Texas A&M Aggies: Myles Garrett

When it comes to Texas A&M's spring, the first question surrounding the Aggies often relates to the quarterback battle and who is in the lead to succeed Johnny Manziel.

The next question is usually relates to the defense, and how much better -- if at all -- the unit will be after a disastrous 2013 season.

While neither can be definitively answered, when it comes to the defense, there is at least some reason for optimism coming out of spring football. The Aggies can't get much worse than they were a year ago, when the ranked last or near last in the SEC in virtually every major statistical category, but there were signs during spring practice that indicate that brighter days are ahead for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's group.

One reason the Aggies have to feel better about their defense is the experience they'll have. Last year the root of the struggles seemed to be the youth and inexperience up and down the depth chart, with the Aggies having as many as a dozen freshmen in the defensive two-deep.

Though the Aggies will still be relatively young in some areas (particularly linebacker), most of the players who are candidates to start or see significant time were thrown in the fire last season.

Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a perfect example. Though he'll only be a sophomore this fall, he started against Alabama last Sept. 14 and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke. Mastrogiovanni called it "overwhelming," but as the guy getting first-team work at his position this spring, coaches have heaped praise upon the former ESPN 300 prospect.

Should defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne return from suspensions (both missed the spring after February arrests), they too will benefit. Both started a large portion of the season as true freshmen.

Other players who could be in position to contribute, such as linebacker Shaan Washington or cornerback Noel Ellis, weren't starters but saw enough field time to give them a taste of what life in the SEC is like.

Add to those young players a host of returning veterans, such as the starting secondary of Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris, Howard Matthews and Julien Obioha, Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams and the Aggies can begin piecing together a more experienced defense.

With so many players returning (nine starters return from last year's defense) and a top-five recruiting class on the way, the Aggies will continue to add to their talent level on defense. One defensive player is already on campus (defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson) and showed flashes of his potential during spring football.

With players like defensive end Myles Garrett, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect, ESPN 300 athlete Nick Harvey, who will be a defensive back at Texas A&M and other ESPN 300 prospects like Deshawn Washington, Otaro Alaka, Qualen Cunningham, Armani Watts and Josh Walker, competition will only increase when preseason training camp starts.


The increased depth on the defensive line could be the biggest factor in helping the defense improve. Snyder indicated how critical it was earlier this month.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] … that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

For the Aggies, there really is nowhere to go but up defensively. They could be another year away from being the kind of defense they hope to be, but the developments this spring suggest at least some improvement is in order in 2014.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Building the proper depth along the offensive and defensive lines has been one of Texas A&M's chief goals since joining the SEC.

In a league often dominated by line-of-scrimmage play, the Aggies know they have to be up to par if they want to be long-term contenders in the conference. On the offensive line, that hasn't been an issue. They've stayed relatively healthy and had high-level players across the front five.

Zaycovian Henderson
William Wilkerson/ESPNEarly enrollee Zaycoven Henderson is making an impact at Texas A&M.
On defense, it's another story.

While the Aggies had the luxury of a mostly veteran line and a highly productive defensive end in Damontre Moore in 2012, their inaugural SEC season, the 2013 season brought something totally different. The Aggies were young, inexperienced and not particularly deep as they continued to recruit in an effort to get better numbers on the defensive line.

After the Aggies' 13th practice of the spring on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder indicated that they're making progress toward that effort.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] yesterday that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

Snyder and Price could look at opponents such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU last season with envy. Those programs have enough talent on their defensive fronts to freely substitute and not worry about a drop-off in level of play. Texas A&M hasn't had that luxury the last two seasons, but with a heavy focus on defensive line recruiting in recent seasons and a highly regarded group coming in from the 2014 recruiting class, the Aggies are taking steps toward having that ability.

One benefit is that the Aggies return virtually their entire defensive line from 2013. Those same players who were rushed into duty as youngsters, such as defensive tackles Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker and defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Jay Arnold, will no longer be freshmen and have a year of SEC experience under their belts.

Add into the mix five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson as part of a five-man defensive line class, and suddenly the pieces begin to come in place.

Garrett, Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson are a trio of defensive ends due in Aggieland in the summer and it has pushed the incumbent defensive ends, such as junior Julien Obioha, to raise their level of play this spring.

"Obioha's fighting for his life because competition makes us all better and he knows what's coming," Snyder said.

Henderson is the only one of the five defensive line recruits to enroll in January and he'll be joined in the summer by Deshawn Washington. Henderson has already made waves in his short time on campus, but he still has progress to make this summer.

"(The new) guys, (they) don't know how to practice. (Henderson is) a little bit out of shape," Snyder said. "He does have a big rear end and he's a plugger in the middle. When he's fresh, he's not bad. ... Right now he's three plays and he's done. He's going to bring some beef up front for us."

Veterans such as Obioha, senior defensive end Gavin Stansbury and junior defensive tackle Alonzo Williams, who have two years of experience, are expected to have significant roles again this season. With those returnees, a redshirt freshman entering the mix [Justin Manning], the returning youngsters and incoming recruits on the way, the future on the defensive front looks a little bit better for the Aggies after a disastrous 2013 on defense.

"We're not there," Snyder said of the defensive depth. "We still need another recruiting class, but we're way, way, way closer."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of Kevin Sumlin's top priorities since becoming Texas A&M's head coach more than two years ago has been building a team that could compete in the trenches in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeGavin Stansbury
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty ImagesGavin Stansbury will be in the mix to be a big contributor on the Aggies defensive line.
Central to that effort is building the caliber of offensive and defensive lines necessary to win in the league. With a strong offensive line already on campus upon his arrival, Sumlin and his staff have been able to focus their efforts on recruiting SEC-caliber defensive linemen. So far, the Aggies appear to have done a good job stockpiling talent on the defensive line in the last two recruiting classes.

While young players continue to come in, that puts the onus on veterans on the roster to step it up. That's certainly the case at defensive end, where the Aggies had two true freshmen see time last year (Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall) but also have a handful of veterans (Gavin Stansbury, Julien Obioha, Tyrell Taylor and Tyrone Taylor).

Arnold and Hall are both sitting out spring recovering from injuries and Stansbury has been limited as well, but Sumlin addressed the state of his defensive ends on Monday.

"Obioha has been good," Sumlin said. "He hasn't had any problems with that back, which has been great for us. Stansbury, we know what he can do so we just want him to be completely healthy, which has given the Taylors a lot of reps because we don't know what they can do. They haven't been put in those positions to have to play a bunch of snaps and be counted on. Gavin has proven to us what he can do on Saturdays when he's healthy. When he's not healthy, it's a different guy. So we want to make sure he's healthy for the fall."

Once Arnold and Hall are healthy, it stands to reason both will figure into the mix at defensive end in the fall since both did enough to earn playing time a season ago. But the current crew will also be joined in the summer by a trio of highly touted freshmen from the 2014 recruiting class: five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 prospect Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.

That means now is the time for inexperienced players to prove they're worthy of playing time, because the competition will only get stiffer come August.

"That puts some of the onus on the Taylors to kind of show us what they can do and get them going because we've got two other D-ends in the program who have shown what they can do in Jay Arnold and Dae Dae (Daeshon Hall)," Sumlin said. "They're getting healthy and out running now. And the guys we recruited are obviously guys we expect to come in here and compete to play. In our way of thinking ... it's time for the Taylors to show what they can do and we're giving them every opportunity to do that right now."

Though the Aggies have been precautionary with Stansbury this spring, Sumlin was encouraged by his progress last season and feels like he is now a proven commodity.

"Defensively, Gavin was probably the most improved player that we had coming through the year," Sumlin said. "That's why I said, when he's healthy, he's really, really effective for us."

Obioha is a two-year starter who said earlier this spring that he feels good. His veteran presence will be welcome in the fall, too.

For the Taylor twins, Tyrell (a senior) and Tyrone (a redshirt sophomore), now is the time to perform, Sumlin says.

"What we're trying to do right now is get the guys healthy that have experience and the Taylor twins, who don't have that type of experience, they need to prove where they are in their capability to be able to help us win," Sumlin said.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M’s work toward putting a defensive product on the field that is drastically better than the one that lined up in 2013 is among the most important offseason tasks.

Climbing out of the SEC cellar in major defensive statistical categories is critical if the Aggies wish to succeed in the SEC West. Central to that goal is the performance of the Aggies’ defensive line, a unit that is a work in progress this spring.

[+] Enlarge Julien Obioha
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJulien Obioha is a season contributor on the Aggies' DL. Now he's looking for some help.
There’s a mix of missing bodies due to injury (defensive ends Jay Arnold, Daeshon Hall and Tyrone Taylor) as well as one to a suspension (Isaiah Golden, who recently withdrew from school but is expected back). That has given a chance for new faces to get turns in the rotation and show their worthiness to the coaching staff.

“Zaycoven [Henderson] has continued to impress,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said of the true freshman, who enrolled in January.

Henderson, at 6-foot-1 and 310 pounds, appears to be a possible instant-impact player. The four-star 2014 prospect, who was previously committed to TCU and Texas before eventually landing in Aggieland, brings the size and ability the Aggies need to improve their quality and depth at defensive tackle. That’s significant for a run defense that allowed 222 rushing yards per game and ranked 110th nationally (as well as last in the SEC) in that area.

Another defensive tackle making waves this month is one from the previous recruiting class: 2013 signee Justin Manning.

Ranked as the top defensive tackle in the state of Texas in his class, and the ninth-best nationally, Manning didn’t see a snap of game action last fall while he redshirted. But Golden’s absence has allowed Manning to get some time in the two-deep this spring and show the improvements he has made.

“[He] showed some twitch that he had in high school,” Sumlin said. “He lost a little weight; when he got here he was out of shape. He has come on.”

If Henderson and Manning can contribute, that helps bolster the Aggies up the middle, where they already have veteran Alonzo Williams and sophomore Hardreck Walker, who also contributed as a true freshman. With ESPN 300 defensive tackle DeShawn Washington arriving this summer and Golden expected to return, the Aggies could begin to show the kind of depth Sumlin has been pining for since taking over the program.

At defensive end, there’s a mix of veterans and youth. Julien Obioha, who has been a starter since his true freshman season, is now a junior. Senior Gavin Stansbury is coming off his best season in Aggieland, showing flashes of his potential last fall. Senior Tyrell Taylor is back also and has been getting turns this spring.

The two young players at the position who are sitting out with injuries this spring -- Arnold and Hall -- both saw time as true freshmen last season, suggesting a promising future for each. And in the summer, the Aggies will welcome the services of five-star recruit Myles Garrett as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.

Obioha said he is looking forward to the increased depth.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “My first couple of years here I had to play 60-70 plays [per game] and you don’t want to play that much. When you think about a two-deep or a three-deep, you want to play maybe 35 plays and having those 35 plays be where you can come 100 percent every play and you’re not tired.”

Defensive line coach Terry Price’s message to his group this spring has been clear.

“Last year, bottom of the SEC, bottom 25 in the nation, that’s not going to happen this year, that’s been the message,” Obioha said. “We’re going to be completely different this year from the bottom to the top and it all starts with the D-line.”
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at which programs compiled the nation's best overall position classes in 2014. For the full top position classes series, click here.

Quarterbacks: Florida
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating up-tempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.


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

Through the first seven games of the 2013 season, Texas A&M's defense recorded only seven sacks. Needless to say, the Aggies' pass rush needed quite a bit of help.

Thanks to a huge boost in a win over Vanderbilt, the Aggies finished the season much better than they started it, collecting 14 sacks in the final six games, including seven against the Commodores.

The pass rush comes from a multitude of positions but perhaps none more crucial than defensive end. And that's where one of the intriguing battles of spring football will ensue.

Everyone that was on the Texas A&M two-deep depth chart at defensive end is back this season. Consider that there are defensive ends on the way in the summer via the Aggies' 2014 recruiting class, and it stands to reason that the competition will be plentiful.

[+] EnlargeGavin Stansbury
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGavin Stansbury is the leading returning defensive end for Texas A&M, as he compiled three sacks and 47 tackles last season.
But for now, let's focus on the guys that will be on the field in the spring. The player who was perhaps the most productive last season that returns is Gavin Stansbury. As a junior, Stansbury tied for the team lead with three sacks and had 47 tackles, tops among all Texas A&M defensive linemen.

He'll be a senior this season and seemed to hit his stride in the second half of 2013. He'll need to carry that momentum into the spring.

Another experienced player returning is Julien Obioha, who started as a true freshman and a sophomore. Obioha started 12 of 13 games in 2012. Last season, the soon-to-be-junior started 11 of the Aggies' 13 games. Obioha led the Aggies' defensive linemen in tackles-for-loss with five and also had one sack. He has two seasons of experience in the SEC, which is valuable, but the Aggies are hoping to see increased production from the veteran.

After Stansbury and Obioha, youth is served. Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall, both of whom earned playing time as true freshmen, could be a factor. Hall appeared in all 13 games and showed flashes of his potential, compiling three tackles for loss and recording an interception. Playing at 245 pounds last season, the 6-foot-6 Hall could stand to bulk up even more this offseason if his role is going to expand. The coaching staff certainly has high hopes for the athletic Hall.

Arnold, who appeared in nine games last season, earned a start in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke and also played significant time against Missouri in the regular-season finale. Arnold was productive in his limited time, garnering two sacks and three tackles for loss. Physically, Arnold was much more college ready (6-4, 275) and that can only help him moving forward. The fact that he received increased playing time late in the season suggests he has a chance to make an impact moving forward, so it'll be worth watching how much work he receives this spring.

The Taylor twins, Tyrell Taylor and Tyrone Taylor, are also back. Tyrone, who will be a sophomore, appeared in 10 games in 2013, compiling three tackles for loss and a sack. Tyrell, who will be a senior, appeared in only two and registered a half-sack.

The Aggies need all the pass rush help they can get this fall if they're going to improve on the struggling defense they had in 2013. Each of the above players will not only have to show improvement this spring and this fall, they'll have to attempt to fend off the incoming recruits, namely five-star defensive end Myles Garrett (6-5, 255), for playing time.

Fournette tabbed as top impact freshman

February, 18, 2014
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LSU running back signee Leonard Fournette was the No. 1 overall prospect in the country this year, according to ESPN.

The fans in our SportsNation poll also believe he will be the top impact true freshman in the SEC next season.

With more than 6,200 votes cast, Fournette narrowly beat out Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. Fournette received 34 percent of the vote and Garrett 32 percent. Garrett was ranked by ESPN as the No. 4 overall prospect in the country.

Tennessee receiver Josh Malone was third with 14 percent of the vote. Alabama defensive end Da'Shawn Hand was fourth with 13 percent, and Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey fifth with 7 percent.

Obviously, there's always the chance that the top impact true freshman in 2014 won't be one of these five. Alabama's class is absolutely loaded, and somebody else to watch next season is Cameron Robinson. He could end up being the Crimson Tide's starting left tackle. Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor is another one who could be a starter from Day One.

So much can change between now and then, but it's always fun to project.

For the record, Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell was named by the coaches as the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013. Treadwell was ranked as the No. 19 overall prospect in the 2013 class by ESPN and the No. 1 receiver nationally.

Top position classes: DL 

February, 14, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
Texas A&M went into the 2014 class knowing that size and athleticism was an absolute must on its defensive front. And Kevin Sumlin and staff delivered on those glaring needs. Leading the way is No. 1 defensive end and five-star player Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), who has the size, speed and power combination to be a difference-maker early on next fall. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Garrett is joined at defensive end by ESPN 300 No. 203 Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), and high three-star Jarrett Johnson (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes), who has a nonstop motor. While the Aggies have some talented young defensive tackles, continuing to add size and athleticism to the interior was a must. No. 150 DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland) and four-star early enrollee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) add disruptive explosiveness and athleticism.

The Aggies had the nation’s best defensive line class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Poll: SEC's top impact true freshmen

February, 12, 2014
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Edward and I have both projected who we think will be the SEC's top impact true freshmen next season. Now it's your turn.

SportsNation

Which true freshmen in the 2014 signing class will make the biggest impact next season in the SEC?

  •  
    34%
  •  
    31%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,616)

We've come up with five candidates for you to pick from, some of them different than the ones we selected in our top five, and invite you to go to our SportsNation poll and vote. We'll unveil the results later this week.

According to ESPN's rankings, the country's No. 1 running back (Leonard Fournette/LSU), No. 1 quarterback-pocket passer (Kyle Allen/Texas A&M), No. 1 offensive tackle (Cameron Robinson/Alabama), No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre/LSU), No. 1 offensive guard (Garrett Brumfield/LSU), No. 1 defensive end (Myles Garrett/Texas A&M), No. 1 outside linebacker (Christian Miller/Alabama) and No. 1 athlete (Speedy Noil/Texas A&M) all signed with SEC schools.

In addition, seven of the top 10 signing classes belonged to SEC schools, and 27 of the top 50 players overall in this class are headed to the SEC.

But who's going to be the true freshmen who makes the biggest splash next season? Let's see who you, the fans, come up with.

Chris' top impact true freshmen

February, 12, 2014
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Now that the 2014 signing classes are complete, the next thing everybody wants to know is who’s going to make the most profound impact next season as true freshmen.

That’s always a tricky proposition. Sometimes, the can't-miss guys take a while to develop or have a veteran player in front of them, while some of the lower-ranked recruits end up being better than their rankings and get on the field sooner than the five-star guys.

I'm going to take my stab at the top five impact true freshmen in the SEC next season, and Edward will come back with his top five later today.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: No player in this class generated more buzz than Fournette, who was ranked No. 1 overall by ESPN. Very few freshmen come into the SEC looking physically like they’ve already been in the league for a couple of years, but the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Fournette fits that bill. He’s a physical runner with that extra gear to break the long ones and also has excellent hands. Moreover, the Tigers are losing Jeremy Hill early to the NFL draft along with Alfred Blue. It’s no secret that Les Miles loves to run the football, and Fournette will be toting it early and often in 2014.

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: Anybody who can make a play on defense next season for the Aggies will get every chance to start, and the 6-5, 247-pound Garrett is that explosive pass-rusher Texas A&M so desperately lacked a season ago while finishing last in the SEC in both scoring and total defense. Garrett, ranked as ESPN’s No. 1 defensive end prospect, has that blend of speed and power and should help the Aggies improve on their 21 sacks from last season.

Wesley Green, CB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks had to fight hard down the stretch to hold off Georgia for Green, who's from Lithonia, Ga., and was one of the top 10 prospects in that state. He's a pure cover cornerback who plays with an edge and loves to challenge receivers. That's been one of the keys for the Gamecocks over the last few seasons on defense. Their cornerbacks have been able to play tight coverage on receivers, and that's right up Green's alley. With Victor Hampton leaving early for the NFL draft and senior Jimmy Legree also departing, Green should see the field early this fall.

Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee: Over the years, Tennessee has leaned on freshman running backs more than a few times. Jamal Lewis, James "Little Man" Stewart, Arian Foster and Reggie Cobb all come to mind. Hurd, an ESPN 300 player and one of the top running back prospects in this class, is already enrolled in school, giving him a big head start. He's 6-3, 227 pounds and can also run. It's worth noting that Hurd is coming off an injury during his senior year of high school, but with the Vols losing 1,124-yard rusher Rajion Neal, they're going to need a workhorse in that backfield.

Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama: The Crimson Tide went into West Monroe, La., to get the 6-6, 325-pound Robinson, and it's not too far-fetched to think that he could emerge as Alabama's starting left tackle next season. Robinson, ranked as the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the country by ESPN, is already on campus as an early enrollee and will go through spring practice. He's evoked visions of Cyrus Kouandjio when Kouandjio was a true freshman, and Kouandjio played in eight games that season before suffering an injury. Robinson is made of the same stuff both physically and mentally.

Recruiting hits and misses: SEC West

February, 6, 2014
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Now that the fax machines are quiet, the 2014 signing classes have been announced and before we start looking ahead to 2015, let's take a moment to examine how each of the SEC schools did in filling immediate needs via recruiting.

We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC West (click here for the SEC East):

ALABAMA

Needs filled: It was obvious Alabama needed help at cornerback, and the Crimson Tide went out and got two of the best in the country in five-star prospects Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. Pass rushers were also a priority, which makes five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand and four-star outside linebackers Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller key pickups. Cameron Robinson, yet another five-star prospect, could end up starting at left tackle next season on the offensive line.

Holes remaining: The Crimson Tide could have used another marquee receiver and lost out on No. 1 wideout Malachi Dupre to LSU. With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri both heading early to the NFL, the Tide also might have come up short at safety.

ARKANSAS

Needs filled: The Hogs’ passing game was in need of a jump-start, and getting an ESPN 300 player out of Miami the caliber of JoJo Robinson adds another playmaker to the equation. Arkansas’ offensive line class is equally impressive with four-star prospects Brian Wallace and Frank Ragnow and three-star prospect Jovan Pruitt joining Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper from last year’s class.

Holes remaining: The highest-ranked player in the Hogs’ class was defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., which was big considering they need help everywhere on defense. But they missed out on a pair of highly ranked defensive ends in Solomon Thomas and Demetrius Jackson.

AUBURN

Needs filled: Gus Malzahn called ESPN 300 prospect Tre' Williams the key to the class, and he should provide an immediate boost at linebacker. With Chris Davis departing, the Tigers also needed to replenish at cornerback, which is where four-star prospects Kalvaraz Bessent and Stephen Roberts come in. Both were ranked in the top 10 nationally at their position. With Greg Robinson leaving early for the NFL draft, it was good to add muscle on the offensive line with ESPN 300 prospect Braden Smith, who could play guard or tackle.

Holes remaining: The sting of losing Evans, who’s from Auburn, to Alabama could be felt for a while. He's the kind of explosive athlete who would fit on any defense, and the Tigers need more of those guys, particularly at linebacker.

LSU

Needs filled: The loss of running back Jeremy Hill early to the NFL draft was lessened by landing Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall prospect in this class. It only got better for the Tigers’ offense on signing day when the country’s No. 1 receiver, Dupre, said he would play his college football on the Bayou. Safety was a real sore spot on defense last season, so getting ESPN 300 prospect Jamal Adams was a major pickup. Adams is rated by ESPN RecruitingNation as the No. 2 safety in the 2014 class.

Holes remaining: Robinson would have been a nice centerpiece on that LSU offensive line, but Alabama came into West Monroe, La., and swiped the five-star prospect. The Tigers also lost five-star athlete Speedy Noil of New Orleans to Texas A&M.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Needs filled: Junior college signee Jocquell Johnson is already on campus and will battle for a starting job next season on an offensive line that’s losing two starters, including All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson. The Bulldogs also added a pair of playmakers at receiver in ESPN 300 prospects Jamoral Graham and Jesse Jackson. Flipping 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive lineman Cory Thomas from Tennessee on signing day added some more punch to an already deep and talented defensive line in Starkville.

Holes remaining: More secondary help would have been nice, which is why losing cornerback Tee Shepard to Ole Miss on signing day was a downer. A couple of the offensive linemen the Bulldogs wanted, Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings, also opted for Ole Miss.

OLE MISS

Needs filled: The Rebels wanted to continue to stockpile talent on the offensive line after reeling in Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson a year ago and did that with four-star prospects Rod Taylor, Tyler Putman and Sims. Upgrading the defense was also a priority, which is why beating Alabama for ESPN 300 safety C.J. Hampton was so important along with getting ESPN 300 defensive end Garrald McDowell out of Louisiana. Flipping junior college cornerback Shepard from Mississippi State was a nice signing day coup.

Holes remaining: You can never have enough defensive linemen in the SEC, so losing defensive tackle Michael Sawyers to Tennessee was a blow. The same goes for ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux, who stuck with his commitment and signed with LSU.

TEXAS A&M

Needs filled: With Johnny Manziel taking his show to the NFL, Texas A&M has to find a quarterback. Early enrollee Kyle Allen is an ESPN 300 prospect and ranked as the No. 1 pocket passer in this class. Noil, another early enrollee, should help fill a void with big-play receiver Mike Evans headed to the NFL, and the Aggies also loaded up on offensive linemen, including a pair of junior college signees. Any help on defense was a priority, which makes five-star defensive end Myles Garrett one of the keys to the class.

Holes remaining: The Aggies are still thin at safety after swinging and missing on several of their top targets in this class, including Adams, Steven Parker II and Mattrell McGraw. They also had ESPN 300 safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner committed but lost him to Boise State when Marcel Yates took the defensive coordinator job there.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Look around the football facilities at Texas A&M these days and you can notice a significant difference from what they used to look like.

The Bright Football Complex, where the coaches and team are headquartered, is bigger, shinier and more well-lit than before thanks to a $4-million renovation of the lobby. On the second floor, where an outdoor patio used to reside, a $12-million nutrition center now exists.

Out of the front of the complex and to your left, the 17-month-old Davis Player Development Center serves as the football team's pristine weight room where strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson puts the players through the paces. And of course, Kyle Field looks nothing like it used to, as it undergoes a $450-million renovation that will turn it into a 102,500-seat cathedral.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesKevin Sumlin has quickly turned Texas A&M into a national player in recruiting.
Add in some more renovations to the Bright Complex later this year and next and you have nearly $500-million committed to A&M football. Certainly, that buys a program some nice things.

On Wednesday, the Aggies took a huge step toward ensuring they field a product worthy of all their nice surroundings, one that can continue to be competitive in the SEC. At national signing day's end, Texas A&M hauled in 22 prospects that comprised the nation's fourth-ranked recruiting class, a sign of where the program is now.

Since recruiting entered its Internet age, the Aggies have never inked a class ranked this high.

"I think what people are seeing and prospects are seeing is the trend of where we are and where we can be, based on the commitment from the university to this program and the type of competitive games that we're in," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "I've said it in a lot of people's homes, we're a program that's trying to go from eight, nine, 10, 11 wins to 12, 13, 14 wins, and talent makes a huge difference in that."

Sumlin is talking about championships -- division championships, conference championships, national championships. Right now it's simply talk, a goal that the Aggies are aiming for. But it should come as no surprise that he mentioned Florida State on a couple occasions during his news conference today because of the momentum the Seminoles have maintained on the recruiting trail in recent years. That success led to the on-field success they enjoyed this past season, winning the BCS national championship.

That's the pattern the Aggies hope to follow. There are multiple components to building a championship program, but perhaps none more important than recruiting. With a top-five class this year and a top-10 class last year (the Aggies were No. 8 in the 2013 ESPN recruiting class rankings), the foundation is being built.

"Based on what you've seen in college football in the BCS era, recruiting has correlated to championships, the combination of coaching and recruiting," Sumlin said. "You look at the rankings of these classes, whether we want to admit it as coaches or not and give people credit, those teams have been very, very strong have been very strong in the rankings nationally. … It can't be one or two [classes], you've got to put these things together. Hopefully we'll be able to continue that way."

To get a barometer of where the Aggies are, look at where they got two of their top three-ranked prospects. Five-star athlete Speedy Noil is a New Orleans product and was a player LSU wanted. It's no easy task to go into Louisiana and take prospects the Tigers want, as they're adept at keeping elite players in state. Kyle Allen, the nation's No. 1-ranked pocket passer, hails from Arizona.

Five years ago, it would be almost impossible to imagine that the Aggies would be able to get the No. 1 player at multiple positions from outside the state of Texas. But with their 20-6 record in two seasons of SEC play, the buzz created by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the television exposure and ratings the Aggies have received, it has allowed them to become a national brand that appeals to recruits across the country.

Still, the battle in the rugged SEC is an uphill one. The Aggies were fourth in the country with this recruiting class but third in the SEC West behind Alabama (No. 1) and LSU (No. 2). The Aggies started the day second but LSU and Florida State made late surges to grab the second and third spots.

Even so, the Aggies’ class is strong. Two five-star prospects, led by the nation's No. 1 defensive end and No. 4 overall player Myles Garrett, headline the class. There's a sense of balance with 11 prospects on each side of the football but five on the defensive line, an area that the Aggies need to continue to build to be competitive long term in the SEC. And of their 22 commits, 10 were ESPN 300 prospects. Garrett is the highest-ranked player and first top-five player the Aggies have signed since landing quarterback Reggie McNeal in the 2002 class.

Texas A&M still has a long way to go but it’s making big strides, as Wednesday's results showed.

"Are we gaining ground? I hope so," Sumlin said. "But we're doing the best we can right now and we're pleased with where we are. I think the key is when you're in that area, you've got to, just like playing in this league, you've got to scratch and claw to stay up in that area to stay in that area to really be competitive."

Ultimate ESPN 300: Future members 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
11:00
AM ET
It’s never too early to look ahead to next year. Here are five current prospects in the 2014 class we feel could make their mark in future editions of the Ultimate ESPN 300.

RB Leonard Fournette (LSU): It’s not just based on the fact that he’s the top-rated player in the ESPN 300, but rather the perfect blend of talent, need and fit that awaits him at LSU. Fournette is an ideal downhill back for LSU's system. He is physically ready to carry the load and should have an immediate chance to make an impression with the Tigers' lack of depth in the backfield.


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SEC recruiting scorecard

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
3:30
PM ET
Believe it or not, national signing day is creeping closer and closer. Soon, we'll be introducing 2014 recruiting classes all over the country, before eventually stashing them in the past and salivating on the gems of 2015.

Recruiting, right?

But as fans all over -- especially in the Southeast -- continue their anxious countdown to Feb. 5, it only made sense that we take a quick look at how all 14 SEC teams are faring before college football's equivalent to Christmas Day.

As of Friday, seven SEC teams rank in the top 10 of ESPN's recruiting class rankings. Alabama and Texas A&M lead the charge for the league, ranking first and second , respectively. Alabama has 24 verbal commitments, with 17 in the ESPN 300. Four are five-star prospects. Texas A&M has 21 commitments, including 10 ESPN 300 members and two five-star prospects.

How's the rest of the SEC doing before signing day? Let's take a look:

ALABAMA

2014 verbal commitments: 24

Spotlight: Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand of Woodbridge, Va., is a huge addition for the Crimson Tide. He's the nation's No. 2-ranked defensive end and could provide an immediate spark to a front seven that wants to generate more pressure on opposing backfields.

ESPN 300 members: 17 (Hand, OT Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La., CB Tony Brown of Beaumont, Texas, RB Bo Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa, Ala., S Laurence Jones of Monroe, La., OLB Christian Miller of Columbia, S.C., WR Cameron Sims of Monroe La., QB David Cornwell of Norman, Okla., Ross Pierschbacher of Cedar Falls, Iowa, ATH Ronnie Clark of Calera, Ala., ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton of Montgomery, Ala., DT Joshua Frazier of Springdale Ark., C Josh Casher of Mobile, Ala., C J.C. Hassenauer of Woodbury, Minn., WR Derek Kief of Cincinnati, DT O.J. Smith of Bossier City, La.)

Key targets: There isn't a ton of space left in this class, but Alabama is still going strong after five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, Ala., and four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam of Elizabethtown, Ky.

ARKANSAS

2014 verbal commitments: 19

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., is the top player in the state and ranked as the nation's No. 6 defensive tackle. At 6-2, 334 pounds, Jackson can clog the middle for the run, but has the quickness off the line to be a threat against the pass as well.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Jackson, OT Brian Wallace of St, Louis)

Key targets: The Razorbacks would like to add a receiver and are looking at Vanderbilt commit Kameron Uter and three-star Kendrick Edwards of Miami. Offensive linemen Frank Ragnow and Rashawn Shaw are also on Arkansas' radar.

AUBURN

2014 verbal commitments: 21

Spotlight: Tre Mason might be gone, but Gus Malzahn hopes he has a solid replacement in running back Racean Thomas of Oxford, Ala. The nation's No. 5 running back runs hard and has the explosiveness to make some real noise in Auburn's offense. He's also elusive and strong enough to stretch plays.

ESPN 300 members: 10 (Thomas, QB Sean White of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., CB Stephen Roberts of Opelika, Ala., CB Kalvaraz Bessent of Kingsland, Ga., ILB Tre' Williams of Mobile, Ala., ATH Nicholas Ruffin of Atlanta, DE Justin Thornton of Prichard, Ala., DT Dontavius Russell of Carrollton, Ga., ATH Stanton Truitt of Monre, Ga., RB Kamryn Pettway of Prettville, Ala.)

Key targets: Auburn is almost done with this class, but ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans and defensive end Andrew Williams are still in the mix. So is offensive guard Jordan Sims of Birmingham, Ala.

FLORIDA

2014 verbal commitments: 21

Spotlight: Quarterback Will Grier of Davidson, N.C., is already on campus and gives the Gators a real quality body to work with behind Jeff Driskel. Grier appears to be he future of the position and totaled 4,989 passing yards with a national-best 77 touchdowns, while rushing for another 1,251 yards with 13 more scores in 2013.

ESPN 300 members: 12 (Grier, CB Jalen Tabor of Washington, D.C., OT David Sharpe of Jacksonville, Fla., DT Gerald Willis III of New Orleans, DT Thomas Holley of Brooklyn, N.Y., ATH J.C. Jackson of Immokalee, Fla., WR Moral Stephens of Perry, Fla., CB Duke Dawson of Cross City, Fla., ATH Brandon Powell of Deerfield Beach, Fla., DE Justus Reed of Clearwater, Fla., S Quincy Wilson of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Key targets: The loss of running back Dalvin Cook and receiver Ermon Lane left two big holes in this class, but the Gators are still in the running for ESPN 300 prospects Isaiah McKenzie, Derrell Scott and Florida State commit Treon Harris. Junior college WR Eric Lauderdale is still on the board, as are five-star defenders Lorenzo Carter and Adoree' Jackson.

GEORGIA

2014 verbal commitments: 17

Spotlight: The Bulldogs have had some recent success at the running back position and just added to it with Sony Michel of Plantation, Fla. The 5-11, 194-pound Michel is the nation's No. 2 RB and is an every-down back who can do it all. He has a chance to see the field early in his career at Georgia.

ESPN 300 members: 9 (Michel; DT Lamont Gaillard of Fayetteville, N.C.; RB Nick Chubb of Cedartown, Ga.; ATH Malkom Parrish of Quitman, Ga.; QB Jacob Park of Goose Creek, S.C.; TE Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte, N.C.; OG Isaiah Wynn of Saint Petersburg, Fla.; DE Keyon Brown of Wauchula, Fla.; WR Shakenneth Williams of Macon, Ga.)

Key targets: ESPN 300 defensive end Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga., is the top remaining target on the Bulldogs' board. Georgia appears to be in good shape for the five-star prospect. Georgia is also hoping to gain ground with Rashaan Evans.

KENTUCKY

2014 verbal commitments: 25

Spotlight: After being committed to Florida State for a year, defensive end Denzel Ware of Crestview, Fla., committed to Kentucky, before decommitting, and then committing again. He appears solidly committed to the Wildcats and has tremendous upside to match his explosiveness off the line.

ESPN 300 members: 6 (Ware; QB Drew Barker of Hebron Ky.; WR Thaddeus Snodgrass of Springfield, Ohio; RB Stanley Williams of Monroe, Ga.; CB Darius West of Lima, Ohio; CB Kendall Randolph of Tallahassee, Fla.)

Key targets: The Wildcats are still battling Alabama for ESPN 300 defensive tackle Matt Elam and are still in the hunt for fellow ESPN 300 member Travonte Valentine.

LSU

2014 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: Running back Leonard Fournette of New Orleans was the recruit LSU had to have. Not only is he the nation's No. 1 overall player but he immediately fills the need at running back with Jeremy Hill's departure. His excellent combination of size, speed and strength will get him on the field early in Baton Rouge.

ESPN 300 members: 14 (Fournette; S Jamal Adams of Lewisville, Texas; OG Garrett Brumfield of Baton Rouge, La.; TE Jacory Washington of Westlake, La.; S Devin Voorhies of Woodville, Miss.; OLB Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla.; WR Trey Quinn of Lake Charles, La.; QB Brandon Harris of Bossier City, La.; S Edward Paris Jr. from Arlington, Texas; DE Davon Godchaux of Plaquemine, La.; OLB Donnie Alexander of New Orleans; WR D.J. Chark of Alexandria, La.; DE Deondre Clark of Oklahoma City; WR Tony Upchurch of Pearland, Texas)

Key targets: Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson is still on the board, as is Lorenzo Carter. ESPN 300 receiver Malachi Dupre is also still in the mix.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2014 verbal commitments: 19

Spotlight: ESPN 300 athlete Jamoral Graham of Decatur, Miss., has been committed for nearly a year and gives the Bulldogs their most versatile commitment. The 5-11, 180-pound Graham has 4.4 speed and can play on both sides of the ball. He will probably end up as a defensive back for the Bulldogs.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Graham; WR Jesse Jackson of Petal, Miss.)

Key targets: Four-star running back Aeris Williams of West Point, Miss., is the top player remaining on the Bulldogs' recruiting board.

MISSOURI

2014 verbal commitments: 25

Spotlight: With the Tigers losing two starting linebackers from the 2013 team, the addition of outside linebacker Brandon Lee of Indianapolis could be big down the road. There will be a lot of competition for those open spots, and Lee has a chance to get some reps, especially with him already being on campus. He has good speed and should fit any scheme once he adds some weight.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Lee; OT Andy Bauer of St. Louis)

Key targets: ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford of Hilton Head, S.C., is one of the Tigers' top remaining targets, as is four-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla.

OLE MISS

2014 verbal commitments: 26

Spotlight: It won't be easy to replace Donte Moncrief, but adding wide receiver Markell Pack of Purvis, Miss., to the roster will help soften the blow early. He's a natural playmaker who can get to the next level quickly with his speed. He'll need to add some weight when he gets on campus, but he's a major get at a position of need.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Pack; OG Rod Taylor of Jackson, Miss.; DT Garrald McDowell of Covington, La.; S C.J. Hampton of Meridian, Miss.)

Key targets: There are three top targets remaining for the Rebels, and all of them are ESPN 300 members: defensive end Andrew Williams, safety Steven Parker II and running back Dacorius Law.

SOUTH CAROLINA

2014 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: Defensive end Dante Sawyer of Suwanee, Ga., might not be Jadeveon Clowney, but he could help ease the pain of losing that physical freak. One plus about Sawyer is that he's versatile enough to play both defensive end and outside linebacker, which should allow the Gamecocks to move him around and show different looks to opposing offenses.

ESPN 300 members: 7 (Sawyer; CB D.J. Smith of Marietta, Ga.; TE Kevin Crosby of Bamberg, S.C.; WR Shaquille Davidson of Gaffney, S.C.; OLB Bryson Allen-Williams of Ellenwood, Ga.; OG Donell Stanley of Latta, S.C.; ATH Terry Googer of College Park, Ga.)

Key targets: ESPN 300 running back Derrell Scott is still a top target for the Gamecocks, as is cornerback Wesley Green of Lithonia, Ga. Former Florida cornerback commit Chris Lammons is also very much in the picture.

TENNESSEE

2014 verbal commitments: 34

Spotlight: The Vols need to add more athleticism and playmaking ability to the wide receiver position, and Josh Malone of Gallatin, Tenn., could step right in and get a healthy amount of reps this spring. Having him on campus now will help him as he continues to develop into a more sound receiver.

ESPN 300 members: 10 (Malone; S Todd Kelly Jr. of Knoxville, Tenn.;RB Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville, Tenn.; OLB Dillon Bates Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; DE Dewayne Hendrix of O'Fallon, Ill.; S Cortez McDowell of Locust Grove, Ga.; ILB Gavin Bryant of Jackson, Ala.; CB D'Andre Payne of Washington, D.C.; ATH Evan Berry of Fairburn, Ga.; DE Derek Barnett of Brentwood, Tenn.)

Key targets: Junior college defensive tackle prospects Calvin Heurtelou and Lance McDowell have become very important targets for the Vols, who need another interior linemen. Tennessee's staff is still going after Alabama commit Bo Scarbrough and Derrell Scott.

TEXAS A&M

2014 verbal commitments: 21

Spotlight: Defensive end Myles Garrett of Arlington, Texas, is a major addition to this Texas A&M class. The Aggies need more playmakers on defense, especially up front, and Garrett, the nation's No. 1-rated defensive end has a chance to compete for immediate playing time and should add more of a presence in the pass rush.

ESPN 300 members: 10 (Garrett; ATH Speedy Noil of New Orleans; QB Kyle Allen of Scottsdale, Ariz.; ATH Nick Harvey of Richmond, Texas; WR Frank Iheanacho of Houston; DT DeShawn Washington of Nederland, Texas; DE Qualen Cunningham of Chandler, Ariz.; RB Shaun Nixon of Austin, Texas; ATH Armani Watts of Forney, Texas; OLB Josh Walker of Gilmer, Texas)

Key targets: Safety has become a spot of need, so the Aggies are going after ESPN 300 safeties Steven Parker II of Jenks, Okla., and Mattrell McGraw of River Ridge, La. ESPN 300 linebackers Otaro Alaka and Kenny Young are also still on the board.

VANDERBILT

2014 verbal commitments: 10

Spotlight: Safety Kyle Gibson of Seffner, Fla. would be a major keep for the Commodores. Having to replace a stud like Kenny Ladler won't be easy, but the ESPN 300 member is long, rangy and can cover a ton of ground. He's the kind of player the Commodores need to keep building.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Gibson; RB Dallas Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.)

Key targets: What might be the most important thing for new coach Derek Mason is making sure most of the guys currently committed to Vandy stay committed with signing day so close. ESPN 300 wide receiver Trevon Lee of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is visiting this weekend and would be a big get for Mason's first class.

#AskLoogs: Aggies 'building' on D

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
12:30
PM ET
Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.



Well, Texas A&M is not in a reloading mode yet. The Aggies are in "building" mode right now on defense.

This was a program that relied heavily on two freshmen along the defensive front in 2013 with defensive end Daeshon Hall and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden. This was not the positon coach Kevin Sumlin would have preferred to be in with these guys. In the 2014 class the Aggies currently have five defensive lineman committed, including No. 1-ranked DE Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), so depth and an upgrade in talent are being built in College Station. There is no magic wand to wave, however, to speed up the process. Sumlin knows that in the SEC high-powered offenses will only take teams so far. It’s similar to Bobby Petrino while at Arkansas. The good news is that Texas A&M has the ability to lure top-flight defensive personnel along the front and Arkansas couldn’t. The Aggies' defense is in development and they need to grow up fast as breaking in a new offense next fall will mean that the defense is going to have to be better. In order for Texas A&M to truly be a championship contender, it will have to improve greatly on defense which is why last year’s class and this year’s class have been heavy on that side of the ball.

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Take Your Pick: Projecting 2015 Recruits
National recruiting analysts Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill pick the 2015 prospects they think are most likely to make an immediate impact in college and those who best project to the first round of a future NFL draft.Tags: Daylon Mack, Kyler Murray, Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey, Apopka, Armwood, Allen, Gladewater, RecruitingNation, ESPN 300, high school football recruiting
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