Texas A&M Aggies: Malcome Kennedy

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — While many eyes in Aggieland are fixed on the quarterback competition and who Johnny Manziel's successor will be, another task that carries significant weight at Texas A&M is finding the next big-time receiver.

With Mike Evans gone, the Aggies are looking for their next star at the position, one that has seen records broken several times in the last few years.

There is a lot of talent among the Texas A&M receivers, but it is mostly unproven and inexperienced talent. With spring football underway, the Aggies coaches have a chance to discuss and dissect the multitude of openings they have at wide receiver.

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsMalcome Kennedy is the Aggies' most experienced returning receiver after catching 60 passes for 658 yards and seven scores in 2013.
"One thing that we have now that we didn't have at this position when we got here is that we have an enormous amount of depth," Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said. "We have real SEC receivers here. That's something that we've developed over a two-and-a-half, three-year period."

The most productive returning receiver is veteran Malcome Kennedy. He is the lone returning starter, having hauled in 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Beaty has praised Kennedy's work ethic and leadership before, and Kennedy emerged as a reliable target for Manziel last season.

Now it's about figuring out who the starters will be, which eight receivers will occupy the two-deep and who will separate themselves from the pack. One player most people seem excited to have back in the fold is redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, who sat out most of last season with a knee injury he suffered in the season-opening win over Rice.

"Getting him back healthy is a blessing for us," Beaty said. "The guy’s got unlimited potential. We really needed him back. I look for him to make huge waves for us."

Through two practices so far, coaches say the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Seals-Jones doesn't appear to show any ill effects from knee surgery.

"He looks good to me out there," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. "He's a big target and he's obviously going to bring a whole other element to what we're trying to do. He can stretch the field vertically, and he's very big and physical on the perimeter."

Perhaps the most exciting name to Aggies fans among the receiver group is one of the newest: five-star recruit Speedy Noil. Ranked as the nation's No. 1 athlete prospect in the 2014 ESPN 300, he is already drawing positive reviews from teammates and coaches in his short time on campus.

Beaty called Noil “the best receiver in the country” in the 2014 recruiting class.

“As explosive as anybody I've ever seen,” Beaty said. “Combination of strength, speed and explosiveness. Really smart guy.”

One player who could emerge as an option at outside receiver is redshirt freshman Kyrion Parker. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Parker has several physical gifts.

"This guy is as talented as any receiver I've ever had," Beaty said. "He's got to grow up and mature, and I've watched him do that before my eyes. He's starting to grow into his own. I look for great things from him in the future. He does things that other people can't do. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he's got great hand-eye coordination. He can go get the ball deep. He's a better route runner than Mike [Evans] probably was at this point in his career."

There is also an assortment of receivers who received modest playing time last season at varying levels: LaQuvionte Gonzalez (21 catches, 240 yards), Edward Pope (nine catches, 65 yards) and JaQuay Williams (four catches, 71 yards). Any of the three could be factors this fall.

“LaQuvionte Gonzalez grew up a ton this year,” Beaty said. “You'd like to redshirt a guy like that, but we weren't able to. He was a guy that benefited from it. ... I think you're going to see him do some great things.

“JaQuay Williams, another really good talent that can do a lot of great things and has come a long way from the time he got here at this time last year. Ed Pope, another guy that I'm looking for to step up and compete. He's got to do a better job of putting on weight and getting really serious about this because there are some real guys here now.”

With so many inexperienced receivers and only one real seasoned veteran in Kennedy, head coach Kevin Sumlin said getting all of these players as much work as possible is the most important part of spring for the receiver group.

“Reps, reps, reps,” Sumlin said. “Reps right now are as important as anything.”

When it comes to figuring out which of the above names are going to emerge as prominent players, Beaty said it’s simple to figure out.

“Here's what's going to happen: The serious, committed guys, those guys will rise to the top,” Beaty said. “The ones that are here just kind of messing around, those guys will drop to the bottom. There are just too many good players here now.”

Position battles to watch: Receiver

February, 17, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the first part of a weeklong series looking at five position battles to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M.

In each of the last three seasons, one of Texas A&M's receivers exited after rewriting the record books.

In 2011, Jeff Fuller put his name atop the list several A&M receiving categories: single-season receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, and he established career records in all three.

In 2012, it was Ryan Swope. He left Aggieland as the school's career leader in catches and receiving yards and was its single-season leader in both categories.

After 2013, Mike Evans declared for early entry into the NFL draft and left the Aggies having broken Swope's single-season mark in both single-season receiving yards and single-game receiving yards, and he tied Fuller for the single-season record for touchdown receptions.

As 2014 approaches, the Aggies will be looking for their next great receiver. When spring practice begins later this month, competition begins for the right to be the go-to guy in the wide-open Aggies offense.

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWith 60 receptions for 658 yards and seven touchdowns, Malcome Kennedy is Texas A&M's leading returning receiver by far.
The simple question: Who is replacing Evans? The answer is not as easy to discover.

There will be fierce competiton this spring at the outside receiver positions. Sophomores Edward Pope and JaQuay Williams each return after playing a backup role at outside receiver last season. There is also a redshirt freshman, Kyrion Parker, who could quickly become a factor.

Pope had nine catches for 65 yards last season -- including the memorable reception at the end of Johnny Manziel's Houdini act to escape a sack attempt by Alabama's Jeoffrey Pagan on Sept. 14 -- and appeared in nine games last season. Williams had four catches for 71 yards and a touchdown while playing in 10 games last season.

A key figure to watch will be Ricky Seals-Jones. The Aggies had high hopes for his freshman season, but those were derailed by a knee injury that cut his season short. He showed a brief glimpse of his ability with a 71-yard touchdown catch in the season-opening win against Rice and did enough in preseason training camp to earn practice time with the first team. If not for the injury, Seals-Jones appeared poised to be a contributor last season.

Much of his practice time was spent as an inside receiver last fall, though he did get some experience lining up outside, too. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he has size similar to that of Evans, so he would make sense as the potential option at Evans' old position should the Aggies choose to go that way. But he appears versatile enough to line up anywhere. If the Aggies like the matchup problems he gives defenses, he could be again seeing time as an inside receiver. Where he lines up and how often will be worth watching in the spring.

Most of the other Aggies' young receivers on campus, including LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Jeremy Tabuyo, freshman Speedy Noil and junior Sabian Holmes, all appear to be inside receiver types, so it's unlikely any of them will take Evans' place on the field.

When it comes to production, Malcome Kennedy, a veteran who spent his time as an inside receiver last season, is the returning statistical leader among the Aggies' receivers. After a 60-catch, 658-yard season in which he caught seven touchdowns, it stands to reason he could see an increase in production, but does that also mean he'll become the go-to guy in the offense next season while remaining an inside receiver?

In addition to Noil, an incoming freshman already on campus, junior college transfer Joshua Reynolds (also a mid-term enrollee), 6-foot-7 receiver Frank Iheanacho and 5-foot-8 prospect Jamal Jeffery will also join the fray in 2014. Iheanacho and Jeffery won't be on campus until the summer, but Reynolds will get a chance to prove if he's worthy of early playing time when the Aggies begin spring practice.

In this offense, it's sometimes difficult to know who will emerge. Nobody had Travis Labhart on their radar at this time last year -- especially after he broke his collarbone in spring practice -- yet the former walk-on wound up being a key member of the receiving corps with 51 receptions for 626 yards and eight touchdowns while filling in at all four receiver spots in the offense.

The position battles at all four receiver spots -- not just Evans' outside receiver spot -- will be among the intriguing things to watch when the Aggies begin spring drills at the end of the month.

Offseason spotlight: Texas A&M

February, 11, 2014
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Now that Johnny Manziel is gone, the offseason spotlight at Texas A&M is shining brightly on a young receiver looking to put a season-ending knee injury in his first year in College Station behind him:

Spotlight: Ricky Seals-Jones, 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, redshirt freshman

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayRicky Seals-Jones had this 71-yard touchdown catch against Rice, but an injury eventually netted him a redshirt in 2013..
2013 summary: A knee injury forced Seals-Jones to miss most of the season. He played in only two games and ended up redshirting. However, he caught three passes for 84 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown against Rice in Week 1.

The skinny: Seals-Jones was the Aggies' top signee a year ago and figured to play a role in Texas A&M's offense during his first year in College Station. However, his knee injury early in the year wrapped up his first year on campus before it could truly get started. With Manziel gone and top receiving target Mike Evans also departing, the Aggies are looking for consistent playmakers to fill those voids. Finding a top-flight, go-to wide receiver also would be very nice with the Aggies also breaking in a new quarterback in 2014. With his size, athleticism and speed, Seals-Jones could be that guy, but it's unknown if he'll work inside or outside. He played at both spots during preseason practice last year, and his 71-yard touchdown against the Owls came while he was lined up inside. That might not matter at all, but what will matter is if Seals-Jones can make an immediate impact in Kevin Sumlin's high-flying offense. Just looking at him, you'd think he'll make some sort of noise, no matter where he lines up. He's a physical mismatch waiting to happen with cornerbacks and will give linebackers fits on the inside and over the middle with his speed. With Malcome Kennedy being the lone returning starting receiver, the Aggies will definitely need help at that position. Kennedy is a fine option after catching 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but he won't be able to do it all himself. Youngsters LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Edward Pope, Jeremy Tabuyo and JaQuay Williams will all push for time, and so should highly touted freshman Speedy Noil, who was the nation's No. 1-rated athlete in in the 2014 recruiting class. There are options at A&M, but Seals-Jones might have the most upside right now.

Past spotlights:

Who to watch in spring: Speedy Noil

February, 11, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the second part of a weeklong series looking at five players to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M

For the second consecutive season, Texas A&M must replace three starters at receiver.

Going into the 2013 season, there were three seniors who graduated -- with Mike Evans as the lone starter returning -- but the Aggies were able to find ample production from a plethora of players, including Derel Walker, Malcome Kennedy and Travis Labhart.

[+] EnlargeSpeedy Noil
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comFive-star signee Speedy Noil could star for Texas A&M immediately, as several wide receiver positions are open.
In 2014, with Evans declaring early entry into the NFL draft and Labhart and Walker having used up their eligibility, Texas A&M once again must find new bodies to pickup the production slack. Could one of those players be a true freshman Speedy Noil, a five-star signee out of New Orleans Edna Karr High School?

The number of spots open for competition -- not just as a starter but in the receiving two-deep since the Aggies use so many receivers -- makes Noil and intriguing player to watch this spring. He's one of the highest-rated recruits the Aggies signed in the 2014 recruiting class (he was the No. 7 overall player in the ESPN 300 and the No. 1 athlete in the country) and he enrolled in classes early, meaning he can participate in spring practice.

Kennedy, who is the returning statistical leader, and Ricky Seals-Jones, who missed most of last season after knee surgery, figure to have the best shot at starting jobs next season. But the rest is up for debate and coach Kevin Sumlin has long been a "best players play" proponent, no matter how experienced or inexperienced a given player is.

Noil, whose given name is Devante, is nicknamed "Speedy" for a reason. He was the 2013 SPARQ National Champion at The Opening, the prestigious high school showcase for the nation's top prospects. He ran a 4.45-second electronically-timed 40-yard dash and 3.87-second 20-yard shuttle, both blazing times.

A high school quarterback coming out of Edna Karr, Noil figures to be a receiver in the Texas A&M offense but is versatile enough to line up wherever offensive coordinator Jake Spavital asks him to. It's up to Noil to prove he's ready to contribute immediately, and he'll have that chance when spring practice begins. The Aggies' wide-open, Air Raid-style offense aims to get the football to its best playmakers in space quickly, and Noil has the kind of ability that should fit the scheme well.

Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty praised Noil's explosiveness and said his history as a high school quarterback will benefit him.

"He's explosive as anybody I've ever seen," Beaty said. "He has a combination of strength, speed, explosiveness and he's a really smart guy. He played the quarterback position a lot so he has a little bit more of an understanding [of receiving concepts] than some of my guys that come in."

There are several receivers already on the roster that will be competing with Noil for those receiving jobs in addition to Kennedy and Seals-Jones, namely LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Edward Pope, JaQuay Williams, Jeremy Tabuyo and Sabian Holmes, all of whom saw time on the field last season. Kyrion Parker, who redshirted last season, is also expected to be a factor. But for fans, what's new and fresh is often what is most interesting to observers, and Noil might be the most interesting of the bunch even though he hasn't even been on campus a full month yet.

With the crop of young talent the Aggies have at receiver, expect the competition to be fierce across the board.

TAMU to-do list: Find a go-to WR

January, 23, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the third part of a week-long series looking at the five most pressing concerns Texas A&M faces this offseason.

While quarterback Johnny Manziel dominated the headlines in his brief, two-year career at Texas A&M, he had a lot of help on offense.

One of the most important weapons Manziel had at his disposal was receiver Mike Evans.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayRicky Seals-Jones has the size and speed to take over as the Aggies' top playmaker at receiver.
The pair came to Aggieland in the same recruiting class, redshirted the same season and built a strong rapport as scout-team players in their first season.

Once they hit the field together in 2012 as redshirt freshmen, Evans quickly became Manziel's go-to receiver.

In two seasons, Evans caught 151 passes for 2,499 and 12 touchdowns. In 2013, he emerged as one of the nation's best receivers with a school-record 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns, which earned him a spot at the finalists' table for the Biletnikoff Award.

But like Manziel, Evans declared for early entry into the NFL draft. That brings us to our next item on the Texas A&M offseason to-do list, which is finding the next No. 1 receiver.

Because of the way the Aggies have recruited the last two seasons, they will have no shortage of options at the position. In addition to the receivers who were already on campus, the Aggies signed six receivers in the 2013 recruiting class and in the 2014 class, four prospects will wind up at receiver.

And it won't just be Evans' production that needs to be filled. The Aggies are saying goodbye to three starters as two others (Travis Labhart and Derel Walker) were seniors. Malcome Kennedy (60 receptions, 658 yards, seven touchdowns) is the lone returning starter and returning statistical leader in each major receiving category.

As an inside receiver who became a reliable target for Manziel, it stands to reason that Kennedy will see more opportunities. But who replaces Evans at outside receiver?

Ricky Seals-Jones, the Aggies' top-ranked recruit in the 2013 class, is an intriguing option, though it isn't necessarily a guarantee that he lines up outside. During preseason training camp last season, Seals-Jones received practice time at both inside receiver and outside receiver and made his biggest play of the season, a 71-yard touchdown reception against Rice, as an inside receiver.

He missed most of the season with a knee injury, but no matter where he lines up, he figures to play a prominent role in the offense in 2014 and could be a prime candidate to be a go-to guy with his size (6-foot-5, 240) and speed.

Several young receivers played in 2013 and will compete for the chance to start in 2014, such as LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Ja'Quay Williams, Jeremy Tabuyo and Edward Pope, all of whom were freshmen last season. Sabian Holmes, who will be a junior, and redshirt freshman Kyrion Parker could also be factors in the offense next season.

A lot of eyes will be on the offensive gem of the 2014 recruiting class though: ESPN 300 five-star athlete Speedy Noil. A high school quarterback at New Orleans Edna Karr, Noil is ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the country and will play receiver for the Aggies. Noil began classes earlier this month and will participate in spring football, giving the country's No. 7 overall player a head start when it comes to finding himself on the field in 2014.

TAMU to-do list: Find the leaders

January, 22, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the second part of a week-long series looking at the five most pressing concerns Texas A&M faces this offseason.

Strong player leadership is something Texas A&M has been fortunate to have in Kevin Sumlin's first two seasons.

During the 2012 season, players such as linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, center Patrick Lewis and receiver Ryan Swope were among those cited by coaches and teammates as carrying that responsibility.

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsSoon-to-be senior Malcome Kennedy, who caught 7 TD passes last season, could be called upon as a leader on the Texas A&M offense.
As those players and others tabbed as leaders moved on, the Aggies looked to guys such as running back Ben Malena, left tackle Jake Matthews and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., among others. And certainly, the team's two best players, Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel, set a standard with their level of play.

As we continue our look at the offseason to-do list for Texas A&M, it seems appropriate that finding the next wave of leaders is high on the list, because all of those above names are gone via graduation or the NFL draft.

The Aggies will be young on both sides of the ball with underclassmen playing in several key positions, potentially even at quarterback. Offensively, senior tackle Cedric Ogbuehi could be one of the players the Aggies turn to.

Ogbuehi, who passed up a chance to enter the NFL draft early to return for his final season, has 30 career starts and has been an integral part of the Aggies' successful first two seasons in the SEC.

Soon-to-be senior Malcome Kennedy, the returning statistical leader among the Aggies receivers after the departure of three starters at the position, is another possibility. Going into 2012, receivers coach David Beaty applauded Kennedy's work ethic and improvement in the offseason and Kennedy emerged into a reliable target for Manziel throughout the season.

On defense, could Deshazor Everett -- who will be a senior -- be one of those candidates? He has 22 starts under his belt, all of which have come in the last two seasons, and he has been a linchpin in the Aggies' secondary with the ability to move between cornerback and safety. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder lauded Everett's willingness to do so when the Aggies were trying to mix and match players in the defensive backfield.

Younger players could be candidates as well. Players such as center Mike Matthews and running back Trey Williams, who will both be juniors, have received playing time in each of the last two seasons and are players to keep an eye on. Before a December arrest in which he was suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Darian Claiborne -- who started in nine games as a true freshman at a new position, middle linebacker -- seemed to be a potential candidate, though how he responds from his legal incident will be worth watching.

As the Aggies progress through offseason workouts and head into spring football in a couple months, there will almost certainly be players step forward and emerge as naturals in these roles.

Earlier to-do list posts:
jmJackson LaizureTake Johnny Manziel and the Aggies out of College Station and great things happen, as Texas A&M has a perfect 9-0 record away from Kyle Field since Kevin Sumlin took over.
If this is in fact Johnny Manziel's farewell tour with Texas A&M, it's only fitting that he do it, well, on the road.

Obviously, you can't really do an actual tour without hitting the road, but Manziel and the Aggies are done with their 2013 days at Kyle Field … and that's a good thing.

While Kyle Field has always stood as one of the best college football environments -- and a tough venue for its visitors -- the Aggies have had much better success in big games away from home since the Manziel-Kevin Sumlin era began last season. In the past two seasons, Texas A&M has gone 9-0 in road and neutral site games, compared to 10-4 (the only four losses under Sumlin) at home. While the Aggies have averaged five more points (48.3-43.8) and have an average points per game margin of 22.4 at home, Texas A&M has averaged 34 more yards (587.7-553.7) and is 4-0 in games decided by seven points or less on the road, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

At home, the Aggies have gone 0-4 in games decided by seven points or less.

So with trips to No. 22 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC) and No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1) looming, the Aggies shouldn't fret over their last two games. In fact, they should smile and embrace their hostile surroundings.

"I feel like when we go on the road, it's us against the world," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr said. "We go into the stadium with a mindset that we have to come out here on top. Coach Sumlin has instilled in us that we have to focus and keep the same mindset, just like we're playing at home, but we're away."

But their road mindset is actually better. The Aggies should definitely avoid stowing their home mindsets in their carry-on luggage. They need whatever swagger and confidence that only comes with playing on the road because it has been lethal thanks to Manziel and Sumlin.

In A&M's nine wins away from College Station, Manziel has averaged 288.7 passing yards and 128.6 rushing yards with 31 total touchdowns. His lowest adjusted road QBR came at Ole Miss last year (84.5), while his lowest home QBR is 25.8, which he had in last season's loss to LSU.

Manziel is an animal in his own right, but when he's away from home, he has a Godzilla effect. He led A&M to its historic 29-24 win over No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year, led thrilling comeback wins over Ole Miss in Oxford twice and registered a bowl-record 516 yards of offense in a rout of Oklahoma in last years AT&T Cotton Bowl.

The Manziel-led Aggies are also 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 15 against ranked teams on the road, as opposed to losing all four games at home to ranked teams by 19 total points.

"You go on the road, you try to create your own energy," Sumlin said. "We don't make a big deal about road trips. That's part of it. As a competitor, the same type of enthusiasm you get from the home crowd, from an electricity standpoint, you ought to be able to utilize that on the road, and I think our team does a good job of that."

Saturday presents a unique experience/challenge for the Aggies. Tiger Stadium is no walk in the park; it's a trek through a savage jungle. LSU is 55-7 at home under coach Les Miles, including 27-7 in SEC play. The Tigers have also lost just one home game since 2009.

One does not simply walk into Tiger Stadium, but the Aggies don't seem fazed by raucous environment they're strolling into.

"It'll be a tough challenge, but it's an exciting one, one that we're all looking forward to," senior receiver Travis Labhart said.

"It's a good feeling to know that when you go on the road that it's just you and your teammates -- band of brothers -- and we go out and play our hardest and luckily we've prevailed so far with Coach Sumlin [on the road]."

For junior receiver Malcome Kennedy, playing on the road is intoxicating. Instead of battling the crowd, he chooses to admire them, and inhales their energy.

"You just look around and you see the crowd and, a lot of the times, I don't know if other players get the feeling but I get the feeling that they're cheering for me," Kennedy said. "It's something weird. Different players have different methods of approaching it but it's a very awesome experience."

Week 11 helmet stickers

November, 10, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M won its third straight game, a 51-41 decision over Mississippi State on Saturday at Kyle Field. Let's hand out a few helmet stickers:

Johnny Manziel: He compiled 493 offensive yards and threw for five touchdowns. It was his fifth career 400-yard passing game, fourth this season. Yes, he threw three interceptions, but he made enough positive plays to make up for them. Another productive day for Johnny Football.

Travis Labhart: What a story he is. From walk-on to scholarship player, from backup to starter and key contributor. Labhart continues to get better from week to week. On Saturday he had a career high 102 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions.

Malcome Kennedy: Kennedy led the team in receptions (eight) and had 96 yards and two touchdowns, one to get the Aggies on the board in the first quarter and one to start their scoring in the third quarter. He has been a reliable pass-catching option all year and has -- like Labhart -- taken advantage of the space given by teams who choose to double cover Mike Evans.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — One of the byproducts of Mike Evans' dominant showing at receiver this season is an opportunity for others to contribute.

As the Texas A&M sophomore dominates defensive backs weekly, defensive coordinators shift their game plans to pay more attention to the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Evans. Rightfully so, because if proper attention isn't paid, he'll make opponents pay, as he did to Auburn (287 receiving yards, four touchdowns) or No. 1 Alabama (279 receiving yards). In eight games, Evans has nearly matched his 2012 season-long receiving yardage total with 1,101 yards (he had 1,105 in 2012) and has more than doubled his touchdown total from last year's 13-game campaign (11 this season after five in 2012).

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M junior wide receiver Malcome Kennedy is second on the team with 43 receptions.
Coming into this season, the Aggies knew they had to find other reliable options in the passing game. When Evans was a freshman last season, there were three seniors to accompany him in the starting lineup: Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Kenric McNeal.

Other than Evans, this year's crop of receivers was a mix of returnees who have received only modest or no playing time and a batch of newcomers, as the Aggies signed six receivers in their 2013 recruiting class.

So far, the Aggies seem to be finding contributors.

The most consistent of the supporting cast has been junior Malcome Kennedy. Best known for catching the Aggies' final touchdown in their 29-24 upset win over Alabama in 2012, he is second to Evans with 43 receptions, 447 yards and four touchdowns. Kennedy has provided a consistent, middle-of-the-field target for Johnny Manziel this season, stepping into Swope's old 'Y' receiver position.

From week to week, the players who have emerged have varied. Senior Derel Walker (30 catches, 414 yards, two touchdowns) appears to have an increasing role in the offense as an outside receiver, with at least four catches in three of the last four games, including two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. Senior Travis Labhart has emerged lately, catching 20 passes in his last three games after only three receptions in the first five games of the season.

Early in the season, sophomore Sabian Holmes was targeted several times and a true freshman, Ricky Seals-Jones, had a smashing debut against Rice before a knee injury ended his season.

"That's what our philosophy is based on," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We need good players at all those positions instead of just one. Otherwise you get the double team and then, 'Now what?' We've got good running backs that can catch it out of the backfield and put pressure on you that way, but in order to be a complete offense we've got to get production from our other receivers."

The Aggies got that against Vanderbilt, with Kennedy hauling in a team-high eight passes, Evans catching five and Walker with four. As the season wears on, even more players are finding themselves in the mix, such as true freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez. Though most of the time he has seen has been on special teams as a kick returner or running fly sweeps, Gonzalez got into the mix on Saturday and caught four passes for 52 yards and his first career touchdown. With his speed and quickness, he has the look of someone who will fit nicely in the offense moving forward.

And, as Sumlin noted, running backs are a factor in the passing game as well.

"We've got a number of guys that we feel good about going in and out of the game and we need to have that this time of year," Sumlin said. "Because of what we do, all those guys have to be able to execute the offense, catch the ball, hang on to it, because you can't play one guy the way we go up and down the field. We had 78 snaps [Saturday]. We've got to be able to develop some depth, and I'm pleased with how those guys have come along."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — As the Auburn Tigers milked the final seconds off the clock and put the finishing touches on an upset win over Texas A&M on Saturday, sophomore receiver Mike Evans -- like most of his teammates and many of the 87,165 in attendance at Kyle Field -- could only watch helplessly.

For a young man who put forth a school-record receiving effort, it was hard to be limited to simply watching Auburn take a knee to run out the final 11 seconds. So Evans paced the sidelines angrily, yelled out a few words -- some you can't print, others that were hard to decipher -- and instead of watching the Tigers celebrate, jogged toward the locker room once the clock hit triple zeroes.

His head coach could understand the frustration in the immediate aftermath, a frustration that was certainly not exclusive to Evans.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
AP Photo/Bob LeveyMike Evans quietly has become one of the best receivers -- and maybe players -- in the country.
"I think you see how he plays," Sumlin said. "He plays that way, he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Again, he's one of the guys that he doesn't say much. Doesn't say much at practice or around everybody but he speaks with his play, and anybody who pours as much into it as he does, I can see where he'd be upset."

That passion, that chip, everything Evans pours onto the field has resulted in one of the best individual seasons of anyone in college football to this point in the year.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Evans leads the SEC in receiving yards (1,024), receiving touchdowns (nine), yards per reception (23.8) and has the second-longest catch of any SEC player this year (95 yards) only to Georgia's Reggie Davis (98).

Nationally, he's second only to Oregon State's Brandin Cooks in yardage and yards per catch and is fourth in touchdowns. The difference between Evans and Cooks or any of the nation's other top statistical receivers is that Evans' biggest games have come on the biggest stages.

Against No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 14, Evans posted a Texas A&M school record 279 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. He had 135 in the first quarter alone, and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban had to send out three different defensive backs to try to slow him down.

Saturday, he broke his month-old school record against then-No. 24 Auburn, logging 287 yards and four touchdowns on 11 receptions. His yards-per-reception rates in both games were eye-popping: 39.9 against the Crimson Tide, and 26.1 against Auburn.

"He's a great player," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said afteward. "Those two [Evans and quarterback Johnny Manziel] have the 'it' factor, and we knew that. He did a good job separating, made some big catches, and a couple of times we had him covered and they threw [to his] back shoulder. It's tough."

In only seven games, Evans is only 81 yards away from matching his yardage total from all of the 2012 season (1,105). He's a touchdown away from doubling his season touchdown reception total and his yards per reception is up by more than 10 yards (23.8 from 13.5).

Not known for breakaway speed before this season, Evans has shown he can separate and hit the home run. He had the 95-yard reception against Alabama, and on Saturday, one of his four touchdowns was a 64-yard catch-and-run, where most of the damage was done with his legs after the catch.

He's almost impossible to defend on jump balls. A former basketball star at Galveston (Texas) Ball High, Evans uses his leaping ability to rise above defenders for passes from Manziel and even shows a knack for getting in the proper position for the catch between multiple defenders, as if boxing out for a rebound.

"Mike's a great receiver," junior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "It's awesome to watch him and the plays he makes. When Johnny throws him a jump ball, it's always like: 'Alright, will the defender knock him down this time? Nope he caught it!' It's just something that he continues to do, and he's become great at it. He's perfected it really."

With his combination of size, speed, hands and leaping ability, Evans has the look of an attractive NFL draft prospect should he consider declaring for early entry (he's eligible after this season). And while some might call him the best receiver in the country, it might be time to throw him into the conversation among the best players in the country, regardless of his position, especially if he continues to play at this level.

"What can you say?" Sumlin said. "As I said after the first game of the year, he's one of the better players in the country, and I think people are starting to realize that, because he's a big guy that has home run ability but will compete for the ball in any kind of traffic."

Where does Texas A&M go from here?

October, 21, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — In the moments after an emotional, 49-42 home loss to No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 14, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told his team that nothing was out of the picture yet.

He reminded the Aggies about the time they went into the Crimson Tide's house, defeated them, and Alabama bounced back to win a BCS national championship. So from that point, A&M continued to hold on to its goals, moving forward.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Bob LeveyTexas A&M's national championship hopes were squashed by Auburn.
With the Aggies' most recent loss, a 45-41 setback to Auburn on Saturday at Kyle Field, things have changed. The chance to get to Atlanta for the SEC championship game is virtually gone. The faint glimmer of hope of possibly finding a back door into the BCS title game is no more. So what's the motivation for the No. 16 Aggies (5-2, 2-2 SEC)?

"I just said that there's still a lot out there in front of us," Sumlin said. "What's important now is not what has just happened. On Monday, the way we approach it, we've got to be honest with ourselves, win or lose. At this time of year, teams go a couple different directions. We've got to get back in here Monday, be honest with ourselves, make sure that what we can fix, we're going to fix as coaches and players and move on.

"We're in the middle of the season. We've got a lot of football left. There's no telling what can happen. In this league there are a lot of close games, people that lost today, too. We've got to keep playing. We can't dwell on this. But we've also got to be able to look honestly at where we are and how we're going to approach things from here on out."

Basically, Sumlin's message is consistent with what it has been since he arrived in Aggieland and throughout his coaching career: "It's about us."

If the Aggies find a way to win out in the regular season, it would be difficult to find much fault with it. A 10-2 season in the SEC stands on its own. Sure, Texas A&M had higher hopes and bigger dreams, ones that included a championship. But should they finish strong, a BCS berth could still be in the mix, depending on how the rest of the league plays out.

"Obviously, in the SEC, anybody can win," junior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "Any night, any place, home or away -- we're just going to come in here and work on the things we have to work on to get better as a team. We definitely don't underestimate anybody. So we'll just get better from that."

Talking about finishing strong and doing it are two different things, though. Vanderbilt is next on the docket, a team that is fresh off an upset of then-15th ranked Georgia. It's the second of a four-game home stretch that began Saturday, with UTEP and Mississippi State closing it out. Then the Aggies hit the road for their final two games, both on the road, and they'll be challenging: at LSU and at Missouri, which is the surprise team of the year and the leader of the SEC East.

Currently, the Aggies are fourth in the SEC West. It's not where they want to be. Sumlin's message is that there will be plenty of opportunities ahead.

"He told us that this loss will determine what type of team we are," sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said. "A lot of teams, after a loss like this, go straight downhill. He just told us that we still have a lot of football to play and we've got to be ready to come back next week and work.

"I think we go up. We have to go up. That's how we have to react to something like this. This has to show us how we have to work harder so we never feel like this ever again."

What we learned: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
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So the Aggies had to endure another thriller in order to pull out a 41-38 road win at Ole Miss. Here are three things we learned from the win:

Johnny Manziel is tough: The Heisman Trophy winner got beat up some against the Rebels. He apparently hurt his left knee in the first half, but after applying a brace, returned to put together a masterful performance. He took some big hits in the fourth quarter, but Manziel kept getting up and put his team in position to win.

The Aggies can rely on receivers not named Mike Evans: Evans has been Manziel's go-to guy but on Saturday it was Travis Labhart who led the team in receiving with eight catches for 97 yards. Malcome Kennedy added seven receptions for 89 yards, and Derel Walker had five for 72. So Manziel was able to spread the wealth to guys other than Evans, who had four catches for 46 yards.

The defense can get a key stop or two but still needs a lot of improvement: When the Aggies had to have a stop on Ole Miss' last offensive possession, the defense got that. But it was another rough night for a struggling A&M defense. The first half wasn't so bad. but Deshazor Everett got sidelined for a bit by an injury and there were some big plays given up in the second half, especially in the passing game. Overall the Aggies allowed 462 yards, including 329 passing. The Aggies got key stops against Arkansas as well, but the defense has to be better start to finish.

Aggies look to continue road success

September, 25, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Playing away from home is typically difficult in college football, but the road has been good to Kevin Sumlin in recent years, and as a result, Texas A&M last year.

After playing four straight games at home to start this season, the No. 10 Aggies (3-1) hit the road this weekend to resume their SEC schedule against Arkansas.

[+] Enlarge Julien Obioha
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesKevin Sumlin has all sorts of ways to motivate the Aggies for road games, such as the unveiling of all-black uniforms last season at Mississippi State.
Last season, the Aggies were undefeated away from Kyle Field, going 6-0 in road games and winning their neutral site contest in the AT&T Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma. Sumlin's teams have won 13 consecutive away from their home stadium dating back to his final season at Houston, where the Cougars were 6-0 on the road in 2011.

Sumlin said he believes the reason is consistency in approach.

"We don't change our routine much," Sumlin said. "The same routine we use at home, we use on the road. I think, just like a lot of different things, you try to keep it all the same. You go on the road, you try to create your own energy. We don't make a big deal about road trips."

The term "creating your own energy" can mean different things to different players.

"You just look around and you see the crowd and a lot of the times, I don't know if other players get the feeling but I get the feeling that they're cheering for me," junior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "It's something weird. Different players have different methods of approaching it but it's a very awesome experience."

The Aggies have tackled some tough opponents on the road. Last season, their road triumphs included No. 1 Alabama and two other regular season wins over teams that were ranked at the time the Aggies played them -- Mississippi State (ranked No. 15 at the time of the meeting) and Louisiana Tech (No. 23).

And though the Rebels weren't ranked, the Aggies' comeback win at Ole Miss proved to be a significant one for Texas A&M, since the team didn't play well from start to finish. The Aggies turned the ball over six times in that game but still climbed out of a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to win.

"I feel like when we go on the road, it's us against the world," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said. "We go into the stadium with a mindset that we have to come out here on top. Coach Sumlin has instilled in us that we have to focus and keep the same mindset, just like we're playing at home, but we're away."

Sometimes, Sumlin might try to do something to trigger the Aggies' energy level. Against Mississippi State last season, it was the unveiling of new all-black uniforms. When the Aggies played at Alabama, it was the first time that season that they donned what A&M calls the "icy whites," which is an all-white uniform, helmet included.

It isn't always easy to guess what it is, but Kennedy said Sumlin usually comes up with something.

"It's so hard to tell with him," Kennedy said. "It just happens. The great thing about it when it happens is that players get this new life about them. It's always something, because he cares about the team. He's such a players' coach. He knows what we need and he knows what we want, so he'll always make the best decision for us. We just lay back and we expect something but we don't know what it is yet."

It certainly doesn't hurt that Sumlin's teams have had elite quarterbacks running the show during the streak. Last season, it was Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In 2011, it was Case Keenum, who broke eight career FBS statistical records and was a dark-horse Heisman candidate until the final regular season game.

Having a good team with strong leadership helps also. The Aggies had much of that last season, as did Houston before that.

"When you're away, it really takes that leadership from your players," Aggies' senior running back Ben Malena said. "It takes guts, especially in this conference, to go out there and win on the road."

Aggies WR Kennedy emerging as weapon

September, 23, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When his number was called, Malcome Kennedy knew it was time to make a play.

It was a catch on a day Aggies won't soon forget. For Kennedy, it signified the start of something bigger, the expansion of his role as a weapon in Texas A&M's offense. The fact that the Aggies could trust Kennedy in the fourth quarter of the biggest game of the 2012 season -- at No. 1 Alabama -- meant he was ready to show he belonged.

So when Johnny Manziel looked Kennedy's way with 8:37 remaining on Nov. 10, 2012, Kennedy delivered with a touchdown that would serve as the final A&M points in the Aggies' 29-24 upset of the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"That was a great time," Kennedy said. "All I can remember is them calling the route and me knowing I had to win on that route."

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsJunior wide receiver Malcome Kennedy is having his most productive season with 19 catches for 218 yards and 4 touchdowns in four games.
Kennedy's post-corner route, in which he beat Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and hauled in a wobbly Manziel pass at the end of it, helped the Aggies pull off the signature win of their inaugural SEC season. While that remains the foremost highlight on Kennedy's reel, he's beginning to build a solid résumé full of touchdowns and receptions of all types, emerging as a reliable second receiving option next to potential All-American and sophomore standout Mike Evans.

"I think after last year, after the Alabama game, Malcome's been that guy," head coach Kevin Sumlin said Saturday. "He didn't do much the first six games last year with Ryan [Swope] being as good as he was, but I think ever since the catch at Alabama a year ago, which was a big-time play, I think he's continued to become an every-down, really good player. He's been solid for us through the bowl game last year and really had a good offseason. I think he's playing at a really, really high level, blocking well and has made some big plays for us even last week [against Alabama]."

When the Aggies and Crimson Tide had their rematch on Sept. 14, 2013, Evans stole the show among receivers. He broke an A&M record with 279 receiving yards. But Kennedy quietly had a strong game, catching six passes for 57 yards and three touchdowns. All three of those touchdowns came in the second half as the Aggies attempted to narrow the lead Alabama built in its eventual 49-42 victory.

"As much as publicity as Mike got, which he had an excellent football game, I saw a couple of touchdowns that got us back in the game out of Malcome Kennedy right in the middle of the field," Sumlin said. "He's going to be working there, he's doing a good job, he's a real leader for us and I'm really, really happy for his progress."

Texas A&M's 42-13 win over SMU on Saturday brought similar production, as Kennedy led the team in receptions (six), yards (83) and had another touchdown. He has at least three receptions in each of the Aggies' four games this season, he leads the team in touchdown catches (four) and is second in catches (19) and receiving yards (218). Receivers coach David Beaty praised Kennedy's work this offseason and emergence as a leader in the receivers' meeting room.

"He's actually getting a chance to really show what he can do," senior running back Ben Malena said. "He's so versatile, he has really good strength. ... For Malcome Kennedy, that's what you can expect from week-to-week. He's very consistent on the practice field, he gives 100-percent effort all the time. He's just a pro. He's a very consistent guy."

Kennedy's emergence is important for the Aggies on multiple levels. For starters, if opposing defenses focus extra attention on Evans, it potentially opens up the middle of the field for others, including Kennedy. Should the junior receiver prove capable of making those teams pay by catching passes across the middle, it forces those teams to make tough choices.

And if Kennedy can keep his consistency, it helps A&M replace the production it got from one of the school's all-time best receivers statistically, Swope. It was Swope, a senior last season, who had the biggest game against Alabama and was the second-leading receiver in terms of yardage for the Aggies in 2012. The Y receiver position that Swope played -- which Kennedy now mans -- is a key role in the Aggies' spread offense.

"Basically I try to be a go-to guy," Kennedy said. "I know Johnny tries to throw it to Mike a lot, and Mike's a big target, but we've got an inside game with the slot receivers. I try to be a third-down warrior. Basically trying to move the sticks and be a sure-handed man on the team."

Those are things Swope was a year ago. If Kennedy can keep building on his success and continue to develop a good chemistry with Manziel, it can only be a positive for the A&M passing game and make Kennedy known for more than just one big catch.

"Developing chemistry with Johnny is something we've done ever since the pass at Alabama," Kennedy said. "He's really putting a lot of trust in me, and I just try catch everything that's thrown my way. Throughout the fall camp and beginning of this year, he's really looking toward me to hit me as a moving target. I really believe that we're on the same page and I'm on the way to being a bigger guy than I was last year."

What we learned: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M rolled to a 42-13 win against SMU on Saturday at Kyle Field to improve to 3-1 on the season. Here's what we learned:

The A&M defense can make plays: The Aggies made a few lineup changes, most noticeably shifting cornerback Deshazor Everett to safety and starting true freshman Darian Claiborne at middle linebacker, and the moves appeared to pay dividends. Texas A&M allowed 434 yards but 142 of those came in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach. They held SMU to 5-of-16 on third down conversions, reminiscent of their success in that area last season. SMU didn't score a touchdown when the game was still in doubt, and though you can quibble about the quality of A&M's opponent, the Aggies hadn't stopped anybody -- even an FCS foe -- before Saturday. So the D was a positive.

Malcome Kennedy continues to emerge: After catching three touchdowns last week, Kennedy led the team in receiving on Saturday with six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Mike Evans is the go-to guy, but Kennedy is beginning to prove that he is a capable complement, something the Aggies' coaches hoped for and expected given his offseason progress.

The kicking game is still an issue: Sophomore Taylor Bertolet missed consecutive point-after-touchdown kick attempts on Saturday, and that prompted his removal from PAT and field-goal duty for the rest of the game. Junior kicker Josh Lambo took over those duties and connected on a 40-yard field goal and was 1-for-2 on PATs, with his only miss being the result of a bobbled ball by holder Drew Kaser. Whether Lambo is the answer remains to be seen, but the Aggies have to improve in that area because leaving points on the field is cause for trouble in SEC play. Sumlin called the situation "a competition."

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