Texas A&M Aggies: Matt Davis
Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Davis has elected to transfer, a source with knowledge of the decision told ESPN.com on Thursday. Davis, who was one of three candidates battling for the right to back up Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel this fall, will likely head to a junior college.
The 6-foot-2, 206-pound Davis was the No. 107 player in the 2012 ESPN 300 and was the sixth-ranked quarterback in the 2012 class. The four-star prospect enrolled at Texas A&M for the spring 2012 semester and participated in each of the last two spring and fall practice sessions for the Aggies.
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After a four-way battle that spanned spring football and preseason training camp, the then-redshirt freshman emerged as the Aggies signal-caller. Outside of Texas A&M, not much was widely known about the young man eventually tabbed at Johnny Football.
Fast forward a year and the Aggies are once again sifting through candidates to make a decision on a quarterback. The difference? This year's situation is much more complex.
"Last year's situation is a little bit different than right now," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday with a laugh. "It's kind of a fluid deal."
Many who follow Texas A&M football know the gist of the story: The Aggies are sifting through information in an effort to decide whether Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, will begin the season as the starting quarterback. The uncertainty stems from an NCAA investigation into allegations that Manziel profited from signing autographs, which -- if true -- could affect his eligibility.
While Texas A&M continues to do its due diligence in the matter, Aggies fans have understandably paid close attention to the battle of backup quarterbacks. Throughout preseason training camp, three candidates have fought for the right to be No. 2 to the Aggies' No. 2: junior Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Matt Davis and true freshman Kenny Hill.
Each player has his own distinct qualities.
"Joeckel's probably the most experienced," Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "He's a big kid, but not the most mobile guy, so you'd probably call the game a little differently than with Johnny in the game than him."
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Joeckel, the twin brother of former Texas A&M and current Jacksonville Jaguar offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, is the only one of the three candidates to have appeared in a college game. Matt Joeckel played in five games last season and made 11 pass attempts. It's not much experience but it's more than any other quarterback not named Manziel on the roster.
Hill is the greenest of the three but has seen plenty of practice time in order to help him understand and grasp the offense better. He's the product of a perennial power program in Texas high school football -- Southlake Carroll -- that's known for producing successful college quarterbacks.
"He's young, you can tell, I give a lot of credit to the Southlake Carroll coaches because you can tell he's been pretty experienced in this type of offense," Spavital said. "He's still going through the learning curve, so I'm trying to give him as many reps as possible because both Matts [Joeckel and Davis] went through spring ball, so I know what they're capable of doing. So I'm trying to put Kenny Hill through this."
As for Davis, Spavital said last week that the 6-2, 206-pound quarterback has had "a good offseason" and has been "throwing the ball pretty well out there." Though Davis redshirted last year, he does have the benefit of two spring practice sessions (he enrolled in time for the spring 2012 semester), two summers and two preseason training camps. While Joeckel isn't considered to be extremely mobile, the ability to make plays with his feet is one of Davis' strengths.
"Davis -- same as Joeckel, they can communicate and operate the offense the best so far because they're over the learning curve and it's year 2 of the offense," Spavital said.
Sumlin said on Tuesday that no decision has been made. The Aggies had their final two-a-day practice of training camp on Wednesday and begin game preparation for Rice today. Last year, Sumlin named Manziel his starter roughly two weeks before the Aggies originally-scheduled season opener. He said there is no such deadline this year because of the nature of the situation.
"We haven't made a decision on any of the quarterbacks at this point," Sumlin said. "They're still going. I'm not setting a date this year."
Throughout training camp, all three have taken turns working with the second-team offense. On Saturday, the Aggies hosted an open scrimmage at Kyle Field in front of roughly 10,000 fans. If the way repetitions were doled out in the scrimmage are an indication, it appears that Hill and Joeckel lead in the battle.
The 6-1, 215 Hill was the only one of the three to get a chance to run a series with the first-team offense in the scrimmage (Manziel took the majority of the first-team reps). He also had the most series (five) of any of the candidates that day. While that could have been some of the extra reps that Spavital alluded Hill needs, it also speaks to the confidence the staff has in his abilities and makes him a serious contender for the job.
Joeckel had four series and threw a touchdown pass while Davis had just two series and struggled, with both of his series ending without a first down.
Sumlin has overseen several quarterback battles in his head coaching career. In his first season at Houston, Case Keenum beat out Blake Joseph in training camp before going on to a record-setting career with the Cougars. In 2010, after injuries knocked Keenum and backup quarterback Cotton Turner out for the final nine games of the season, the Cougars had a mid-season battle between two then-true freshmen, David Piland and Terrance Broadway for a job that Piland eventually won.
Last season the aforementioned Manziel beat out Jameill Showers (who has since transferred to UTEP), Joeckel and Davis in training camp before making history, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Those experiences have helped Sumlin shape his philosophies on choosing a quarterback. The characteristics he looks for are clear.
"Leadership," Sumlin said. "Knowledge of the offense. Being comfortable. Not giving the ball to the other team. Pretty simple, huh?"
1. Clarity in the quarterback situation?
If we're to make a judgment based on how repetitions played out in Saturday's scrimmage, Hill looks to have a real shot at the job. He was the only one of the three to play a series with the first-team offense, something he did twice on Saturday, which is notable. Earlier in the week, quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said that Hill was getting extra reps because he wasn't as experienced in the offense as Joeckel and Davis, thus he needs them. So keep that in mind.
Joeckel led two lengthy scoring drives, while Davis' two series were brief three-and-outs. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel got plenty of time with the first team, but his playing status is still unclear amid an NCAA investigation. When asked if the school was any closer to a decision on whether Manziel will play Aug. 31, Sumlin said it's "probably no different than it was the first time we talked about it."
2. Key injury
Starting cornerback Deshazor Everett was on the sideline in street clothes with a wrap around his right hand. The injury? A broken thumb, according to Sumlin. The head coach wouldn't comment on whether Everett is expected to miss any game time because of the injury. A decision on his status (as well as that of safety Floyd Raven's) is still pending after both had offseason arrests. Sumlin said on Thursday that he still needs to visit with athletic director Eric Hyman regarding a decision on what, if any, further disciplinary action will be taken with Everett and Raven.
3. Defense progressing
With a lot of newcomers or players playing in new, more prominent roles, there are a lot of questions on defense. If Saturday's scrimmage is any indication, there's progress being made on that side of the football. The defense was able to generate pressure on the quarterback and even come up with two turnovers when Manziel was running the show. Steven Jenkins made an interception, newcomer at linebacker Tommy Sanders recovered a fumble and returned it for what would have been a score if not blown dead and defensive end Tyrone Taylor came up with a pair of sacks.
4. Receivers emerging
Sumlin said, "He has come light years since last summer. ... He continued to build confidence down the stretch and became a real leader for us this summer. I think you can see the confidence that he has playing and the confidence that the quarterbacks have in him."
Also, true freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez wowed the fans on hand by making some nice moves and showing off some speed on a 40-yard reception.
5. Mixed bag on special teams
Placekicker Taylor Bertolet is still recovering from offseason surgery (special teams coach Jeff Banks said earlier in the week that he has no concerns whether Bertolet will be ready for the season opener on Aug. 31), so Josh Lambo and Kyle Serres have been competing at that spot. Lambo got the lion's share of the work on Saturday, and Sumlin called the kicking game "spotty." Point-after-touchdown kicks were fine, but Lambo was 2-for-5 on field goals.
On the flip side, the punting by Drew Kaser drew rave reviews, as he boomed about four punts. "We're working on coverage, because of how far he's punting the ball," Sumlin said. "I'm not complaining."
In the punt return game, cornerback De'Vante Harris showed off some nice moves. He's one of several competing for that job.
Last week was also the first week of practice in preseason training camp for Texas A&M. Now we turn our focus to the field and look at some of the things we've learned from the first week of practice:
If the stories about the NCAA's investigation into allegations that he profited for autographs bothered Manziel, you couldn't tell by watching him practice. He looked like an even better version of the Manziel that observers came to know en route to him becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. He was accurate during 11-on-11 sessions, showed good command of the offense and even showcased his trademark scrambling ability to buy time to throw when plays broke down. Head coach Kevin Sumlin said Manziel has gotten better in several areas, including his understanding of the offense.
2. Receivers taking shape
When the first team worked out in 11-on-11 during the open-to-the-media portions of practice last week, the first-team group of receivers regularly featured four players: returning starter Mike Evans, sophomore Sabian Holmes, junior Malcome Kennedy and senior Derel Walker. While it might be too early to say with certainty that those will be the starting four the Aggies trot out on Aug. 31, but it might be safe to assume they'll be heavily in the rotation come the start of the season.
3. Obioha making smooth transition
One of the primary questions to be answered on defense centers around who will replace the production of defensive end Damontre Moore, who entered the 2013 NFL draft and is now with the New York Giants. Obioha has slid over to the rush end position occupied by Moore last season, and the reviews so far are positive for the sophomore. He started last season as a true freshman. Sumlin called him tough guy and hard worker and hopes he can continue to improve every game, like he did a season ago. Others will be counted on to help put pressure on the quarterback but Obioha will be a key piece.
4. Key players recovering from injuries
Sophomore running back Brandon Williams and kicker Taylor Bertolet were among the players to miss practice time last week because of injuries. Williams wore a walking boot and is recovering from offseason surgery on his foot, according to Sumlin, but should be ready for the Rice game on Aug. 31. Sumlin didn't expand on why Bertolet wasn't participating or when he'll be ready and most of the placekicking repetitions were taken by sophomore Josh Lambo and senior Kyle Serres, so that's worth monitoring.
5. Battle for backup quarterback job continues
If the first week is any indication, the battle for the backup quarterback job is wide open. During open portions of practice, there were instances where both redshirt freshman Matt Davis and junior Matt Joeckel got to work with the second group. Toward the end of the week, it appeared Davis got the first opportunity with the second group more often, but the battle will continue to go on. Also keep an eye on true freshman Kenny Hill. The Southlake (Texas) Carroll product doesn't have as much experience as the aforementioned two, but he is a true dual-threat with a good arm and good mobility and time in a similar scheme at Carroll.
Coach: Kevin Sumlin (46-19 overall, 11-2 at Texas A&M)
2012 record: 11-2
Key losses: OT Luke Joeckel, DE Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart, WR Ryan Swope
Key returnees: WR Mike Evans, DB Toney Hurd, QB Johnny Manziel, OT Jake Matthews, OT Cedric Ogbuehi
Newcomer to watch: RB Brandon Williams
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The status of quarterback Johnny Manziel. Looming over the Aggies is the NCAA investigation of Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, about whether he accepted payment for signing autographs. There's concern whether his eligibility for the upcoming season will be affected. If it is, the Aggies would have to turn to either junior Matt Joeckel or redshirt freshman Matt Davis at quarterback.
Forecast: If Manziel is cleared of any wrongdoing, then the Aggies are legitimate SEC West, SEC championship and perhaps BCS National Championship contenders. They'll likely be favored in every game except their home matchup against Alabama on Sept. 14, and perhaps the game at LSU on Nov. 23, one of the two teams they lost to last season.
Aside from Manziel, the biggest on-field questions for the Aggies are on defense. Three of their most productive players from 2012 -- defensive end Damontre Moore, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart -- are now in the NFL. The Aggies are young and inexperienced in the front seven, and the status of two starting defensive backs (cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven) are still to be determined after offseason arrests.
Still, with the return of Manziel, leading receiver Mike Evans and three offensive linemen, the Aggies have the offensive personnel to compete with any team in the country. They proved as much in their upset of eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last season. If the defense can make the kind of strides it did a season ago, when the Aggies had depth questions and concern about size up front in a line-of-scrimmage league, then Texas A&M can seriously contend.
If Manziel's eligibility is affected as a result of the NCAA investigation, the Aggies have no quarterback on the roster who has started a college game. Joeckel and Davis will battle it out in training camp. While the Aggies can be a good team without Manziel, dreams of reaching the highest heights will be severely limited if he is forced to miss more than two games.
No. 16 Matt Joeckel
No. 6 Matt Davis
Redshirt freshman quarterback
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Many of those changes could be seen on the initial 2013 depth chart released by head coach Kevin Sumlin. There are some absent names because of injuries and there's a long way to go before definitive statements can be made, but it certainly gives us some players and things to keep an eye on moving forward. Among them:
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Yes, it's already time to think about "next season."
The Aggies will hit the field for spring drills in mere weeks, with March 2 serving as the date for the first practice. Coach Kevin Sumlin and company will look to build on an unforgettable 11-2 season in which the Aggies won as many games as they had since 1998, defeated the eventual BCS champion, brought in a Heisman Trophy and crushed Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
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The 5-foot-11, 185-pound four-star prospect, a former USC commit, visited Texas A&M unofficially well before the 2012 season began. He made his official visit to Aggieland this weekend to get a second look and a closer look at the campus.
According to LaRue, things went well.
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The Aggies went into camp with an open competition and based on the first day of workouts, one might assume that the starter would be Jameill Showers [Showers took snaps with the first team on the first day of camp].
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Those expecting the redshirt freshman to be overcome by the gravity of the moment when he steps on the field for the first time as Texas A&M's starting quarterback as the Aggies host No. 24 Florida in their first Southeastern Conference game might be surprised.
Confidence, swagger -- whatever you call it -- Manziel has it, according to those around him.
As the Aggies prepare to make their SEC debut at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at Kyle Field, there will be a lot of new: a new head coach (Kevin Sumlin) and coaching staff, a new offense, a new defense and even new uniforms. Add Manziel to that list; the Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product is the new starting quarterback for Texas A&M, winning a competition in fall training camp.
Listen to teammates, coaches and former coaches talk about Manziel, and the same words continue to pop up: competitor, confident, leader, winner.
"Probably one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," said Mark Smith, his coach at Tivy who is now coaching at Converse (Texas) Judson. "I mean the boy wants to compete and he wants to excel and do well. And he made everybody else around him better. Those things have always stood out to me."
Manziel's leadership already has been seen during practices after Sumlin and Kingsbury named him the starting quarterback in August. Whether it's correcting mistakes or ensuring that everyone is on the same page, Manziel is getting it done.
"He's doing a real good job of stepping up and being real vocal," said Texas A&M senior center Patrick Lewis, one of the team's four captains. "Quarterbacks are normally in charge of the offense and he tells us what he wants and what he expects. For him to be so young and to demand that attention from us so early, it's really impressive to me.
"He'll come out there and give his little speech to the offense before we start practice and he demands perfection already. I'm proud of him; I'm happy for him. I can't wait to see what he can do once we start playing games."
At Tivy, Manziel -- sometimes called by his nickname, "Johnny Football" -- was a bona fide superstar. He was a Parade All-American and was named the Texas Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press as a senior. He broke the San Antonio area's single-season record with 3,609 passing yards and tied an area record with 45 touchdown passes. Not only that, he ran for 1,674 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Antlers to a 10-2 record. As a junior, Manziel carried his team to the Class 4A Division II state semifinals.
Throughout his high school career, in which he threw for more than 12,000 yards, Manziel would cause jaws to drop by making plays with either his arm or his feet.
"I don't know if I can count them all," Smith said. "He found ways to do stuff. ... He made some throws sometimes that you just don't know how he made them. And he did it. Or he made a run that made you go 'Holy cow.'"
I'd take him in a heartbeat. I wouldn't even blink. I think he has all the tools that are necessary for him to be successful and to lead a football team.
-- Mark Smith, who coached Manziel at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy.
He originally committed to Oregon the summer before his senior season. The distance from home was a concern for Manziel, who wanted his family and friends to be able to see him play. When Texas A&M extended him an offer and he had an opportunity to see what the Aggies had to offer, he switched his commitment.
"When he sat down and made the decision to go to A&M, he came into my office on a Sunday night ... we came in and just sat down and talked and put down what's important," Smith said. "And family is important to him. Being close to his family so that his mom and dad are able to see him [was important], and when you got down to it, that was the underlying factor to him going to A&M."
Manziel isn't perfect. Kingsbury said that in the spring the 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback was "reckless with the football." Manziel operates with the confidence that he can make any throw or any play at any time. Kingsbury and Sumlin's high-powered, up-tempo offense, which is rooted in Air Raid principles, functions effectively only if the quarterback is taking care of the ball and distributing it to the playmakers around him.
When Manziel arrived for fall camp in August, the coaches could see significant improvement from him, particularly in that area.
"With Johnny, it's probably that he thinks he's the best player out there every time he steps out," Kingsbury said. "So he wants the ball in his hands and wants to do everything with it. He has a great cast around him, he's got to get it to those guys and let them make plays. Like I said, just reeling him back in from the spring, he showed up and was making the routine play and that's what we want from him."
Off the field, Manziel had a hiccup in the summer. He was arrested in the Northgate bar district and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possessing a false identification card, all misdemeanors.
Sumlin set forth parameters that Manziel had to meet to have a chance to remain part of the team. Sumlin said Manziel met all of them and got back in good graces. Not only that, he won the staff over enough that they felt comfortable tabbing him as the quarterback who will lead the Aggies in their first SEC season.
"No doubt, like everybody else, I was disappointed, because you expect more of him," Smith said. "And I think once you understand the whole story and get down to it, really he probably got caught at the wrong time, doing the wrong things. And he's just like any other 19-year-old kid on a college campus. We'd like these guys to be model citizens and do all the right things and they don't always do [that]. He made a decision, but he owned up and that's the first thing he said, 'I was wrong.' And I think that's the first mark of a man, to be able to hold yourself accountable and say 'I made a mistake.'
"For him to come back out and overcome the adversity he's had, shows his perseverance and his willingness to be committed to Texas A&M and make them a better program and make himself a better player."
Texas A&M senior receiver Ryan Swope took it upon himself to speak with Manziel over the summer to help him adapt to the college game and learn the ins and outs of what it takes to play at this level. They didn't just talk about football. They talked about life as well.
Swope said the team believes in Manziel.
"I've got trust in him," Swope said. "I feel like our whole team does, and that's important. As a senior coming back, I've talked to all the receivers, and a guy like Johnny, we have full trust in. We're very excited for him and we just can't get complacent, and that's what we tell him. He's got to work every day because we've got three guys [Jameill Showers, Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis] right behind him that are wanting that spot, so it's important that he goes out and works hard every single day."
Sumlin said he's relying on the veteran offensive players around Manziel to help ease the transition as he gains game experience.
"Until you’re in a game with game speed and the intensity level, that’s where your experience comes from," Sumlin said. "He’s an inexperienced player and because of that, our surrounding cast of our offensive line or our running backs or our skill people on the perimeter who have experience, have to play well and create a quarterback-friendly atmosphere for him. Fortunately we’ve got experienced players in those positions.”
Smith, who was one of the first people Manziel called when he was officially named the starter in August, has no doubt that "Johnny Football" will succeed.
"I'd take him in a heartbeat," Smith said. "I wouldn't even blink. I think he has all the tools that are necessary for him to be successful and to lead a football team."
Let's take a look at each one from the spring and see where they currently stand:
The matchup: Sophomore Kiehl Frazier left the spring with the edge because he took most of the reps, as a sore shoulder sidelined junior Clint Moseley. This fall, freshman Jonathan Wallace entered the race and has continued to impress Auburn's staff.
The winner is: Frazier has the most athleticism and has felt much more comfortable throwing the ball with help from first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. While coach Gene Chizik continues to say the race is even between Frazier and Moseley, who is still dealing with shoulder soreness, we'll go with Frazier because of overall talent. He can make more plays with his feet and if his arm really does improve, he could be a solid dual-threat QB in this league.
The matchup: This two-horse race between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel has been intense since the spring. Brissett has had a little bit of the edge because of his game experience last year, but Driskel has made tremendous strides under the direction of new offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
The winner is: Will Muschamp continues to say the race is dead even. Driskel's bruised shoulder didn't even complicate the race. It doesn't sound like anyone really knows who has outperformed the other, but the concensus is the team and the coaches can win with either. With that said, Brissett has more experience and we assume is completely healthy, so we'll go with him, but both should play in the opener.
The matchup: Sophomore Maxwell Smith took all of the first-team reps this spring, while senior Morgan Newton recovered from shoulder surgery. However, Newton returned to get back into the race this fall. Joining them this fall were freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.
The winner is: Smith. Joker Phillips named Smith the starter on Monday, so this race has come to an end. The offense can now focus on running around Smith, who has been the most consistent of Kentucky's quarterbacks since the spring. This isn't a surprise.
The matchup: Neither of Hugh Freeze's quarterbacks have proven much at all and have struggled with consistency since spring. Barry Brunetti was given the starting job at the beginning of last season, but lost it almost immediately, and Bo Wallace is fresh off a season in the junior college ranks. Wallace, however, did spend a year with Freeze at Arkansas State.
The winner is: Wallace seemed to have the edge for part of the spring, and then lost it as Brunetti got more comfortable with Freeze's offense. Both quarterbacks and Freeze felt things were very even heading into champ, but Wallace has had a much stronger champ. Both could end up playing in the opener, but we'll go with Wallace.
The matchup: Sophomore Jameill Showers, who has the only game experience at quarter, and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel were nearly neck-and-neck for most of the spring, but Showers seemed to pull away little toward the end. Sophomore Matt Joeckel and true freshman Matt Davis also competed this spring.
The winner is: Manziel. It seemed as though Showers had the edge in this one, but Manziel outplayed him during fall camp. After a solid outing during one of the Aggies' scrimmages, coach Kevin Sumlin decided to end the battle and give the starting job to Manziel.
The matchup: Jordan Rodgers replaced Larry Smith last season, but still showed inconsistency on the field at times. So, this spring, he had a battle on his hands with Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, who was the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in 2009.
The winner: Rodgers. This was probably always his job to lose, and he didn't. He had a very good spring and fall camp. Rodgers said this summer that he felt way more comfortable with the people around him this spring and is poised to have a much better year this fall.
• Johnny Manziel: Now that the redshirt freshman has officially been named the starting quarterback, it'll be worth closely watching how he performs in a public setting. The Aggies are fewer than two weeks away from their season opener, so his continued progress will be key to Texas A&M's success. It will be also worth watching to see how the other quarterbacks perform in the wake of the decision.
• The return game: Finding a kick returner is something that still needs to be crossed off the to-do list for coach Kevin Sumlin and special teams coordinator Brian Polian. Polian mentioned that he's not afraid to look at freshmen as candidates and that includes running back Trey Williams and freshman receivers Sabian Holmes and Thomas Johnson.
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Johnny Manziel plays with confidence and lots of it.
That mentality coupled with his talent helped him put up video-game-like numbers at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy, become an All-American and a heavily recruited quarterback. That let-it-all-hang-out swagger has served him well, but in an offense such as Texas A&M's, which is based on accuracy, precision and quick decisions, that mentality can be a drawback.
Manziel's ability wasn't a question for coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kliff Kingsbury. His control and ability to work within the offense was, and it was in this area that the coaches saw significant improvement, helping the redshirt freshman win the starting job over sophomores Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel and true freshman Matt Davis.
"He just came back to camp and was making really quick decisions, protecting the football really well and just made plays, continually, every time we put him in," Kingsbury said. "He was moving the ball and scoring points and ultimately that's what you want."
In the spring, Manziel wasn't always careful, which is something the coaches wanted to see improvement on.
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