Sumlin said. "Whenever you have something like that, the energy level is always pretty good, I think."

While Harrison has sat out, Garrett Gramling -- who started two games at left guard last season -- has worked at left guard this spring. When Ifedi has practiced as the first-team right tackle, veteran tackle Joseph Cheek has seen time at right guard with the first group.

"He's a big dude in there now," Sumlin said of Gramling. "He's all of 6-6 and 315-320 pounds and really gives us some flexibility at guard to be able to move Germain around and Cheek. People forgot Cheek is still here. We've got some guys around that give us some quality depth in the offensive line."

When it comes to Gennesy and Eluemunor, Sumlin has also liked what he has seen and the work that offensive line coach B.J. Anderson has done with the entire offensive line.

"Coach Anderson has done a good job of putting them with the twos so they can get used to their technique because when they get up there with the ones, things are happening real fast," Sumlin said. "Guys get a little bit worried. Avery is really, really athletic. Jermaine is a lot more athletic than I thought he would be. Those two guys are great additions. It just takes some time."
Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a weeklong series looking at five position battles to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M.

Though Texas A&M is saying goodbye to another likely top-10 NFL draft pick from its offensive line, the Aggies expect to have a strong unit up front once again in 2014.

[+] EnlargeCedric Ogbuehi
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherMoving Cedric Ogbuehi to left tackle will open another spot on the offensive line.
Jake Matthews, the Aggies’ left tackle in 2013, graduated and is projected to be a high selection in the 2014 NFL draft, but he’s the only starter the Aggies lose off their offensive line. Four others -- Cedric Ogbuehi, Jarvis Harrison, Mike Matthews and Germain Ifedi-- return.

That means there will be a battle for one spot on the offensive line: right tackle.

That’s where Ogbuehi lined up last season but he is making the transition to left tackle for the 2014 season. With the Aggies returning Harrison at left guard, Mike Matthews at center and Ifedi at right guard, one of the most-watched battles in spring football will be at right tackle.

The early contenders are likely to be two new prospects on campus: Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy. The pair of ESPN JC 50 prospects signed by the Aggies in their 2014 recruiting class were mid-term enrollees who have been on campus since classes began in January.

Gennesy, who signed from East Mississippi Community College, is 6-foot-5, 310, good size for the position, and he plays with good strength. The four-star prospect had several notable offers, including Tennessee, Ole Miss and Kentucky, as well as perennial powers from outside the SEC like Ohio State and Oklahoma.

Eluemunor, native of England, was also heavily-recruited nationally. With roughly two dozen offers, including ones from Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, Tennessee, USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-4, 315 pound four-star prospect can play both guard and tackle.

But those are not the only two options, especially if offensive line coach B.J. Anderson is willing to shuffle the offensive line up some. Ifedi, who checks in at 6-5, 311, would be an intriguing possibility to slide from right guard to right tackle. Harrison, who played two games at left tackle when Ogbuehi was injured last season and Matthews flipped to right tackle briefly, has playing experience at a tackle position, so it wouldn’t be out of the question to move Harrison over to right tackle.

In those instances, that would mean a potential new starter at one of the guard positions. Ben Compton, the backup at center last season, would be a potential option to compete for the right guard spot and Garrett Gramling, who started two games in Harrison’s place at left guard when Harrison slid to left tackle, would make sense if the Aggies moved Harrison to tackle for the season.

Joseph Cheek, a 6-7, 300-pound junior, was second on the Aggies’ depth chart at right tackle last season behind Ogbuehi and would be another name to keep in mind if the coaching staff isn’t satisfied with the aforementioned names.

But for now, with spring practice slightly more than a week away, look for Eluemunor and Gennesy to be the first players to get a shot at the starting job at right tackle. It should make for an interesting competition.

Aggie Snapshot: OT Joseph Cheek 

July, 23, 2013
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During the summer, GigEmNation is taking a closer look at returning starters and other key players on the two-deep for Texas A&M -- excluding the Aggies' 2013 recruiting class -- who could make notable impact this fall in our Aggie Snapshot series. Starting with No. 1 De'Vante Harris, the series will follow the roster numerically through our final analysis of No. 95 Julien Obioha.

No. 79 Joseph Cheek
Sophomore offensive tackle


GigEmNation writer Sam Khan Jr. chatted with readers on Friday about Texas A&M football and recruiting. Here's the full transcript of the chat. Topics covered included Jake Matthews' return, the promotion of Clarence McKinney to co-offensive coordinator and playcaller and of course, recruiting. Here's an excerpt from Friday's chat:

Drew (Colleyville, TX): So with Jake Matthews coming back does this mean he will be moved over to LT? And if so who do you think will be the RT next year? And who do we have on the C depth chart that can take over? Thanks for the chats!
Sam Khan Jr.: Drew, yes, Matthews will be moved to LT. That should be a good transition for him and I think he'll do well. As for right tackle, I think you're looking a few possibilities: redshirt freshman Joseph Cheek, who backed up Matthews and played in the "unbalanced line" power running formations could be an option. True freshman Germain Ifedi, who was on the two-deep, is an option. And I wouldn't rule out moving someone out to right tackle that's already in the lineup (maybe RG Cedric Ogbuehi?). As for center, Mike Matthews, the younger brother of Jake Matthews, will be the heir apparent to Patrick Lewis. Matthews is the favorite to start and was the backup this year. Look for him to be a possible three-year starter at C for the Aggies.

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Matthews' return huge for Aggies 

January, 10, 2013
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Texas A&M received a welcome bit of news when junior offensive tackle Jake Matthews officially announced Thursday that he's returning to Aggieland for his senior season.


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Texas A&M junior left tackle Luke Joeckel was presented with an opportunity he couldn't pass up. He didn't.

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Brett Davis/US PresswireTexas A&M's Luke Joeckel has been projected to be a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound winner of the Outland Trophy officially announced on Tuesday that he is bypassing his senior season and declaring for early entry into the 2013 NFL draft. Many projections have Joeckel going in the top five selections, and some even have him going first overall. He's the consensus top tackle on the draft board.

With the Jan. 15 deadline to declare approaching, only right tackle Jake Matthews remains among those highly-regarded draft-eligible A&M juniors who haven't officially announced a decision. Defensive end Damontre Moore declared before the AT&T Cotton Bowl that he's entering the draft.

Joeckel's loss is significant because he was a stalwart at left tackle. He was stellar in pass protection and solid in run blocking as well. All the reasons scouts like him as a potential NFL player are why he was an asset to the Aggies this season. He was durable and reliable. Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl described Joeckel as having excellent footwork and awareness and called him a "smooth mover" who "adjusts well in space."

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What if ... the tackles enter the draft? 

December, 7, 2012
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In trying to ensure depth at every position, coaches can often play the "What if?" game when it comes to recruiting. Expecting the unexpected can mean the difference between feeling comfortable enough to have a capable body step in and contribute at a position and scrambling to make sure any depth exists.

When it comes to their offensive tackles, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and his offensive staff are ready for anything. After the conclusion of the AT&T Cotton Bowl, junior tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews will have a decision to make: Apply for early entry into the NFL draft or return to Aggieland for their senior seasons?

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Film review: Texas A&M 63, Auburn 21 

October, 29, 2012
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Texas A&M cruised by Auburn 63-21 on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium and it was a night of offensive dominance for the Aggies. There were many big plays, but we chose three that illustrated why the Aggies were so successful offensively against the Tigers on Saturday.

Situation: Texas A&M ball, fourth-and-1 at the Auburn 6 (5:45 left in first quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 7, Auburn 0
Result: 6-yard touchdown run by Johnny Manziel.

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Current and future: Offensive line 

July, 31, 2012
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As fall practice and the 2012 season approaches, GigEmNation will take a look at where the Aggies stand currently and in the future at each position group. Today, we glance at the offensive line:

Current starters: Jarvis Harrison, Luke Joeckel, Patrick Lewis, Jake Matthews, Cedric Ogbuehi
[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Jacke Joeckel
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIRETackle Luke Joeckel will anchor A&M's offensive line, which could be one of the best in the country.

This crop should be among the strongest starting offensive lines nationally, particularly at tackle with the combination of Joeckel and Matthews, a pair of future NFL draft picks. All five have starting experience and only one (Lewis) is a senior. The quintet has started a combined 92 games, with Lewis leading the way (35 consecutive starts). Ogbuehi had a good redshirt freshman season at right guard but missed some time because of injuries. Harrison started five games as a redshirt freshman last year, four of which came in place of an injured Ogbuehi.

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