Texas A&M Aggies: Jameill Showers
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has a saying that is echoed by his players, especially at this time of the season.
"It's about us."
The message is clear and self-explanatory. And if the Aggies are going to do what they hope to -- win out the remainder of the season -- Sumlin wants them to take heed of those three words.
And while their own preseason goals -- an SEC championship and a run at a BCS national championship -- are out the window, there are still things left for Texas A&M to play for. If the Aggies win the remainder of their games, who knows? They might just sneak their way into their first BCS bowl since 1998.
The final three-game stretch is a challenging one. The Aggies host Mississippi State next weekend, then are off the following week before the difficulty level ramps up with trips to LSU and Missouri to close out the season. Both of those teams are still playing for a chance to go to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game, and in order to knock them off in their respective stadiums, the Aggies will have to put together a complete game, for four quarters -- something they really haven't done yet this season.
But in the past two weeks, in a 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt and on Saturday in the blowout win over UTEP, the Aggies have begun inching closer to playing that type of game. Throughout the first seven games, the defense was mostly poor while the offense carried the load. Special teams had issues, too, as the Aggies battled an inconsistent situation at place-kicker before moving Josh Lambo into the role, one that he has taken and run with.
The past two weeks, the Aggies defense has performed admirably. It had probably its best all-around performance against the Commodores, and on Saturday, against a much weaker opponent, the Aggies really only had one bad drive on defense, the nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that gave the Miners an early 7-2 lead.
UTEP, which came into the game without starting quarterback Jameill Showers (shoulder injury), couldn't move the ball with consistency against A&M when the Aggies began to rack up points. On top of that, A&M's defense was ball-hawking in the second stanza, coming up with three turnovers. The offense turned those into 21 points and blew the game open. UTEP finished with just 198 total yards, and life was understandably difficult with backup Blaire Sullivan running the offense. Still, this is an Aggies defense that had trouble stopping virtually everybody earlier this season.
"We've been having great practices the last few weeks," junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury said. "Also, I think it has to do with confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your team to have a great game."
While the defense has stepped up its efforts the last two weeks, the offense has had its hiccups. Last week it was bitten by the turnover bug, giving the ball away four times. On Saturday against the Miners, the Aggies seemed out of sync in the first quarter. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans couldn't get on the same page, though opportunities were there. The Aggies punted twice in the first quarter -- a rarity for them in any single frame.
What began as a snoozer with Texas A&M's offense sputtering turned into a rout with an explosive second quarter by the Aggies, who outscored UTEP 27-0 in the second quarter to take a commanding 36-7 halftime lead. From there, no doubt remained of the outcome as Manziel led two more scoring drives in the third quarter before calling it a night, after throwing for four touchdowns and running for two, including an impressive 49-yarder that looked like the 2012 version of Manziel.
The A&M special teams started well, meanwhile, blocking a punt that led to a safety and giving the Aggies an early 2-0 lead. But the unit had its issues, too. Punter Drew Kaser, who serves as the holder on point-after-touchdown kicks and field goals, bobbled a snap, which left a point off the board. Freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez also muffed a punt in the second half, though the game was well in hand.
Those are issues that have to be rectified if the Aggies hope to close out the final three-game stretch with three wins. They still haven't put a good performance from all three phases together on one night, though they might be inching closer to doing so.
"It's hard to say, when you win 57-7, to say that you didn't play a complete game," Sumlin said. "As a coach, there's some positives there. Our guys understand that we can be better than we were tonight."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — No. 12 Texas A&M hosts a late game tonight, taking on UTEP at 9 p.m. ET at Kyle Field. Here are five things to watch for when the Aggies and Miners take the field.
1. Health issues: Last week there was much attention around the throwing shoulder of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel after he injured it against Auburn the week before. But Manziel started and played well against Vanderbilt, throwing for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said that Manziel threw early this week without any problems and he didn't anticipate that the shoulder would be an issue for Manziel this week. There are a couple Aggies whose status is uncertain heading into tonight's game: starting offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and starting defensive tackle Alonzo Williams. Both missed last week's game against Vanderbilt. Sumlin called both a "maybe" to play, though later said Ogbuehi has a "pretty good chance to play." If Ogbuehi is held out, it would be strictly precautionary, Sumlin said. Williams "may or may not play," Sumlin said earlier this week.
2. No Showers: This was supposed to be the homecoming of sorts for UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers, who spent three seasons in Aggieland and backed up Ryan Tannehill in 2011 and Manziel in 2012 before graduating with his degree and transferring to UTEP for his final two seasons of eligibility. However, a shoulder injury that Showers suffered last week against Rice will keep him out tonight and possibly for the rest of the season, according to UTEP coach Sean Kugler. Instead, the Aggies will face sophomore quarterback Blaire Sullivan, who came into the Rice game last week in relief of the injured Showers. Sullivan was 6-of-9 passing for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception while filling in last week. Showers will travel and remain a captain for the game for the Miners, but will obviously spend the day on the sideline.
3. UTEP struggles vs. the SEC and AQ teams: The Miners (1-6, 0-4 Conference USA) have had a tough season and they're going into a situation that has been tough for them historically. UTEP is 1-7 all-time against SEC teams, and in road games against teams from automatic-qualifying conferences, the Miners are 0-17. The last time it beat an SEC team was in 1967 (Ole Miss in the Sun Bowl).
4. A&M defense: The Aggies (6-2, 3-2 SEC) had perhaps their best performance of the season last week in the win over Vanderbilt, forcing three turnovers, compiling seven sacks and holding Vanderbilt to 329 total yards (95 rushing). If the Aggies are truly going to improve as a unit on defense, this week is another opportunity they'll have to take advantage of, as they face a backup quarterback for the second straight week. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he dialed up a lot of pressure against Vanderbilt; he'll probably be well served to do so again this week and continue to build the confidence of his young and inexperienced group.
5. Early exit?: The final quarter of the Aggies' season are all SEC battles -- they host Mississippi State next week before hitting the road for battles against LSU and Missouri (with an off week before LSU). If Texas A&M can get a big lead early and finish UTEP off quickly, it would help. They can get the starters out early in the second half and let those banged-up guys get a breather, because if they plan on winning out, they'll need every weapon they have.
After a four-way battle that spanned spring football and preseason training camp, the then-redshirt freshman emerged as the Aggies signal-caller. Outside of Texas A&M, not much was widely known about the young man eventually tabbed at Johnny Football.
Fast forward a year and the Aggies are once again sifting through candidates to make a decision on a quarterback. The difference? This year's situation is much more complex.
"Last year's situation is a little bit different than right now," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday with a laugh. "It's kind of a fluid deal."
Many who follow Texas A&M football know the gist of the story: The Aggies are sifting through information in an effort to decide whether Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, will begin the season as the starting quarterback. The uncertainty stems from an NCAA investigation into allegations that Manziel profited from signing autographs, which -- if true -- could affect his eligibility.
While Texas A&M continues to do its due diligence in the matter, Aggies fans have understandably paid close attention to the battle of backup quarterbacks. Throughout preseason training camp, three candidates have fought for the right to be No. 2 to the Aggies' No. 2: junior Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Matt Davis and true freshman Kenny Hill.
Each player has his own distinct qualities.
"Joeckel's probably the most experienced," Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "He's a big kid, but not the most mobile guy, so you'd probably call the game a little differently than with Johnny in the game than him."
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Joeckel, the twin brother of former Texas A&M and current Jacksonville Jaguar offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, is the only one of the three candidates to have appeared in a college game. Matt Joeckel played in five games last season and made 11 pass attempts. It's not much experience but it's more than any other quarterback not named Manziel on the roster.
Hill is the greenest of the three but has seen plenty of practice time in order to help him understand and grasp the offense better. He's the product of a perennial power program in Texas high school football -- Southlake Carroll -- that's known for producing successful college quarterbacks.
"He's young, you can tell, I give a lot of credit to the Southlake Carroll coaches because you can tell he's been pretty experienced in this type of offense," Spavital said. "He's still going through the learning curve, so I'm trying to give him as many reps as possible because both Matts [Joeckel and Davis] went through spring ball, so I know what they're capable of doing. So I'm trying to put Kenny Hill through this."
As for Davis, Spavital said last week that the 6-2, 206-pound quarterback has had "a good offseason" and has been "throwing the ball pretty well out there." Though Davis redshirted last year, he does have the benefit of two spring practice sessions (he enrolled in time for the spring 2012 semester), two summers and two preseason training camps. While Joeckel isn't considered to be extremely mobile, the ability to make plays with his feet is one of Davis' strengths.
"Davis -- same as Joeckel, they can communicate and operate the offense the best so far because they're over the learning curve and it's year 2 of the offense," Spavital said.
Sumlin said on Tuesday that no decision has been made. The Aggies had their final two-a-day practice of training camp on Wednesday and begin game preparation for Rice today. Last year, Sumlin named Manziel his starter roughly two weeks before the Aggies originally-scheduled season opener. He said there is no such deadline this year because of the nature of the situation.
"We haven't made a decision on any of the quarterbacks at this point," Sumlin said. "They're still going. I'm not setting a date this year."
Throughout training camp, all three have taken turns working with the second-team offense. On Saturday, the Aggies hosted an open scrimmage at Kyle Field in front of roughly 10,000 fans. If the way repetitions were doled out in the scrimmage are an indication, it appears that Hill and Joeckel lead in the battle.
The 6-1, 215 Hill was the only one of the three to get a chance to run a series with the first-team offense in the scrimmage (Manziel took the majority of the first-team reps). He also had the most series (five) of any of the candidates that day. While that could have been some of the extra reps that Spavital alluded Hill needs, it also speaks to the confidence the staff has in his abilities and makes him a serious contender for the job.
Joeckel had four series and threw a touchdown pass while Davis had just two series and struggled, with both of his series ending without a first down.
Sumlin has overseen several quarterback battles in his head coaching career. In his first season at Houston, Case Keenum beat out Blake Joseph in training camp before going on to a record-setting career with the Cougars. In 2010, after injuries knocked Keenum and backup quarterback Cotton Turner out for the final nine games of the season, the Cougars had a mid-season battle between two then-true freshmen, David Piland and Terrance Broadway for a job that Piland eventually won.
Last season the aforementioned Manziel beat out Jameill Showers (who has since transferred to UTEP), Joeckel and Davis in training camp before making history, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Those experiences have helped Sumlin shape his philosophies on choosing a quarterback. The characteristics he looks for are clear.
"Leadership," Sumlin said. "Knowledge of the offense. Being comfortable. Not giving the ball to the other team. Pretty simple, huh?"
Many of those changes could be seen on the initial 2013 depth chart released by head coach Kevin Sumlin. There are some absent names because of injuries and there's a long way to go before definitive statements can be made, but it certainly gives us some players and things to keep an eye on moving forward. Among them:
Yes, it's already time to think about "next season."
The Aggies will hit the field for spring drills in mere weeks, with March 2 serving as the date for the first practice. Coach Kevin Sumlin and company will look to build on an unforgettable 11-2 season in which the Aggies won as many games as they had since 1998, defeated the eventual BCS champion, brought in a Heisman Trophy and crushed Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
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The Aggies went into camp with an open competition and based on the first day of workouts, one might assume that the starter would be Jameill Showers [Showers took snaps with the first team on the first day of camp].
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The program sought out a new head coach, having dismissed Mike Sherman, who went 25-25 in four seasons there. The crosshairs in the process appeared to be set on Houston's Kevin Sumlin, who went 35-17 through four seasons in Houston and lifted the Cougars high into the national rankings in both 2009 and 2011.
The last 365 days, give or take a few, have been transformative for the program. Sumlin has injected an energy and swagger into the program that has fueled the Aggies' 10-2 season. After graduating a top-10, first-round pick at quarterback (Ryan Tannehill), a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel has stepped in and shattered records and become a Heisman Trophy candidate. Texas A&M is ranked in the top 10 (No. 9) and the recruiting momentum that the Aggies are building is strong, as they're quickly becoming a premier destination for recruits by offering the combination of quality facilities, college football's premier conference and a chance to win in that conference.
What a difference a year makes.
Some of the things the Aggies accomplished this season seemed like pipe dreams at the start of the year. A potential Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback? Going into fall camp, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury had not even named a starter at the position, with redshirt sophomores Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel battling Manziel.
Even for the quarterback himself, often called by his nickname, "Johnny Football," it's a little unbelievable.
"It’s crazy," he said "It’s so surreal for me to even be mentioned in the same category or in the same sentence as the Heisman Trophy. It would be a dream come true for me to even go to New York and sit down, after years and years of watching guys that I looked up to get dressed up and sit on the front row and hope that their name is called. So for me, it would be a dream come true and something that I would cherish forever."
While Manziel has played a major role in the Aggies' success, so has the leadership of the team -- and not just Sumlin and the coaching staff, but the senior class of players. Guys like linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, safety Steven Terrell, defensive tackle Spencer Nealy, center Patrick Lewis, receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and cornerback/return specialist Dustin Harris have been a big reason the Aggies are a top-10 team this year.
For starters, Sumlin said, they bought in to what the new coaching staff was selling and the idea that they could be successful in the SEC, despite what others said.
"It really was just guys having faith; belief without proof," Sumlin said. "Coming into the year, we really didn't care what everybody else's expectations were ... I think that what these seniors have done is to really set the tone for how to do things away from Saturday. There was a big change in that type of culture."
Sherman said something interesting in his final news conference as the Aggies' coach, after flatly stating that he felt he didn't deserved to be fired.
"I feel like the program is definitely headed in the right direction and I hope the next coach appreciates the opportunity he's going to get to work with these players," he said.
Though some changes fueled this signature season, the first since 1998 in which the Aggies have won 10 games, it turns out Sherman was right.
While many had questions about what could be for the Aggies in the SEC, the players were confident. When asked after the final game of the season whether he could have imagined the season turning out the way it has, Porter took it a step further, demonstrating the confidence the team carried throughout the year.
"It's not as good as I thought it could be," Porter said. "Like Jonathan said, we thought we were going to win all of our games. We truthfully thought that. A lot of people were giving us crap about it at the beginning of the season. I remember going into SEC media day and all those guys in there were looking at me like we were going to be some kind of doormat or something, but this entire time we've had a lot of confidence, and we have confidence in the type of players that we have. I've said it since the beginning of the season: We have the same caliber of athletes as anybody does in the nation. I think this was a great season for us to come out and prove that, and A&M is just going to go up from here."
Highlights: Two words -- Johnny Football. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel provided more highlights than probably even the most optimistic Aggie could have imagined, breaking Cam Newton's single-season SEC total yardage record with a 4,600-yard year. Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 68.3 percent of his passes. He ran for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns, giving him 43 scores for the year. Backup quarterback Jameill Showers proved capable of moving the offense when he played his limited minutes, completing 61.4 percent of his passes (27-of-44) for 319 yards and two touchdowns. Third-stringer Matt Joeckel saw only a handful of series this year, making 11 pass attempts.
Lowlights: Manziel was great and is Heisman Trophy worthy, but he wasn't perfect. The roughest game of the year came at home against LSU, when the Tigers held him to a season-low 27 rushing yards. He was picked off three times (though not all three were his fault) and had no touchdown passes. He also had a rough go at Mississippi, turning it over three times, but regrouped to lead a comeback from a double-digit deficit. Showers' only rough showing was against South Carolina State when he was 2-of-10 passing with one interception, but in his other six outings the redshirt sophomore performed well.
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1. 10 wins: The Aggies secured their 10th win, marking the first time since 1998 that Texas A&M has accomplished that feat. They finished 10-2 on the regular season and 6-2 in the SEC, good for a tie with LSU for second place in the SEC West.
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The No. 8 Aggies recorded their fourth straight win, a 47-28 victory over the FCS's third-ranked team, Sam Houston State, before 87,101 on Saturday at Kyle Field.
Let's glance at the notables from the game:
It was over when: The Aggies' offense stepped on the field for the third quarter. Already holding a 34-point lead, A&M quickly turned it to 47-0 by scoring on its first two plays of the second half -- an 89-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Manziel to Uzoma Nwachukwu and and 80-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jameill Showers to LeKendrick Williams.
Game ball goes to: Stop me if this is beginning to sound like a broken record ... Manziel. The redshirt freshman quarterback didn't really do anything to hurt his Heisman Trophy candidacy as he was 14-of-20 passing for 267 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He became the first freshman in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards and also broke the FBS freshman rushing and total offense yardage marks.
Key stat: 20.6, the average yards per completion for the Aggies. Big plays were the theme for the Texas A&M offense, particularly in the passing game. In addition to two third-quarter touchdown passes, Mike Evans had receptions of 33 and 20 yards.
What it means: The Aggies are now one win away from 10. If they are able to get a win next week versus Missouri, it would be the first time since 1998 that the Aggies have won 10 games in a season. A win would also ensure the Aggies finish no lower than second in the SEC West, which is well above the preseason expectations many pundits had.
1. Johnny Manziel: It almost seems cliche to throw his name out there when talking about why Texas A&M was successful, but the redshirt freshman quarterback continues to shine and show progress. He has certainly taken steps forward since the Aggies' opener against Florida and on Saturday he broke school records for passing yards (453) and total offense (557). Again, no turnovers for Manziel (and still zero this year for him).
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1. Special teams: If there was one unit that really shined bright, it was the special teams. Senior Dustin Harris broke a school and SEC single-game record for punt return yards with 246, which included a 96-yard touchdown. He led the nation in punt return average last year and appears to be on track for another big season as the Aggies' punt return specialist again.
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Those expecting the redshirt freshman to be overcome by the gravity of the moment when he steps on the field for the first time as Texas A&M's starting quarterback as the Aggies host No. 24 Florida in their first Southeastern Conference game might be surprised.
Confidence, swagger -- whatever you call it -- Manziel has it, according to those around him.
As the Aggies prepare to make their SEC debut at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at Kyle Field, there will be a lot of new: a new head coach (Kevin Sumlin) and coaching staff, a new offense, a new defense and even new uniforms. Add Manziel to that list; the Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product is the new starting quarterback for Texas A&M, winning a competition in fall training camp.
Listen to teammates, coaches and former coaches talk about Manziel, and the same words continue to pop up: competitor, confident, leader, winner.
"Probably one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," said Mark Smith, his coach at Tivy who is now coaching at Converse (Texas) Judson. "I mean the boy wants to compete and he wants to excel and do well. And he made everybody else around him better. Those things have always stood out to me."
Manziel's leadership already has been seen during practices after Sumlin and Kingsbury named him the starting quarterback in August. Whether it's correcting mistakes or ensuring that everyone is on the same page, Manziel is getting it done.
"He's doing a real good job of stepping up and being real vocal," said Texas A&M senior center Patrick Lewis, one of the team's four captains. "Quarterbacks are normally in charge of the offense and he tells us what he wants and what he expects. For him to be so young and to demand that attention from us so early, it's really impressive to me.
"He'll come out there and give his little speech to the offense before we start practice and he demands perfection already. I'm proud of him; I'm happy for him. I can't wait to see what he can do once we start playing games."
At Tivy, Manziel -- sometimes called by his nickname, "Johnny Football" -- was a bona fide superstar. He was a Parade All-American and was named the Texas Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press as a senior. He broke the San Antonio area's single-season record with 3,609 passing yards and tied an area record with 45 touchdown passes. Not only that, he ran for 1,674 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Antlers to a 10-2 record. As a junior, Manziel carried his team to the Class 4A Division II state semifinals.
Throughout his high school career, in which he threw for more than 12,000 yards, Manziel would cause jaws to drop by making plays with either his arm or his feet.
"I don't know if I can count them all," Smith said. "He found ways to do stuff. ... He made some throws sometimes that you just don't know how he made them. And he did it. Or he made a run that made you go 'Holy cow.'"
I'd take him in a heartbeat. I wouldn't even blink. I think he has all the tools that are necessary for him to be successful and to lead a football team.
-- Mark Smith, who coached Manziel at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy.
He originally committed to Oregon the summer before his senior season. The distance from home was a concern for Manziel, who wanted his family and friends to be able to see him play. When Texas A&M extended him an offer and he had an opportunity to see what the Aggies had to offer, he switched his commitment.
"When he sat down and made the decision to go to A&M, he came into my office on a Sunday night ... we came in and just sat down and talked and put down what's important," Smith said. "And family is important to him. Being close to his family so that his mom and dad are able to see him [was important], and when you got down to it, that was the underlying factor to him going to A&M."
Manziel isn't perfect. Kingsbury said that in the spring the 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback was "reckless with the football." Manziel operates with the confidence that he can make any throw or any play at any time. Kingsbury and Sumlin's high-powered, up-tempo offense, which is rooted in Air Raid principles, functions effectively only if the quarterback is taking care of the ball and distributing it to the playmakers around him.
When Manziel arrived for fall camp in August, the coaches could see significant improvement from him, particularly in that area.
"With Johnny, it's probably that he thinks he's the best player out there every time he steps out," Kingsbury said. "So he wants the ball in his hands and wants to do everything with it. He has a great cast around him, he's got to get it to those guys and let them make plays. Like I said, just reeling him back in from the spring, he showed up and was making the routine play and that's what we want from him."
Off the field, Manziel had a hiccup in the summer. He was arrested in the Northgate bar district and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possessing a false identification card, all misdemeanors.
Sumlin set forth parameters that Manziel had to meet to have a chance to remain part of the team. Sumlin said Manziel met all of them and got back in good graces. Not only that, he won the staff over enough that they felt comfortable tabbing him as the quarterback who will lead the Aggies in their first SEC season.
"No doubt, like everybody else, I was disappointed, because you expect more of him," Smith said. "And I think once you understand the whole story and get down to it, really he probably got caught at the wrong time, doing the wrong things. And he's just like any other 19-year-old kid on a college campus. We'd like these guys to be model citizens and do all the right things and they don't always do [that]. He made a decision, but he owned up and that's the first thing he said, 'I was wrong.' And I think that's the first mark of a man, to be able to hold yourself accountable and say 'I made a mistake.'
"For him to come back out and overcome the adversity he's had, shows his perseverance and his willingness to be committed to Texas A&M and make them a better program and make himself a better player."
Texas A&M senior receiver Ryan Swope took it upon himself to speak with Manziel over the summer to help him adapt to the college game and learn the ins and outs of what it takes to play at this level. They didn't just talk about football. They talked about life as well.
Swope said the team believes in Manziel.
"I've got trust in him," Swope said. "I feel like our whole team does, and that's important. As a senior coming back, I've talked to all the receivers, and a guy like Johnny, we have full trust in. We're very excited for him and we just can't get complacent, and that's what we tell him. He's got to work every day because we've got three guys [Jameill Showers, Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis] right behind him that are wanting that spot, so it's important that he goes out and works hard every single day."
Sumlin said he's relying on the veteran offensive players around Manziel to help ease the transition as he gains game experience.
"Until you’re in a game with game speed and the intensity level, that’s where your experience comes from," Sumlin said. "He’s an inexperienced player and because of that, our surrounding cast of our offensive line or our running backs or our skill people on the perimeter who have experience, have to play well and create a quarterback-friendly atmosphere for him. Fortunately we’ve got experienced players in those positions.”
Smith, who was one of the first people Manziel called when he was officially named the starter in August, has no doubt that "Johnny Football" will succeed.
"I'd take him in a heartbeat," Smith said. "I wouldn't even blink. I think he has all the tools that are necessary for him to be successful and to lead a football team."
Let's take a look at each one from the spring and see where they currently stand:
The matchup: Sophomore Kiehl Frazier left the spring with the edge because he took most of the reps, as a sore shoulder sidelined junior Clint Moseley. This fall, freshman Jonathan Wallace entered the race and has continued to impress Auburn's staff.
The winner is: Frazier has the most athleticism and has felt much more comfortable throwing the ball with help from first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. While coach Gene Chizik continues to say the race is even between Frazier and Moseley, who is still dealing with shoulder soreness, we'll go with Frazier because of overall talent. He can make more plays with his feet and if his arm really does improve, he could be a solid dual-threat QB in this league.
The matchup: This two-horse race between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel has been intense since the spring. Brissett has had a little bit of the edge because of his game experience last year, but Driskel has made tremendous strides under the direction of new offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
The winner is: Will Muschamp continues to say the race is dead even. Driskel's bruised shoulder didn't even complicate the race. It doesn't sound like anyone really knows who has outperformed the other, but the concensus is the team and the coaches can win with either. With that said, Brissett has more experience and we assume is completely healthy, so we'll go with him, but both should play in the opener.
The matchup: Sophomore Maxwell Smith took all of the first-team reps this spring, while senior Morgan Newton recovered from shoulder surgery. However, Newton returned to get back into the race this fall. Joining them this fall were freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.
The winner is: Smith. Joker Phillips named Smith the starter on Monday, so this race has come to an end. The offense can now focus on running around Smith, who has been the most consistent of Kentucky's quarterbacks since the spring. This isn't a surprise.
The matchup: Neither of Hugh Freeze's quarterbacks have proven much at all and have struggled with consistency since spring. Barry Brunetti was given the starting job at the beginning of last season, but lost it almost immediately, and Bo Wallace is fresh off a season in the junior college ranks. Wallace, however, did spend a year with Freeze at Arkansas State.
The winner is: Wallace seemed to have the edge for part of the spring, and then lost it as Brunetti got more comfortable with Freeze's offense. Both quarterbacks and Freeze felt things were very even heading into champ, but Wallace has had a much stronger champ. Both could end up playing in the opener, but we'll go with Wallace.
The matchup: Sophomore Jameill Showers, who has the only game experience at quarter, and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel were nearly neck-and-neck for most of the spring, but Showers seemed to pull away little toward the end. Sophomore Matt Joeckel and true freshman Matt Davis also competed this spring.
The winner is: Manziel. It seemed as though Showers had the edge in this one, but Manziel outplayed him during fall camp. After a solid outing during one of the Aggies' scrimmages, coach Kevin Sumlin decided to end the battle and give the starting job to Manziel.
The matchup: Jordan Rodgers replaced Larry Smith last season, but still showed inconsistency on the field at times. So, this spring, he had a battle on his hands with Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, who was the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in 2009.
The winner: Rodgers. This was probably always his job to lose, and he didn't. He had a very good spring and fall camp. Rodgers said this summer that he felt way more comfortable with the people around him this spring and is poised to have a much better year this fall.
Here are some things that stood out from Saturday's scrimmage and what they could mean moving forward:
• Improvement on defense: In the Aggies’ previous open scrimmage, the offense moved the ball consistently on the defense. The Texas A&M defense slowed it down on Saturday and coach Kevin Sumlin said he saw improvement both in the defensive line and in the linebacker play. The unit also did a good job of mixing things up and keeping the offense off-balance. Those characteristics appear to be a sign of things to come for the defense this year, which will have to battle depth issues along the defensive line while playing a base 4-3 alignment after spending the last two seasons in the 3-4.
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