Texas A&M Aggies: Michael Lamothe

The 2012 season was one to remember for Texas A&M.

The Aggies' first season in the Southeastern Conference was better than almost anyone could expect. And while much of the focus centered around a redshirt freshman -- Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel -- first-year A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin repeatedly praised his seniors for their leadership and buying in when they didn't have to.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireRunning back Christine Michael was Texas A&M's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2009.
As Sumlin often said this year, "They didn't sign up to play for us."

Sumlin was referring to the upperclassmen -- and, really, anybody who wasn't a true freshman or transfer who joined the squad this season -- who signed up to play for previous head coach Mike Sherman.

Many of the Sherman recruits (Manziel included) played critical roles in the Aggies' ability to go 11-2, finish tied for second in the SEC West and conclude the season ranked in the top five. When looking back four years ago at the 2009 recruiting class, roughly a dozen of them wound up being key players in the memorable 2012 season.

There were several diamonds in the rough. Among them were Ryan Swope, who was ranked the No. 116 athlete in the country in 2009. The running back from Austin (Texas) Westlake became a receiver at Texas A&M and eventually set the school's career receiving yardage record, among other marks, such as single-season catches, single-season receiving yards and career 100-yard games.

Another lightly heralded player was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. Ranked 105th nationally at his position, the San Antonio Reagan product always brought high energy and effort and this season became a catalyst in the Aggies' transition to a 4-3 from a 3-4 the last two years. Nealy, a defensive end the previous two seasons, moved inside to defensive tackle and took on double teams week after week. The job he did inside helped facilitate the terrific season outside by defensive end Damontre Moore.

The other starting defensive tackle in 2012, who had a solid season of his own -- Kirby Ennis -- was also a member of the 2009 class.

One of the most important offensive players in 2012 not named Manziel was center Patrick Lewis, another class of 2009 recruit. As one of the "Louisianimals" as Lewis referred to himself and his fellow Louisiana natives, Lewis was the man who made the offense go, literally. The Aggies installed a high-tempo attack upon Sumlin's arrival, and dictating tempo was one of Lewis' primary jobs. He had to get to the ball before the ref spotted it and make protection calls as well. As one of the team captains, Lewis was a true leader.

The two senior linebackers who started for the Aggies, who also served as leaders for this year's team, were also part of the class of 2009: Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart. Both started all 13 games this year. Stewart was second on the team in tackles with 81, while Porter was fifth (66) and second on the team in tackles for loss (6.5).

Focus on '14: Receivers/tight ends 

November, 6, 2012
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GigEmNation is taking a weekly position-by-position look at the 2014 recruiting class as it relates to Texas A&M, whom the Aggies are targeting, as well as 2013 commits and who on the roster will graduate. Today, we look at receivers and tight ends.

[+] EnlargeK.D. Cannon
Max Olson/ESPN.comESPN Watch List receiver K.D. Cannon is one of the most sought-after players in Texas.
2013 commits: Derrick Griffin, Rosenberg (Texas) Terry; Quincy Adeboyejo, Cedar Hill (Texas) High School; Kyrion Parker, Manvel (Texas) High School; Jeremy Tabuyo, Honolulu St. Louis School. Two athlete commits -- LaQuvionte Gonzalez of Cedar Hill and Cameron Echols-Luper of Auburn (Ala.) High School -- are also possible receivers

Receivers and tight ends who will graduate: Brandal Jackson, Michael Lamothe, Kenric McNeal, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ryan Swope

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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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Film Review: LSU 24, Texas A&M 19 

October, 22, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M lost a close, hard-fought battle with LSU 24-19 on Saturday at Kyle Field, a day where the Aggies struggled taking care of the ball and met a defense that is filled with speed, athleticism and depth. Here's a closer look at three plays that helped tell the story of the game:

[+] EnlargeThomas Johnson
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireTexas A&M receiver Thomas Johnson has 21 catches and 269 yards receiving on the season.
Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-6 at the Aggies' 35 (4:33 left second quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 12, LSU 0
Result: Interception by LSU CB Jalen Collins, returned to the LSU 42.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M will host its second open-to-the-public scrimmage of fall training camp and third overall scrimmage at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Kyle Field. Here are some things to watch for in the scrimmage:

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 -- One development worth watching this fall will be the role of the tight end in Texas A&M's offense.

With two players, junior Nehemiah Hicks and senior Michael Lamothe battling for time on the field, there are a pair of options that bring good size to the table. But how will they fit into an offense that is predicated on getting the ball to playmakers, preferably those with receiver speed?

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is curious to see how that plays out, particularly with the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Hicks who was injured during spring practice.

"We want to see what he can do athletically, whether he's physically able to handle a 250-260 pound (defensive) end ... how fast he is and what kind of target he is inside or outside, we'll see," Sumlin said. "If we can find a guy like that, it makes our jobs a whole lot easier because you never have to take a guy like that off the field.

"That's why those guys are hard to find and hard to recruit and they get paid a lot of money at the next level. So there's not a whole lot of them walking around. So I'm anxious to see what he can and if he can help us, it'll be a real bonus for it."
[+] EnlargeHicks
Matt Ryerson/US PresswireNehemiah Hicks started seven games last season and caught 12 passes.

Players of traditional tight end size weren't often seen when Sumlin was at Houston, though there was one extensively used in Sumlin's first year, when 6-foot-3, 235-pound Mark Hafner led the Cougars in catches (86) and touchdowns (11) while recording a team second-best 907 receiving yards in 2008.

In Sumlin's final three years at Houston, no tight end recorded more than two receptions in a season, though the small handful that were on the roster were used in part-tim situations. In 2011, the Cougars even used an offensive lineman to line up at tight end on short yardage running plays.

At Texas A&M, there are options with the kind of size desired for a tight end. But Sumlin said the Aggies won't simply put a tight end on the field just for the sake of doing it.

"It's no secret we've used two tight end sets in the past, whether they were on the line or in the backfield or whatever they've been to create some problems for the defense,” Sumlin said. “So if we can get two guys that can play, then we'll play them. It doesn't make sense to put him in just to say he's in the game. If he can't block anybody or if he can't get open, it doesn't do us any good. If we have two effective guys, we'll use both of them."

The position took a bit of a hit in terms of depth when junior tight end Hutson Prioleau decided to leave the team, though Lamothe and Hicks are listed at No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart, respectively, entering fall camp. Last season, Lamothe proved versatile by lining up both at fullback and tight end, catching 14 passes for 109 yards. Hicks caught 12 passes for 106 yards and shared starting duties with Lamothe and Prioleau, starting seven games and playing in 12.

"Both are very talented guys that have played a lot here,” offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. “So we're excited how we can fit them into the offense and find ways to use them. But they're doing a great job for us right now."

Kingsbury said he's looking for someone who is versatile in what they do within the offense.

"They've got to be able to do more than just put their hand on the ground or stand up," Kingsbury said. "You want a good mix of both, so we'll see if they can fit in to what we're doing."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M went through its second practice of the fall on Saturday evening at the Coolidge Practice Fields and there were plenty of nuggets dispersed by coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder after practice to chew on. Among them:

" Snyder said sophomore defensive back Deshazor Everett has been working exclusively at cornerback so far. Everett, a 6-foot, 176-pound athlete from DeRidder, La., has the ability to play both cornerback and safety. Snyder said the time will come for Everett to work at both, but for now the staff is giving him a chance to win the starting job at one of the corner spots.

"We're trying to figure out if he's going to be our starting corner," Snyder said. "At some point in time though, he's going to have to become a dual player for us, especially when we go to nickel, so hopefully we can get that done. But for right now, we're keeping him at corner to see if he can win that spot."

Kliff Kingsbury
Ray Carlin/Icon SMIAggies offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury has been impressed by redshirt freshman receiver Mike Evans.
" One player who has caught the eye of Kingsbury is redshirt freshman receiver Mike Evans. The Galveston (Texas) Ball High product is 6-5, 218 and spent most of his high school career on the hardwood playing basketball before electing to try football as a senior in high school. Kingsbury likes Evans' progress.

"He's been really impressive," Kingsbury said. "We kick ourselves because we didn't offer him a scholarship at the University of Houston, which is unbelievable to me. But for a guy who has only played two years, he's really bought in. And the work at it since we got here day one and now is night and day, and he's really done a good job and I expect big things from him."

" Nobody has stepped to the forefront quite yet in the quarterback battle, according to Kingsbury. With the team working out without pads in the first two days, Kingsbury has had positive takeaways from the group.

"I think they all worked hard this summer and they're competing just like they did in spring," Kingsbury said. "So we'll keep rolling and we'll find a starter."

A few personnel notes:

  • Michael Lamothe and Nehemiah Hicks are competing at the tight end spot, but the position is a tad thinner now, as junior tight end Hutson Prioleau has left the team. Sumlin said the two met Friday and Prioleau decided that he will no longer play for the Aggies, but he will remain in school."We sat down and talked about it and he's decided that that's it for him," Sumlin said. "He's going to stay in school and graduate."

    Prioleau, a 6-4, 251-pound athlete from Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints Episcopal, caught 14 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown last season as a sophomore while playing in all 13 games, including three starts. He was a second-team All-Academic Big 12 selection as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
  • Freshman defensive lineman Alonzo Williams participated in practice with the team for the first time on Saturday. Williams, a 2012 signee out of Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic, will participate in workouts while the staff awaits word from the NCAA regarding his eligibility. The school has applied for a waiver on his behalf to allow him to participate while the NCAA completes its process.
  • Senior receiver Brandal Jackson is not a part of the 105-man roster that is participating in camp, Sumlin said. Sumlin did not say why."He's still on scholarship and he's still on the team but he has not invited into camp to start with with the 105," Sumlin said.
  • Sumlin said redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has continued to do what the staff has asked of him to participate with the team in practices in the wake of his June arrest on charges of fighting and and possessing a fake ID while in the Northgate bar district."We've been handling that, like I said, internally," Sumlin said. "He has some things that he has had to accomplish so far to even get back to practice. He's taking care of those and he has some more things that he's got to do to continue to stay in good graces. So that's where we are with that."
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 receivers and tight ends.

Current
Starters: Mike Evans, Michael Lamothe, Kenric McNeal, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ryan Swope


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Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.

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