Texas A&M Aggies: Ricky Seals-Jones

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
Now that we've taken a look at five potential breakout players this spring from the SEC Eastern Division, it's time to check out the West (again in alphabetical order):

  • Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn: With Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae gone, the Tigers are looking for help along the defensive line. Senior Gabe Wright could be a threat for them inside, and so could Adams, who is coming off a solid freshman season. He had 20 tackles and a sack last season and could be in for a solid spring on the Plains. Adams can clog the middle with his 6-foot-4, 304-pound frame, but he's also a good pass rusher from the middle. Adams has a chance to take a huge step this spring and appears to be on the right track already.
  • [+] EnlargeDural
    AP Photo/Bill HaberLSU receiver Travin Dural's touchdown catch against Arkansas last season could be a sign of things to come in 2014.
    Travin Dural, WR, LSU: The Tigers are trying to replace two future NFL receivers and are breaking in a new, young quarterback. That means they need a new go-to guy to feed this spring. Keep an eye on Dural, who caught that game-winning touchdown pass against Arkansas last fall from Anthony Jennings. LSU is hoping Jennings and Dural have increased chemistry this spring. Dural is a speed demon on the field and should be an immediate deep threat for the Tigers. With the position so wide open, Dural has a shot to secure one of the starting jobs this spring.
  • O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: He showed flashes of greatness last year but should get an even bigger role in the offense this spring as his game matures. The thing about Howard is that he's a mismatch whenever he steps on the field. He's too fast for linebackers to cover one-on-one and too big for defensive backs to consistently stay with. He needs to get the playbook down and get more comfortable on the field, but having a year under his belt should help him in both areas. Howard has a chance to be a big-time player in the SEC, and this spring should go a long way toward that.
  • Derrick Jones, CB, Ole Miss: The sophomore-to-be played in nine games last year and made three starts. He's in a fight for one of the Rebels' cornerback spots this spring, but has a chance to be a special player for Ole Miss. Senquez Golson will likely get most of the attention at corner this spring, but Jones is a player the coaches really like and he has a lot of upside after playing as a true freshman. Making Jones into a legitimate cover corner in this league is the goal coming out of spring.
  • Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M: We thought he'd be a breakout player last year, but a knee injury cut his season short early on. Seals-Jones has all the athleticism, talent, speed and upside to be an All-SEC player this fall. Sure, the Aggies are throwing out a new quarterback this year, but their offense is very generous to receivers and Seals-Jones is the perfect weapon for A&M to have. He has the size to be a top-flight deep threat on the outside, but he's also very capable of playing inside, which just makes him that much more versatile for the Aggies.
Editor's note: With Texas A&M taking a brief hiatus from the football field due to the school's spring break this week, we'll look back at notes and nuggets from the first five practices of spring football for the Aggies. Here's the first installment:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of the most common questions asked by Texas A&M fans upon the start of spring football practice is related to the health of receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.

A prized recruit from the 2013 class, Seals-Jones got a chance to show Aggies fans only a brief glimpse of what could be, catching three passes last season -- including a 71-yard touchdown -- in the season opener before a knee injury derailed the rest of his season.

After undergoing season-ending surgery, Seals-Jones has been a participant in all five practices for Texas A&M this spring and shows no limitations, though coach Kevin Sumlin is taking a cautious approach with his budding young star and holding him out of a live scrimmage on Thursday.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayTexas A&M is being cautious with Ricky Seals-Jones' health after the wide receiver missed most of his freshman season due to a knee injury.
"Yeah, he's doing well," Sumlin said of Seals-Jones. "We took it easy on him. He didn't scrimmage live, but he has done everything else that we've asked him to do in practice. I didn't want to put him in there and he was mad at me, but that's usually the case."

Sumlin joked that he'll probably get a call from Seals-Jones and his parents during spring break, but he doesn't feel the need to rush the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver back into live action. After spring break concludes, Sumlin said he'll have team doctors check on his knee again.

"I just wanted to make sure," Sumlin said. "I don't think it's ready yet and we'll assess him when he comes back."

Fortunately for the Aggies, there is still more than five months until their first game, so he'll have plenty of time to be rested and ready. The Aggies are also still waiting for word from the NCAA on the status of the medical hardship waiver that they applied for to regain the year of eligibility Seals-Jones lost to the knee injury.

Sumlin said the necessary paperwork has been filed and he expects to get an answer before the 2014 season begins. He said he fully anticipates that Seals-Jones will get the eligibility restored because the time he missed falls within the guidelines the bylaw calls for (that the player's injury occurred prior to the start of the second half of the season and that he did not participate in more than three contests or 30 percent of the team's games, whichever is greater). Seals-Jones appeared in only two of Texas A&M's 13 games before undergoing the season-ending surgery.

"We've filed for it," Sumlin said. "I don't see why there's going to be a problem."

With the Aggies looking to replace three starting receivers, there is flexibility to where Seals-Jones could line up this fall. Most of his work in preseason training camp last season came as an inside receiver, but he did get some practice time as an outside receiver in the Aggies' offense.

"He's a big target inside," Sumlin said. "He's really easy to see in there with other guys and he's comfortable in there. We're dual-training a lot of our receivers this year instead of just keeping them in one spot, which is helping them and helping our offense and helping them understand spacing and what's going on."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — While many eyes in Aggieland are fixed on the quarterback competition and who Johnny Manziel's successor will be, another task that carries significant weight at Texas A&M is finding the next big-time receiver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A&M predictions: Seals-Jones shines

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
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Editor's note: This is the final part in a week-long series of predictions for Texas A&M spring football practice, which begins on today.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayThe Aggies got a brief glimpse at what Ricky Seals-Jones could do before a knee injury cut short his 2013 season.
At the time he committed, Ricky Seals-Jones was a watershed recruit for Texas A&M.

When the Sealy (Texas) High School product announced he was headed to Aggieland on Dec. 11, 2012, he was ranked No. 1 nationally at his position and was considered the top overall prospect in the state at that moment.

When he arrived in College Station, Texas, Seals-Jones naturally came with high expectations and early on it appeared he might deliver on them sooner rather than later. In his first collegiate game, he caught a 71-yard touchdown and finished with three receptions for 84 yards in a win over Rice.

The Aggies didn’t get a chance to see what the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver had in store next because of a knee injury suffered in that game. He missed the following game and played briefly against Alabama before opting for season-ending surgery on the knee.

But this spring and later this season, look for Seals-Jones to deliver the goods.

He has a solid combination of size and speed and he’ll likely be a matchup problem for opposing defenses. The Aggies worked him out mostly as an inside receiver during preseason training camp last August, but he also received work as an outside receiver and is versatile enough to play both positions if necessary.

Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty is excited about what’s in store for Seals-Jones.

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

He has the kind of size that A&M’s best receiver last season -- Mike Evans -- has. If Seals-Jones can develop his skills as a receiver at a fast pace, he could be on track to be a real star. With three starting receivers from the 2013 team gone, there are catches and yards to be had.

If he has the kind of spring that Beaty is hoping for, look for Seals-Jones to claim a lot of them.

Position battles to watch: Receiver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The position battles at all four receiver spots -- not just Evans' outside receiver spot -- will be among the intriguing things to watch when the Aggies begin spring drills at the end of the month.
Editor's note: This is the third part of a weeklong series looking at five players to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M

It didn't take long for Ricky Seals-Jones to make his impact felt in Aggieland.

But before he could carve himself a significant role on the 2013 Aggies, his season was halted by a knee injury.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayWR Ricky Seals-Jones will be a big part of the Texas A&M passing game if he's completely recovered from a knee injury that ended his freshman season early.
As the top-ranked recruit in Texas A&M's 2013 recruiting class, Seals-Jones arrived in College Station, Texas, with high expectations. In the Aggies' season-opening win against Rice, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver showed a glimpse of why he was so highly regarded when he had a 71-yard touchdown in the victory.

However, Seals-Jones suffered a knee injury during that very play, which took him out of action the following week and allowed to play only sparingly in the Sept. 14 showdown against Alabama. Eventually, after some discussion with head coach Kevin Sumlin, Seals-Jones opted for surgery on the knee and sat out the remainder of the season.

So this spring, the Sealy (Texas) High School product will be one to watch for several reasons.

For starters, it will be worth seeing how he has rebounded from the knee injury and what type of condition he is in after sitting out the year. Going into the 2014 season, Seals-Jones figures to be a candidate for a starting job and a significant role in the Texas A&M passing game. He was already pushing players during training camp last preseason for playing time. With three of last year’s starters having moved on, that only increases Seals-Jones' chances at having a major role.

The other intriguing aspect to watch is where Seals-Jones will line up in the offense. Against Rice, he lined up as an inside receiver and spent much of training camp practicing at the Y receiver position. But will he also get some work as an outside receiver? That's a position he also practiced at during preseason camp last fall, and with outside receiver Mike Evans having declared for the NFL draft, Seals-Jones’ position is up in the air if the Aggies' offensive staff feels he's a better fit there.

Having spent much of his high school career at Sealy playing a multitude of positions, including quarterback, safety, receiver and punt returner, Seals-Jones acclimated well to the receiver position when he arrived in Aggieland and if he continues to improve, it stands to reason that he'll become an impact player this fall. And should the medical hardship waiver that Texas A&M applied for be approved (considering that Seals-Jones played in fewer than 30 percent of the A&M games and his injury was season-ending, it's highly likely that it does) then he'll regain his lost season and be classified as redshirt freshman this fall.

As the quarterback battle plays out into the fall between Kyle Allen, Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel, whoever the winner is should have an inviting target to toss to in Seals-Jones. The rapport he builds with those three during spring ball will be worth watching.

Offseason spotlight: Texas A&M

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

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

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

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

Past spotlights:

Who to watch in spring: Speedy Noil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMU to-do list: Find a go-to WR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, the Aggies seem to be finding contributors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We've got a number of guys that we feel good about going in and out of the game and we need to have that this time of year," Sumlin said. "Because of what we do, all those guys have to be able to execute the offense, catch the ball, hang on to it, because you can't play one guy the way we go up and down the field. We had 78 snaps [Saturday]. We've got to be able to develop some depth, and I'm pleased with how those guys have come along."
Texas A&M freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, who came into the season poised to contribute to the Aggies' high-powered offense, could be sidelined the rest of the year, coach Kevin Sumlin said on Tuesday.

Seals-Jones, who suffered a knee injury in the season-opening win over Rice on Aug. 31, might be a candidate for a medical redshirt, Sumlin said. Seals-Jones had surgery on his injured knee Friday and likely won't make the road trip to Arkansas this weekend.

"The decision hasn't been made completely, but I would anticipate the possibility of a medical redshirt because he falls in that category," Sumlin said. "I sat and talked with his dad and talked with him last week. The situation is yeah, he wants to play, but lose a year where you came back from surgery … he has another spring, he gets really, basically, this whole experience back and has four more years and like I told him. That seemed to have worked out well for Mike Evans [who redshirted his freshman year]."

In order to qualify for a medical hardship waiver, a player can't play in more than three contests or 30 percent of the season. Seals-Jones played in the Aggies' season opener against Rice and on Sept. 14 against Alabama but missed the A&M's game against Sam Houston State and SMU.

Sumlin said he understands Seals-Jones' desire to play, but wants to make sure he doesn't lose a season of eligibility while not being 100 percent.

"Just because you don't play your freshman year, it doesn't mean you can't play," Sumlin said. "There's a lot of different circumstances in there. Guys want to play and I appreciate that. But those kinds of decisions are mutual and I think he understands, after looking at it, I would think that we're going to pursue the medical redshirt because for him and he falls under that category."

Seals-Jones, who was the No. 61 player in the 2013 ESPN 300 and the No. 8 receiver in the country, caught a 71-yard touchdown pass in the season-opening win over Rice. He has three receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown this season. A four-star prospect from Sealy, Texas, Seals-Jones impressed the coaching staff during preseason training camp with his athleticism combined with his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame.

Five things: Texas A&M-SMU

September, 21, 2013
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Texas A&M suffered its first loss of the season last week to No. 1 Alabama, but the No. 10 Aggies are moving forward, shifting their focus to what's ahead. Next up is a battle with non-conference foe SMU at 6 p.m. Saturday at Kyle Field. Here are five things to keep an eye on:

[+] EnlargeBen Malena
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesDon't expect a post-Alabama hangover from Ben Malena and the Texas A&M offense on Saturday.
Bama hangover?: The Aggies maintained that they will have the same approach and same emotion this Saturday as they did last Saturday, when there was tremendous buildup for their rematch with Alabama. Running back Ben Malena said it might be difficult to replicate the "enthusiasm," but that championship teams keep a consistent approach and that's what the Aggies are striving to be. Don't expect to see a slow start from the Aggies, at least not offensively.

Righting the ship on D: This is a real opportunity for the Aggies to have a strong defensive performance. Though they've struggled, the Aggies are deeper and have a more talented roster than SMU. Though the same could be said in the Aggies' first two games, they were hamstrung by not having all of their available personnel because of suspensions. They're in the bottom 20 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game and total yards allowed per game. If the Aggies don't start finding their footing this week at home against a non-conference foe that's not the caliber of most SEC teams, it's a huge concern to take into the rest of their SEC schedule, which begins next week at Arkansas.

Meeting of innovative minds: Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff are familiar with the faces on the opposite sideline, particularly SMU head coach June Jones and offensive coordinator Hal Mumme. Jones and Sumlin squared off annually when the two were coaching in Conference USA and Mumme is considered the godfather of the "Air Raid" scheme from which many of the offensive principles that A&M uses originate from. Jones is an old Run-and-Shoot coach, so bringing Jones and Mumme together is an intriguing mix.

Home sweet home: The Aggies have yet to leave Kyle Field this season. The SMU game will serve as their fourth consecutive home game. The Aggies have eight this year, but hit the road for two games after this weekend. Since Sumlin took over, the Aggies haven't lost on the road; all three losses have come at home. Still, you won't hear the coaches or players complaining; they prefer playing in front of the 12th Man. Plus, they're doing so in front of a team they beat 48-3 in Dallas last year, so there's no upset alert here, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Key injuries: Texas A&M will be without freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, who had knee surgery on Saturday, and safety Floyd Raven (collarbone), who was injured in Week 2 against Sam Houston State. Seals-Jones showed promise in the season opener, catching a 71-yard touchdown pass, but the Aggies have a lot of receiving options, so one of their other young freshmen such as LaQuvionte Gonzalez or Jeremy Tabuyo could see increased action in Seals-Jones' absence. Raven missed last week's game against Alabama and the Aggies are thin at free safety. Clay Honeycutt is the starter and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said this week that they are experimenting with shifting cornerback Deshazor Everett to safety. Everett spent time at both corner and safety last season when the Aggies were looking to solve depth issues in the secondary, so it's something he's familiar with.

Gameday has arrived: A&M meets Bama

September, 14, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Texas A&M. What more is there to say that hasn't already been said?

This game has been analyzed, dissected, debated for months. It has been the most anticipated regular season game since 2011's "Game of the Century" between Alabama and LSU.

Here are a few things that I think are important to remember about the big showdown between the Aggies and Crimson Tide, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday:
    [+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
    John David Mercer/US PresswireCan Johnny Manziel and the Aggies get the best of Alabama again?
  • No matter what happens, there's a lot of season still left: This is not an elimination game for the SEC West or SEC title. The winner does get a significant leg up in the SEC West race by defeating one of the top teams in the division and the loser is at a disadvantage because it will have to hope the winner gets knocked off a couple of times down the road. But it's important to remember that Alabama has 10 games left after Saturday and the Aggies have nine. Even the winner is assured nothing except being 1-0 in SEC play and having a tiebreaker over the team they just defeated should they wind up with the same conference record at the end of the season.
  • It should be great theater: To me, the buildup has been so monumental that this is no longer a game. It's an event, a television show or a film. The main characters are Johnny Manziel, Kevin Sumlin, Nick Saban and AJ McCarron. There's one heck of a supporting cast. I'll let you all decide who the protagonists are and who the antagonists are. Chances are whatever happens will be analyzed endlessly That's part of the fun, because it creates drama. Expect the broadcast to break some ratings records and Kyle Field to be packed to the gills.
  • This is a huge day for A&M recruiting: No matter the result of the game, this is already a win for Texas A&M on the recruiting front. The Aggies are expecting roughly 75 recruits in attendance, many of them among the top players in the country. The fact that they've gotten some of those big names to Aggieland is already a win, because it means A&M is a serious player for those elite prospects. A win would boost their chances with some of those players, but don't kid yourselves, prospects don't put a ton of stock into one game result. A win would prove to many onlookers that A&M is here to stay when it comes to contending for SEC titles, but even with a loss, recruits will experience a gameday atmosphere and buzz unlike any seen before because of the unprecedented buildup to the game.

Now for a few keys to watch:
  • Alabama's running game vs. Texas A&M's defense: Both of these units come into the game with question marks. The Crimson Tide averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in their season-opening win over Virginia Tech; the Aggies have allowed an average of 273 rushing yards per contest to Rice and Sam Houston State. The Aggies get back almost their full complement of defensive starters with the exception of Floyd Raven (collarbone injury), so the defense should be improved, but it's no certainty yet since this will be their first game action together this season. Will the O-line, running back T.J. Yeldon and the Tide be better running the football?
  • Watch the 'Y' Last season, Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope had a huge game against the Crimson Tide, catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown while playing the 'Y' receiver, which is the slot receiver to the right of the formation. Can the Aggies get similar production out of junior Malcome Kennedy and true freshman Ricky Seals-Jones in that role, or will the Crimson Tide keep them quiet and force Manziel to go elsewhere? We know Mike Evans will be Manziel's top target but you can't throw to him every down.
  • Big plays for Amari Cooper? Like Swope for A&M, Cooper had a huge day for the Crimson Tide. He caught six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown, including two catches of 50-plus yards in the fourth quarter. Can he produce a similar effort, or will the Aggies do a better job of defending the explosive sophomore? There are some concerns with the play and depth at safety currently. Look for junior cornerback Deshazor Everett -- the Aggies' best corner -- to line up against him early and often. The two were matched up several times in last year's contest.

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