Texas A&M Aggies: Ryan Swope

Aggies' win at Ole Miss huge in 2012

October, 10, 2013
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It seemed like nothing went right.

When Texas A&M went into Oxford, Miss., on Oct. 6, 2012, to take on Ole Miss, it was a nightmarish beginning. The Aggies couldn't hold on to the football, turning it over six times. Quarterback Johnny Manziel, who dazzled onlookers in the first four games, looked human.

With the Aggies down by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter and deep in their own territory, Manziel was sacked at the 1, putting the offense's back against the wall. One of the SEC's newest teams appeared to be failing in its first road test.

Mike Evans
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Mike Evans made eight catches for 105 yards against Ole Miss last season.
Then one Mike Evans catch changed it all.

An improbable, leaping, 32-yard grab over a defender on third-and-19 with just under seven minutes remaining kick-started a burst in which the Aggies scored 13 unanswered points and escaped Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a 30-27 victory.

The rest is history. The Aggies went 11-2, finished tied for second in the SEC West and earned a berth in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, smashing preseason expectations by outsiders. Without the improbable comeback in Oxford, who knows what might have happened?

"I don't want to venture to the idea of us losing the game and how the season would have been, but that was an important game in our season," sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said. "We needed a game where everything went wrong, but we still won the game, to show us how good we are."

Winning on the road in the SEC is rarely an easy thing to do and winning in Oxford was no exception. And thanks to a quirk in the conference schedule, No. 9 Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC) returns to the scene on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) to see if they can repeat that feat against the Rebels (3-2, 1-2), and perhaps with less of a struggle.

"Oxford is a very tough place to play," senior running back Ben Malena said. "I can't remember one time when that crowd wasn't electrifying. They had a lot of momentum and one thing that we have to do is go over there and play our game. We understand that it's a hostile environment, we understand that their crowd is going to be in the game and that they feed off that energy that the crowd gives them."

Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin acknowledged that the victory played a pivotal role in the later success in the 2012 season.

"You can point back to that and say that it was a pretty big deal," Sumlin said. " At the time, people said, 'Oh, you beat a team that hasn't won very much,' but that team ended up being a thorn in everybody's side. Full of talent, a tough team to beat. I understand that and you make steps as a program.

"There are things you point back to that are steps in your growth, and certainly us going on the road and winning our first SEC game last year on the road was a big deal for this program and a step in the right direction. It was a lot of emotion after the game and rightfully so, and there's no doubt it helped us gain confidence as the season went on at a time when we needed it."

Several players contributed to the comeback effort. The defense made a critical fourth-down stop in Ole Miss territory. Ryan Swope caught the game-winning touchdown pass. Toney Hurd Jr. intercepted Bo Wallace in the final minutes to stop the Rebels' final offensive drive and seal the win.

Nobody knows what would have happened had the Aggies not completed the victory, but you can make some educated guesses. Having three losses instead of two might have affected their postseason destination. It would have made it that much tougher for Manziel to win the Heisman Trophy, despite all his dazzling performances, though it was the Alabama win that really cinched that for him.

The confidence gained from such a victory perhaps played a role in the Aggies' success later in the season. That's something they've carried over to this season, showing that fight in their 49-42 loss to No. 1 Alabama when the Aggies were down by 21 points but still continued to fight to make it a close game.

"It showed what type of resiliency we had as a team," Malena said of the Ole Miss win. "Everything is not always going to go as planned. Everything is not going to go Xs and Os like the coaches draw it up. Bad things do happen. Championship teams know how to handle adversity well and I think that was a really good game of us handling adversity and pulling it out."

Planning for success: Texas A&M

October, 10, 2013
After an off week, Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC) returns to the field on Saturday to take on Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. The No. 9 Aggies escaped with a win last season; can they do it again? Here are five keys to doing so:

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyWith injuries still affecting the Aggies secondary, Texas A&M will need another solid outing from Deshazor Everett.
1. Avoid the turnover bug: Last season when these two teams met, it was the Aggies' worst showing in the turnover department. They turned it over six times, which put them in a 10-point fourth quarter deficit. Thanks to an improbable catch by Mike Evans on third-and-19 and some heroics from Johnny Manziel, Ryan Swope and Toney Hurd Jr., among others, the Aggies were still able to pull out the win. But another such showing with turnovers is unlikely to yield the same result.

2. Grow up quickly: The Aggies will turn to a true freshman, Isaiah Golden, to fill in at one of the starting defensive tackle spots in place of Kirby Ennis, who will miss the rest of the season because of season-ending knee surgery. The run defense has struggled this season, and fortunately Golden has some playing experience, having appeared in four games this year. There are other players with experience across the defensive line (Julien Obioha, Alonzo Williams, Gavin Stansbury) so they'll help Golden along, but he'll have to grow up fast against the running of Jeff Scott and Bo Wallace.

3. Contain the receivers: Ole Miss has a solid quartet of pass catchers led by junior Donte Moncrief and true freshman Laquon Treadwell. The pair has combined for 47 catches and 605 yards in five games. The A&M secondary hopes to regain the services of safety Floyd Raven, who missed the last three games with a collarbone injury. If not, cornerback Deshazor Everett will remain at free safety, a spot where he has picked up defensive touchdowns in two consecutive games.

4. Road mentality: The Aggies haven't lost a game away from Kyle Field since Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach. SEC road games are almost never easy and with Ole Miss coming off back-to-back conference losses, the Rebels will be motivated to right the ship at home.

5. Spreading the wealth: The Aggies used all four scholarship running backs effectively in their win over Arkansas and Johnny Manziel was able to also distribute to six different receivers. The coaches consistently say that they'll take what the defensive gives them, but if they can continue to utilize a wide range of offensive options like they did last week, it makes the potent A&M offense that much more difficult to defend.

Aggies WR Kennedy emerging as weapon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameday has arrived: A&M meets Bama

September, 14, 2013
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.

Revisiting Texas A&M-Alabama, part I

September, 10, 2013
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M shocked the college football world when it went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and upset the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide last November. It was a game for the ages, with the Aggies jumping out to a 20-0 lead, Alabama charging back to make it close and a nailbiter finish that included a turnover near the goal line.

With the Crimson Tide coming to Kyle Field for a rematch with the Aggies, anticipation has built throughout the offseason. The Tide are again No. 1, defending their BCS championship from a year ago and the Aggies still have their linchpin, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made his most compelling case for the trophy that afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

As the heavily hyped clash approaches, let's look back at some of the keys to last year's game and how they might affect the rematch.

1. Credit to the Texas A&M defense

When dissecting Texas A&M's upset of Alabama last season, many cite the Aggies' offensive explosion en route to a 20-0 first-quarter lead as one of the most difficult things for Alabama to deal with. And while the Aggies used creative playcalling and personnel packages, their fast pace and precision execution to score three touchdowns on their first three drives, the Aggies' defensive effort had as much -- or more -- to do with their ability to take that kind of commanding lead.

A.J. McCarron
John David Mercer/US PresswireAJ McCarron threw his first interceptions of the season in Alabama's loss to Texas A&M last season.
The first play from scrimmage helped the Aggies set the tone as Alabama handed off to running back Eddie Lacy on an off-tackle play to the left side. Tight end Michael Williams motioned to that side of the formation to help open a hole for Lacy, but Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter eluded Williams and sliced into the gap between Williams and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and made a strong tackle to stop Lacy for no gain. Alabama went three-and-out on that drive and punted.

The Crimson Tide's next offensive drive started on a much better note for Alabama, with Lacy gaining 23 yards on his first two carries. But everything halted as the Aggies created a turnover when quarterback AJ McCarron tried to find Kenny Bell in the middle of the field. As a McCarron pass hit Bell in the chest, safety Howard Matthews delivered a hard, clean hit to Bell, who dropped the pass. Porter was there to intercept the pass, and that set up the A&M offense with great field position after a 16-yard return to the Alabama 41.

One of the key players throughout the day for the Aggies' defense was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. A former defensive end who moved to defensive tackle at the start of the 2012 season despite lacking what would be considered "SEC size" for a tackle, Nealy played an integral role in the Aggies' run defense. Evidence of that was on display at the start of the Crimson Tide's third drive of the game.

On the first play of the drive, Alabama handed off to T.J. Yeldon on the left side and the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Nealy, who lined up at nose tackle on that play and for much of the day, used his quickness to beat center Barrett Jones and tackled Yeldon for a loss of 4 yards. The Crimson Tide went three-and-out on that drive as well as the Aggies forced McCarron's hand with a safety blitz and Matthews got into the backfield untouched, forcing an incomplete pass. The defensive effort by the Aggies forced McCarron to start the game 1-of-5 passing for 5 yards.

And even though the Tide were able to gather their bearings and make a strong comeback with some big plays on offense, the Aggies still found ways to make plays on defense. Matthews plugged a gap on third-and-2 when Yeldon tried to cut back for first-down yardage, holding the Crimson Tide to a third-quarter field goal. Safety Steven Terrell stripped Yeldon in the fourth quarter on the play after a 50-yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper. And of course, cornerback Deshazor Everett picked off McCarron on the Tide's final offensive play with 1:36 remaining.

The drawback for Texas A&M in the rematch is that many of the above names are gone. Nealy, Porter, Terrell and other key players -- such as defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Jonathan Stewart -- have graduated. They've been replaced by younger, more inexperienced players who have taken their lumps in the first two games. The Aggies also haven't had their full complement of defensive players because several served suspensions in the first two games. Saturday will be the first opportunity for all of their key guys to play together this season.

Lacy is gone for the Tide, as are several offensive linemen. The Tide struggled in that area in their season-opening win against Virginia Tech. So there will be adjustments on both sides with the differences in personnel.

2. Finding the "Y"

Manziel went to receiver Ryan Swope, the "Y" receiver who lines up in the slot on the right side of the offensive formation, early and often against the Crimson Tide. Early in the game the passes were of the short, quick variety, hitch routes that gained incremental yardage, almost like running plays.

Ryan Swope
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRyan Swope, a senior last season, made 11 catches against Alabama.
As the game wore on, Manziel went downfield to Swope, who made some of the biggest catches of the season. One was in the middle of the field for 28 yards as he was nailed by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the third quarter. In the fourth, Manziel found Swope down the right sideline for 42 yards.

Swope graduated as well, but look for the guy who made the catch on the play after Swope's 42-yard reception -- Malcome Kennedy -- to be a factor. Kennedy caught a 24-yard touchdown pass on the next play and having experience in a game like that can only help him this Saturday. The question is, can Kennedy bring the kind of consistency that Swope did in catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Alabama?

And should he be healthy for the game, 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones could be a factor at that position as well. Seals-Jones missed the Sam Houston State game last Saturday with a knee injury.

3. McCarron can scramble, too

While Manziel is known for his scrambling, McCarron showed he has good mobility as well.

McCarron isn't nearly as fleet of foot, but he did show the ability to escape pressure and make quality throws. On two instances in the Crimson Tide's first scoring drive, he evaded the Aggies' pass rush and found Cooper for a first-down completion.

In the second half, McCarron scrambled and tried to find Cooper. He avoided an interception from Everett (who was ruled out of bounds on the catch), but nevertheless, scrambling is a tool McCarron can use if the Aggies dial up extra pressure Saturday.

4. Defending Manziel on the ground

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave MartinJohnny Manziel had great success running in the first half against Alabama, but the running lanes closed a bit in the second half.
In the first half last year, Manziel was electric with his feet. Then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury was comfortable in calling designed quarterback draws. They were successful as Manziel piled up 82 yards on nine first-half carries.

But the Tide did a much better job containing Manziel in the final two quarters. In the second half, he finished with 10 rushing yards on nine attempts.

This season, Manziel is making an effort to improve as a pocket passer without taking away his playmaking ability. The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator and playcaller (Clarence McKinney) and a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital). It will be interesting to see how much running Manziel does Saturday and how Alabama handles it.

5. Big plays in the Alabama passing game

Cooper, now a sophomore for the Tide, had a huge game in last year's matchup, catching six passes for 136 yards.

He had a catch of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown reception, both in the fourth quarter. The first came on an out-and-up, when he beat Everett one on one. The next one came when the Aggies sent Everett on a cornerback blitz and Cooper beat Matthews deep for a touchdown.

Texas A&M season preview

August, 5, 2013
Today, we're looking at Texas A&M as the Aggies try to expand on their success in their first season in the SEC.

Coach: Kevin Sumlin (46-19 overall, 11-2 at Texas A&M)

2012 record: 11-2

Key losses: OT Luke Joeckel, DE Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart, WR Ryan Swope

Key returnees: WR Mike Evans, DB Toney Hurd, QB Johnny Manziel, OT Jake Matthews, OT Cedric Ogbuehi

Newcomer to watch: RB Brandon Williams

[+] Enlargejm
Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun/LandovThe Aggies' season will hinge on quarterback Johnny Manziel's eligibility.
Biggest games in 2013: vs. Alabama (Sept. 14), at Ole Miss (Oct. 12), vs. Vanderbilt (Oct. 26), at LSU (Nov. 23)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The status of quarterback Johnny Manziel. Looming over the Aggies is the NCAA investigation of Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, about whether he accepted payment for signing autographs. There's concern whether his eligibility for the upcoming season will be affected. If it is, the Aggies would have to turn to either junior Matt Joeckel or redshirt freshman Matt Davis at quarterback.

Forecast: If Manziel is cleared of any wrongdoing, then the Aggies are legitimate SEC West, SEC championship and perhaps BCS National Championship contenders. They'll likely be favored in every game except their home matchup against Alabama on Sept. 14, and perhaps the game at LSU on Nov. 23, one of the two teams they lost to last season.

Aside from Manziel, the biggest on-field questions for the Aggies are on defense. Three of their most productive players from 2012 -- defensive end Damontre Moore, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart -- are now in the NFL. The Aggies are young and inexperienced in the front seven, and the status of two starting defensive backs (cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven) are still to be determined after offseason arrests.

Still, with the return of Manziel, leading receiver Mike Evans and three offensive linemen, the Aggies have the offensive personnel to compete with any team in the country. They proved as much in their upset of eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last season. If the defense can make the kind of strides it did a season ago, when the Aggies had depth questions and concern about size up front in a line-of-scrimmage league, then Texas A&M can seriously contend.

If Manziel's eligibility is affected as a result of the NCAA investigation, the Aggies have no quarterback on the roster who has started a college game. Joeckel and Davis will battle it out in training camp. While the Aggies can be a good team without Manziel, dreams of reaching the highest heights will be severely limited if he is forced to miss more than two games.

Texas A&M Aggies spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (tied for second, West Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Texas A&MTop returners

QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, OT Jake Matthews, WR Mike Evans, DT Kirby Ennis, OLB Steven Jenkins, CB Deshazor Everett, S Howard Matthews

Key losses

LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, WR Ryan Swope, DE Damontre Moore, OLB Sean Porter, MLB Johnathan Stewart, FS Steven Terrell

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnny Manziel* (1,409 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel* (3,706)
Receiving: Mike Evans* (1,105)
Tackles: Damontre Moore (85)
Sacks: Damontre Moore (12.5)
Interceptions: Deshazor Everett* and Steven Terrell (2)

Spring answers

1. Johnny Football: The Aggies are in the rare position of returning the previous season's Heisman Trophy winner. Heading into his sophomore season, Texas A&M is hoping that quarterback Johnny Manziel can be even better than he was a season ago. This will be his second year in the offense and for quarterbacks who have played in this system, year two is typically a season in which they progress significantly as passers. That's one of Manziel's primary goals, even though he'll still run when the time calls for it. As long as he's healthy and playing well, things bode well for the Aggies.

2. Experienced secondary: Last season, the defensive backfield was young and inexperienced. This fall, there are still young players back there, but it is the most experienced unit on the Aggies' defense. Three of the four starters in the secondary from the AT&T Cotton Bowl are back: Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris and Howard Matthews. Junior Floyd Raven has moved from cornerback to free safety and appears to have the skill set (range and tackling prowess) to fit into the position well.

3. Loaded backfield: The Aggies have four good options in their offensive backfield for Manziel to hand off or throw to. Starting running back Ben Malena returns, as does Trey Williams, who returned kicks and received carries as a true freshman. Add to the mix a pair of transfer backs who sat out last season, Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon) and the Aggies have a quartet that gives them a multitude of options.

Fall questions

1. Front seven: The Aggies are looking for someone to replace the production that third-round NFL draft pick Damontre Moore brought last season. Moore led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks a year ago. Also, with two senior leaders gone from linebacker (Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart) Texas A&M not only has to replace the bodies but also the leadership. Because of injuries, the Aggies were thin up front in the spring but when all their key players return in the fall, it will ease at least some of those concerns. Keep an eye on names like defensive end Julien Obioha (who started opposite Moore last year), defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and linebacker Donnie Baggs as players who have a chance to see their contributions increase significantly this year.

2. New receivers: Only one starting receiver returns from last year's squad: Mike Evans. Four of the top six players in receiving yardage are no longer on the roster, including second-leading receiver Ryan Swope. So who will Johnny Manziel throw to? Keep an eye on guys like Malcome Kennedy, who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown against Alabama last season, Derel Walker, who had a strong spring game, Edward Pope, who was a star on the scout team when he redshirted last year and a host of recruits from the 2013 class like Ja'Quay Williams and ESPN 150 duo Ricky Seals-Jones and Sebastian LaRue. Developing other reliable pass-catching options is critical, so keep an eye on how they use the tight ends with newcomer Cameron Clear (6-7, 270) on campus.

3. Kicking game: One player who fans kept a close eye on this spring was kicker Taylor Bertolet. In his redshirt freshman season, the strong-legged kicker struggled with consistency, hitting just 13-of-22 field goal attempts and missing seven point-after attempts. With a new special teams coordinator (Jeff Banks) who has college punting and kicking experience around to guide him, the Aggies are looking for an improvement from Bertolet this fall. Also the Aggies are working in a new punter, Drew Kaser, who takes the reins after senior Ryan Epperson graduated.

TAMU draft hopefuls to watch for 2014 

April, 29, 2013
Texas A&M had five players chosen in the 2013 NFL draft last week: offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall, Jacksonville), running back Christine Michael (62nd overall, Seattle), defensive end Damontre Moore (81st, New York Giants), linebacker Sean Porter (118th, Cincinnati) and receiver Ryan Swope (174th, Arizona).

Who could be candidates to have their names called at this time next year, when the 2014 NFL draft arrives? Here are some names to know, both seniors and non-seniors:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It was a little more than four months ago that Malcome Kennedy caught a pass that would long be remembered by Texas A&M fans.

The then-sophomore made what was arguably the biggest reception of the season hauling in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Manziel on a corner route that gave Texas A&M a 29-17 lead over No. 1 Alabama, a lead the Aggies wouldn't relinquish, eventually upsetting the Crimson Tide 29-24.

[+] EnlargeDavid Beaty
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNTexas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said he has liked what he has seen this spring from Mike Evans and Malcome Kennedy.
It was a brief moment in the spotlight and one of two touchdowns on the season for Kennedy, a product of tiny Cayuga, Texas, home to a Class 1A football program in East Texas. With seniors in front of him at the inside receiver positions -- Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal -- Kennedy didn't have to shoulder a load as a go-to offensive option for the 2012 Aggies.

This year, that changes -- for Kennedy and several others -- as the Aggies have waved goodbye to three senior starters and are working in a new crop of receivers this spring.

"Well, I've got a lot of new guys out there, obviously," Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said Tuesday. "Lost three starters from last year and some guys that played part time are back with us. A lot of youth in there getting a lot of reps. This is valuable, valuable time. This is exactly what spring ball is for. You get to evaluate new guys, guys that haven't played a lot, so it's a good opportunity for us to get to see those guys that didn't get to play a lot last year, how they've developed, and for guys that did get to play, them moving into new roles."

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Swope loses to Robinson for cover

March, 13, 2013
The Big Ten has beaten the SEC.

It wasn't a colossal victory, but it was a victory nonetheless when former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson beat out former Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope on Tuesday to grace the cover of EA Sports' "NCAA Football '14" video game. More than 5 million votes were cast in fan voting that took place on Facebook.

It had to be a tough loss for Swope to swallow. He decided to stay in school for one last year with the Aggies, and all he did was catch 72 passes for 913 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns last fall. He then impressed at last month's NFL combine by posting a blistering 4.34 in the 40-yard dash. Swope has also garnered a little celebrity status by joining the guys at "Dude Perfect" to produce a new trick-shot video.

The EA cover would have been nice, I'm sure, but Swope will probably cheer himself up with some of that cash he'll earn after next month's NFL draft.
Jerrod JohnsonThomas Campbell/US PresswireFormer Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson still has hopes of playing in the NFL.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- While several Texas A&M NFL draft hopefuls ran routes and caught passes, the throws were from a face familiar to Aggieland.

One by one, the crisp, well-spun tosses from former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson fell into the hands of guys like Ryan Swope, Christine Michael, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Kenric McNeal -- each of whom recently wrapped up their Aggie careers.

While Texas A&M's pro day on Friday at the McFerrin Athletic Center was a showcase for the Aggies' 2013 class of prospects, it was also a chance for Johnson to show his retooled throwing motion to the nearly 50 NFL personnel on hand, representing all 32 NFL teams.

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Ryan SwopeThomas Campbell/US PresswireRyan Swope had an impressive season, and also impressed during his pro day.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Most people might have been surprised by his 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine, but Ryan Swope wasn't.

Neither was his head coach at Texas A&M, Kevin Sumlin.

After putting together impressive testing marks at the scouting combine, the 6-foot, 206-pound receiver, who broke several school records while at Texas A&M, gave all 32 NFL teams an up-close-and-personal look at just how skilled and athletic he is during Texas A&M's pro day on Friday at the McFerrin Athletic Center.

The receiver, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the combine, the second-best time of all players there, didn't test again but did positional drills, catching passes from former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson. Swope apparently impressed in that regard as well.

"When you look at him, watching his athleticism, watching him run around when he runs routes, I thought that was impressive to see," Oakland Raiders head coach and former Texas A&M player Dennis Allen said. "You can see it on tape, his toughness and his love of the game. But getting the chance to see him in person and see his athleticism was impressive."

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There’s no point in trying to sugarcoat this for Texas A&M: The Aggies have become the hunted.

A year after the real training began for their official move to the SEC from the Big 12, the Aggies enter spring practice with loftier expectations and more eyes fixated on them. They can no longer be considered the supposed ragtag group that was expected to struggle for relevance in their new home.

After shocking their new conference mates with 11 wins, including one over eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa, A&M enters spring figuratively glancing over its shoulder.

"Now that we know for a fact that we have enough talent and a new group of guys coming in, we know that this year we have a target on our back,” rising senior running back Ben Malena said. “The workouts have stepped up even more. The work ethic of the team collectively has stepped up even more. Coach [Kevin] Sumlin, he's let us know that last year's success was last year's success, but this year's success is gonna be even harder because now you have a target on your back."

Teams don’t lead the SEC in scoring (44.5 points per game), rushing (242.1 yards per game), passing (316.5 YPG) and total offense (558.5 YPG) in their first season in a new conference without feeling the heat in Year 2. And this league intends to bring more than just the heat to the Aggies.

If A&M is going to make strides in 2013, it has to push for conference supremacy. It'll have to be better than it was in 2012, and it'll have to pursue dethroning the mighty Crimson Tide. It's a tough job, but it really is the next step.

To do that, Sumlin and his crew will have to work even harder than they did last season. Players will have to be willing to sweat, bleed and push even more as the Aggies enter spring shorthanded once again.

[+] EnlargeLuke Joeckel
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M has to replace a number of starters on offense, including left tackle Luke Joeckel.
Johnny Manziel and his Heisman award-winning slipperiness returns, but he’ll be without five offensive starters from 2012, including left tackle Luke Joeckel, who could be a top-five pick in April’s NFL draft, and veteran receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches, 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Offensive coordinator and major Manziel mentor Kliff Kingsbury also left to become the head coach at Texas Tech.

Defensively, five starters from the front seven are gone, including All-America defensive end Damontre Moore and top-notch linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Dustin Harris and Steven Terrell must also be replaced in the secondary.

“We got a lot of young guys -- a bunch of new guys,” defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said of his defense.

And those youngsters need to learn quickly because the injury bug attacked the defense this spring, especially up front. It’s a necessary evil, but getting young players these kinds of reps excites Snyder because it helps with depth, which the Aggies need.

Not only did A&M lose two valuable linebackers but a wide receiver was moved to the position this spring and linebackers coach Matt Wallerstedt was replaced by Mark Hagen, giving the Aggies even more change to deal with.

"There will be some challenges there,” Snyder said about the new faces on defense, “but that's what makes spring ball fun."

What will also be fun is finding out who the new leaders are.

Senior Toney Hurd Jr., who is battling for a starting safety spot, has been pegged as one of those new leaders. He’s always led by example, and Hurd knows younger players are looking up to veterans like him. He’ll have to come through because, although the talent might be there, inexperience needs guidance.

"I wouldn't say I'll be this year's Sean Porter, but I'll be this year's Tony Hurd Jr.,” he said. “I'll give the vocal leadership when needed.”

Some interesting months lie ahead for the Aggies, as they look to make more upward moves in 2013. But before A&M can worry about challenging Alabama -- or anyone, really -- Sumlin needs his team to get better. He needs youngsters to take advantage of more reps and he needs the veterans to evolve on the field and in the locker room.

It sounds clichéd, but it's true.

To be elite again and embrace this new-found target on its back, A&M needs even more resolve and toughness in Year 2. And to Sumlin, it’ll be quite an uphill battle.

"We're nowhere near that stage,” he said. “I've said that from every standpoint, from every aspect of this program, we're still playing catch-up to everybody in the SEC.

"From my standpoint it's always a new team, it's always a new personality. As coaches, what you're trying to do is figure out where you are, who can do what and put them in the best position to try to win games."

WR Cameron Batson enjoys TAMU 

March, 4, 2013
For Oklahoma City Millwood receiver Cameron Batson, there was a lot to like about Texas A&M.

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Opening spring camp: Texas A&M

March, 1, 2013
Schedule: The Aggies will open spring practice Saturday and conclude on April 13 with their annual Maroon & White Game at 4:30 p.m. ET at Kyle Field. Practices will be closed to the public, but the Friday Night Lights event on April 5 will be open and free of charge. It will include a scrimmage at Kyle Field.

[+] EnlargeManziel
John David Mercer/US PresswireQuarterback Johnny Manziel is undoubtedly the player to watch this spring, but who else will step up on offense for the Aggies?
What’s new: Clarence McKinney takes over as the Aggies’ primary playcaller on offense. McKinney called the plays in the 41-13 win over Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl after Kliff Kingsbury left to take the Texas Tech head-coaching job. Sumlin then promoted McKinney to offensive coordinator. McKinney will also still coach the running backs. Jake Spavital joins the staff as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after spending the past two seasons on the West Virginia staff under Dana Holgorsen. Jeff Banks replaces Brian Polian as special-teams coordinator and tight ends coach after spending the past nine seasons on the UTEP staff.

On the mend: Sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha missed the Cotton Bowl with an injury, so his status this spring is up in the air. Sophomore linebacker Michael Richardson is recovering from a spine surgery.

On the move: Junior Cedric Ogbuehi is moving from right guard to right tackle and will take over for senior Jake Matthews, who will be sliding over from right tackle and stepping in at left tackle for Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel.

Prime positioning: Junior Deshazor Everett could play cornerback or safety. He started all 13 games last season, but shuffled between cornerback and safety. Junior Howard Matthews returns at safety after having a breakout 2012 season.

Question marks: The status of returning starter Kirby Ennis at defensive tackle is up in the air after his arrest and subsequent suspension from the team. He was arrested on a gun charge last month. Two other senior tackles -- Spencer Nealy and Jonathan Mathis -- are also gone. The Aggies will need some younger players to develop in the middle of that defensive line, and replacing Damontre Moore at end will also be a challenge. Sophomore Alonzo Williams could factor in at both end and tackle after playing some last season as a true freshman. He started for the injured Obioha in the Cotton Bowl.

New faces: Eight players from the 2013 class are already enrolled and will go through spring practice. Four linebackers are part of that group, and the Aggies lost two senior starters -- Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Tommy Sanders, one of the top-ranked junior college linebackers in the country, could be an immediate contributor as an outside linebacker. Freshman Reggie Chevis of Houston will get a long look at middle linebacker. Freshman Alex Sezer of Orange, Texas, could make a run at one of the starting cornerback jobs. Junior college newcomer Cameron Clear, who started his career at Tennessee, will be somebody to watch at both tight end and H-back.

Breaking out: There’s another Matthews on the horizon. Mike Matthews, the younger brother of Jake Matthews, is the front-runner to replace Patrick Lewis at center. The younger Matthews played some last season as a true freshman. Also, junior receiver Malcome Kennedy had a strong close to last season and will be looking to build off that momentum. The Aggies are losing three senior starters at receiver, including Ryan Swope.

Don’t forget about: Junior running back Brandon Williams is ready to go after sitting out last season. A transfer from Oklahoma, Williams could also be a factor on kickoff returns. He’s one of the most explosive players on the roster and has big play written all over him.

Backed up: The Aggies shouldn’t have any shortage of options at running back, even with Christine Michael departing. In addition to Williams, Oregon transfer Tra Carson will be eligible in 2013. At 240 pounds, he projects as the short-yardage guy. Sophomore Trey Williams rates up there with Brandon Williams as a solid breakout candidate and averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season on limited touches. Senior Ben Malena returns as the feature back. He was one of the more underrated running backs in the SEC last season with 808 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and is also a solid pass protector.

All eyes on: What does Johnny Manziel do for an encore, and how does he mesh with his new offensive coordinator? He set an SEC record with 5,116 yards of total offense last season and won the Heisman Trophy. Redshirt freshmen simply aren’t supposed to put up those kinds of numbers, but Manziel just got better and better as the season progressed. Now, the question becomes: How does he handle that success, and what kind of blow will it be for him to lose Kingsbury as his coordinator and quarterbacks coach? It certainly didn’t seem to faze him in the bowl game. The bigger question may be Manziel’s backup. Jameill Showers transferred to UTEP. Redshirt freshman Matt Davis will battle junior Matt Joeckel for that job.


Recruits Miss Lone Star Showdown
National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton spoke with top prospects at Nike's The Opening regional in Dallas. The findings were overwhelming: Players want the game back.