Editor's note: This week we'll take a brief look at Texas A&M players who surprised us with their performances during spring practice, which wrapped up for the Aggies earlier this month.

Building depth and raising the talent level on the defensive line is one of the most important tasks for Texas A&M in its hopes to find long-term success in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeZaycoven Henderson
Max Olson/ESPNWith better conditioning, Zaycoven Henderson will be a valuable freshman contributor for Texas A&M.
The last two recruiting classes have seen particular focus on defensive linemen, especially the 2014 group, which included five defensive linemen. Four of them arrive in the summer but one enrolled early and participated in spring football: tackle Zaycoven Henderson.

The four-star prospect, who was ranked 36th nationally at his position in the 2014 recruiting class, showed quickly that he's ready to contribute, making waves throughout spring football.

"That guy is very, very strong," junior defensive end Julien Obioha said of Henderson. "He has meat and potatoes. Henderson is just a strong guy. Strong, fast, athletic -- whatever is good about a D-lineman, Henderson has right now."

At 6-foot-1, 310 pounds, Henderson brings good size to his position. The freshman showed his eagerness to learn and improve, but he will have to get into better football playing shape, according to defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

"He's a little bit out of shape," Snyder said. "He does have a big rear end and he's a plugger in the middle. When he's fresh, he's not bad. ... Right now he's three plays and he's done. He's going to bring some beef up front for us."

With strength and conditioning being a focal point in the summer, it stands to reason that Henderson will show up to preseason training camp in August in improved shape. If he continues to progress, he could give the Aggies another viable option at defensive tackle as they look to improve a defense that struggled significantly in 2013.

ESPN 300 RB reopens recruitment 

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
Texas A&M's highly ranked recruiting class took a hit on Wednesday as one longtime recruit decided to evaluate new options.

ESPN 300 running back Rodney Anderson said on Wednesday evening that he is reopening his recruitment to look at some new schools.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. predicts nine players from the SEC will go in the first round in his latest mock draft Insider.

That would be down from the 12 first-round picks the SEC produced a year ago, which tied the record for first-rounders set by the ACC in 2006.

Kiper's No. 1 pick overall is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going to the Houston Texans. Six of the first 10 picks in the draft will be SEC players, according to Kiper. He has Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson going No. 2, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going No. 4, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans going No. 7, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews going No. 9 and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix going No. 10.

If all three Texas A&M players end up going in the top 10, it would be the first time that's happened in the SEC since the 2005 draft when Auburn produced three top-10 picks -- running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams and cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Kiper has a total of 17 SEC players going in his first two rounds. He doesn't have Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron going in the top two rounds, but does have LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger going No. 42 overall to the Tennessee Titans.
Editor's note: This week we're taking a brief look at Texas A&M players who surprised us with their performances during spring practice, which wrapped up for the Aggies earlier this month.

Texas A&M guard Germain Ifedi turned in a solid debut season as a starter in 2013, laying the foundation for a bright future in Aggieland. As one of four returning starters on the offensive line, there has never been much question about his ability -- he has plenty of it, to go with a lot of size (6-foot-5, 327 pounds).

[+] EnlargeGermain Ifedi
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsGermain Ifedi showed remarkable improvement this spring and is a candidate to move outside to right tackle.
But in this era of spread offenses, bigger isn't always better when it comes to offensive tackles and size. Texas A&M's last three left tackles – Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and the incumbent, Cedric Ogbuehi – showed that athleticism is as valued as size when it comes to the premier offensive line position.

This spring, Ifedi set out to show that even with his size, he has the athleticism and talent to make the shift from guard to tackle. He spent the majority of the spring working as the starting right tackle. With the position open for battle after last year's right tackle, Ogbuehi, shifted to the left side, Ifedi showed that he wants it.

"He surprised all of us," Ogbuehi said of Ifedi's spring performance at right tackle. "His footwork is better at tackle than at guard. He's done a great job. You can tell he's watched Luke, Jake, myself and it got him a lot better. It's showing."

When spring practice began, the Aggies worked junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor at the position. Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson eventually moved both to the second unit so that they could get more practice time to focus on fundamentals and grasp playing both right guard and right tackle.

Anderson stressed that there weren't "any jobs being won" in spring and that the time was meant to get guys focused on improvement. But Ifedi certainly emerged as a real candidate for the right tackle job come fall.

"He has done a really nice job transitioning," Anderson said. "He's just got to get used to the techniques and fundamentals of it ... the hand work, the answers to the counter move, the bull move, all the things he's going to see."

Having shown he can play guard, it will be an asset to the Aggies if Ifedi, who will be a redshirt sophomore this fall, can become proficient at tackle. Anderson wants to see the depth improve on the offensive line and having versatile players is helpful.

While the Aggies want to put the best five players out on the offensive line, they also want to make sure it's a cohesive unit, which doesn't necessarily mean it's the five best linemen.

"The thing about the offensive line is you want to create what we call a nickel, and not five pennies," coach Kevin Sumlin said in March. "The five best guys aren't always the best O-line. [It's] the guys who can communicate and the guys who can play. We'll figure that out.

"I think the experience that Germain is getting at tackle gives us some real different combinations without having to put an inexperienced player on the field right away at South Carolina."
Editor's note: This week we'll take a brief look at Texas A&M players who surprised us with their performances during spring practice, which wrapped up for the Aggies earlier this month.

Texas A&M isn't hurting for talent at running back. The Aggies have had strong depth at the position since coach Kevin Sumlin arrived.

This season is no different. Even though one back graduated (Ben Malena), three lettermen return from a season ago: Tra Carson, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams.

But it's the fourth scholarship back, one who redshirted a season ago, who opened eyes during spring football for the Aggies: James White.

"I think the surprise has been James White," Sumlin said in late March. "He has really come on to be pretty solid. He's a guy that's going to play special teams for us this year and then we'll see where he fits in this group. James does everything pretty good. He's big enough at 215, 220 [pounds]. He has soft hands, is a good runner, a good blocker, so he's another guy that gives us a mix."

Because of the presence of three players who have SEC experience in Carson and the Williamses, there likely won't be many spare carries to go around, but White has shown he can contribute in several ways. While working on special teams, White has been part of the kickoff return team in a role similar to that of Malena the past two seasons and Carson last season.

At 6-foot, 218 pounds, White has good size and a wide range of skills to go with that size. The depth and versatility he can provide will be welcome in the SEC, where the Aggies have shown it isn't easy to get through a season without incident. Last season, Carson, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams all missed at least two games while recovering from injuries. All four active scholarship backs on the roster were used last season. Don't be surprised if that's the case this fall, too.

Throughout the spring, White showed he's ready to contribute.

"He's picked up on the offense," running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "The tools are there. He can run the ball, he's big, he's physical, he can catch it as well as any of those guys. Just learning the offense and protection is really important for him to pick up right now."
Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen Icon SMI/USA TODAY SportsKenny Hill and Kyle Allen are both competing for Texas A&M's starting QB spot.
Quarterback battles do not always resolve themselves in the spring -- in fact, it’s somewhat rare -- but this cycle provided some news and emerging figures from notable programs across the country.

Starting with an open-but-refined race to replace Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, here are some of those QB battle updates and what they might mean for the 2014 season.

Texas A&M Aggies

Contenders: Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen

In the space of three weeks at A&M recently, Hill, a sophomore, had been suspended for a minor arrest, and veteran Matt Joeckel let his coaches know that he intended to transfer. Hill will eventually be reinstated, but for now that leaves Allen, a freshman, as the only true eligible option to replace Manziel.

Jake Spavital, approaching his first full season as the Aggies’ playcaller, tells me that the message for the two young quarterbacks is very different. And it remains to be seen how each receives that summer counsel and where Allen and Hill land by preseason camp in August.

For Allen, now four months into his time in college, it’s clearly a matter of education. But the staff saw enough mental and physical aptitude to know Allen is a legitimate candidate to start from day one.

“He came pretty far [during the spring],” Spavital told me Monday. “I’m telling you, he’s very mature for being 18 years old. I threw the entire offense at him. . . . We threw him in and tried to see how he learns.”

For Hill -- suspended for allegedly passing out in a flower bed outside a bar in College Station -- it’s a matter of growing up.

“Kenny’s been through it all,” Spavital said. “He’s just got to mature and be a leader. He has the tools to do it, but he has to show to the entire team that he can do it.”

Unlike Allen, Hill does at least have some experience. He played in four games last season, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a score. Only one of the games featured an SEC opponent (Vanderbilt), and all of his snaps came in blowouts.

Still, it’s something. And Spavital said Hill has shown strides in terms of comprehension.

“He knows how to operate the whole entire [offense],” he said. “He knows what’s right and wrong. He doesn’t make as many rookie mistakes as Kyle.

“It comes down to a leadership standpoint with Kenny. Is he capable of leading the team?”

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Earlier this month, Texas A&M's coaches had to evacuate their offices in the Bright Football Complex for several days, so construction cranes could move mammoth sections of steel over the building's roof to nearby Kyle Field.

The Aggies' ever-expanding facilities aren't the only things getting a facelift in College Station this spring.

As Texas A&M begins its third season in the SEC, the Aggies are undergoing a reconstruction on the field, as well. Gone are star quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, along with receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Jake Matthews, potential top-10 picks in next month's NFL draft.

"Everyone thinks we were just a two-man show with Johnny and Mike," Aggies offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "But last year we had a lot of components to our team. They were a big part of our offense's success, but we're out to show the world that we're much more than two people."

While the Aggies will have to replace two of college football's most dynamic playmakers, their rebuilding job pales in comparison to what's happening at former rival Texas.

For the first time since 1997, someone other than Mack Brown led the Longhorns through spring practice. Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who guided the Cardinals to a 37-15 record and a BCS bowl game in four seasons, replaced the longtime UT coach in January. Strong inherits a UT team that lost at least four games in each of the past four seasons.

"That's not what we want to be known for," Strong said. "We have to set the standard and raise the bar."

(Read full post)

Editor's note: This week we'll take a brief look at Texas A&M players who surprised us with their performances during spring practice, which wrapped up for the Aggies earlier this month.

Safety has been a position where depth has been fleeting for Texas A&M.

The Aggies had their fair share of struggles there in 2013, both in performance and depth. Coach Kevin Sumlin acknowledged during spring football that the Aggies have to get better, and one name that hasn't been prominent in recent seasons began to emerge this spring as a potential contributor this fall: Devonta Burns.

The junior didn't play his first two seasons on campus, redshirting in 2011 and not seeing the field in 2012, but last season he began to find a role as a contributor on special teams and appeared in eight games.

But this spring, Burns emerged as an option in the secondary, both at safety and as a nickel cornerback.

"Devonta Burns has continued to come on and is trying to earn his way on the field, whether it's safety or nickel ... because he's making plays," Sumlin said in the final week of spring football.

The Aggies return three safeties that started last season (Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven) but entered the spring with little depth beyond those three, especially after they dismissed Kameron Miles, who redshirted last fall but could have been a potential contributor this fall. Burns' emergence, not just at safety but as a versatile secondary option, should be helpful.

Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, who Sumlin said will remain at corner this season rather than shifting back and forth, noticed Burns' progress at both safety and nickel throughout the spring.

"He's done a pretty good job with that," Everett said. "He's understanding both positions. ... That's going to be a big help to us and give us more depth."

Fort Bend Marshall cornerback Kendall Sheffield landed at No. 12 in the new ESPN 300. That's good enough to earn him the top spot in Texas. Sheffield spoke about the ranking, a recent trip to LSU and his decision date with ESPN's Phil Murphy.

Ball security in the SEC

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
Turnovers are the great equalizer in football.

Teams that turn it over consistently don't win very often, and teams that force turnovers typically find ways to win.

Looking back at the SEC in the last three seasons, it's not surprising that Alabama and LSU lead the way in turnover margin. The Tigers are plus-36 and the Crimson Tide are plus-24 during that span. They've combined to win two of the last three SEC titles and played each other for the national championship in 2011.

Alabama has been especially good at not turning the ball over. The Crimson Tide haven’t turned it over 20 or more times in a season since 2007, Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. Alabama and LSU are the only teams in the league that haven’t had a 20-turnover season at least once over the last three years. During that three-year span, Alabama has turned it over just 44 times.

By contrast, Ole Miss has turned it over 75 times during the last three seasons, which is the most in the league. Arkansas is right behind the Rebels with 74 turnovers, and the Hogs have forced the fewest turnovers in the SEC since 2011 (47). Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the only SEC teams to turn it over more than 20 times in each of the last three seasons, although Texas A&M was a member of the Big 12 in 2011.

In the last three seasons, South Carolina's defense has led the way when it comes to creating turnovers. The Gamecocks have forced 86 turnovers. LSU is second with 82. The Gamecocks have intercepted an SEC-high 52 passes in the last three seasons. Vanderbilt is second with 48 picks during that span.

Ole Miss has thrown the most interceptions (44) in the last three seasons, just one more than Tennessee (43). Alabama has thrown the fewest picks (18).

Below is the turnover margin for all 14 SEC schools in the last three seasons. Missouri and Texas A&M were in the Big 12 in 2011.

1. LSU: 82 gained, 46 lost -- plus-36
2. Alabama: 68 gained, 44 lost -- plus-24
3. Mississippi State: 78 gained, 55 lost -- plus-23
4. South Carolina: 86 gained, 64 lost -- plus-22
5. Missouri: 77 gained, 57 lost -- plus-20
6. Georgia: 77 gained, 66 lost -- plus-11
7. Vanderbilt: 77 gained, 69 lost -- plus-8
8. Florida: 62 gained, 61 lost -- plus-1
9. Kentucky: 52 gained, 55 lost -- minus-3
10. Tennessee: 60 gained, 64 lost -- minus-4
11. Ole Miss: 67 gained, 75 lost -- minus-8
12. Auburn: 55 gained, 65 lost -- minus-10
13. Texas A&M: 53 gained, 66 lost -- minus-13
14. Arkansas: 47 gained, 74 lost -- minus-27

SEC lunch links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
Alabama, Auburn and Missouri will all hold their spring games this weekend. To get you ready for all the action, be sure to check out Friday’s lunch links.

TCU has been putting in a new offense this offseason. Now, the Horned Frogs have just the quarterback to run it.

Matt Joeckel, who spent the last two years backing up Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, will transfer to play his final college season for the Horned Frogs, a source said.

Joeckel finalized his decision after visiting the TCU campus Thursday. Because Joeckel earned his bachelor's degree in December, he will be eligible for the 2014 season.

Joeckel could fill a huge need at quarterback for the Horned Frogs, who have struggled offensively since joining the Big 12. In its two seasons in the league, TCU has ranked no better than eighth in total offense, and missed a bowl last year for the first time since 2004.

This offseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson revamped his offense by bringing in co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to install an uptempo, no-huddle attack similar to the one Joeckel played under at Texas A&M.

Last year, Cumbie was an assistant at Texas Tech under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was previously Texas A&M's offensive coordinator. Meacham was offensive coordinator at Houston, where Kevin Sumlin was before taking the head job at Texas A&M.

Joeckel, a 6-foot-4 native of Arlington, Texas, made his lone start for the Aggies in the 2013 opener against Rice when Manziel served an NCAA suspension for the first half of that game.

Joeckel completed 14 of his 19 attempts for 190 yards and a touchdown, before handing the offense back to Manziel with a 28-21 lead. Texas A&M went on to win, 52-31.

(Read full post)

Kentucky and Texas A&M both lost quarterbacks Wednesday, which means the race for their starting jobs is down to two.


Which team in the SEC has the most precarious quarterback situation in terms of talent, depth and experience heading into 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 7,234)

Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, and Matt Joeckel is leaving Texas A&M. Now, the reality might be that neither one of those guys was going to win the job. But in both cases, the Wildcats and Aggies are going to put a quarterback on the field in the fall who has very little experience.

They're hardly the only ones in that boat in the SEC.

Only three teams in the league are bringing back an established quarterback who started all or most of the season a year ago. Auburn returns Nick Marshall, while Dak Prescott is back at Mississippi State and Bo Wallace at Ole Miss. Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson returns at South Carolina, but most of his work to this point has been coming off the bench in relief, although he did have the memorable performance against Clemson two years ago in a start when Connor Shaw was injured and couldn't play.

The bottom line: There aren't a ton of rock-solid quarterback situations in the SEC as we exit the spring.

Your homework assignment (the fans) is telling us who has the most precarious quarterback situation heading into the 2014 season. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll unveil the results in the next few days.

Obviously, the landscape can change pretty dramatically. Did anybody really know what Texas A&M had at quarterback with Johnny Manziel entering the 2012 season?

The five schools we've come up with as candidates all have some major question marks.

At Kentucky, sophomore Patrick Towles and true freshman Drew Barker are now battling it out. And at Texas A&M, it's down to a redshirt freshman (Kenny Hill) and a true freshman (Kyle Allen). Hill has already been in trouble this offseason, too.

Brandon Allen is the guy at Arkansas, but struggled through an injury-marred season a year ago. The Hogs finished last in the SEC in passing offense.

True freshman Brandon Harris outplayed sophomore Anthony Jennings in LSU's spring game, so this summer and the preseason should be quite interesting on the Bayou.

And at Alabama, the Crimson Tide's starter for the 2014 season might well be attending classes at another school. Jacob Coker is transferring from Florida State and won't be on Alabama's campus until he graduates from FSU in May. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims has taken the lead this spring in the Tide's quarterback derby as he adjusts to Lane Kiffin's pro-style offense, but will have to hold off Coker. Whoever wins the job at Alabama will have very little, if any, meaningful game experience.

SEC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
Let them eat a late lunch!

Getting to know DaMarkus Lodge 

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

DESOTO, Texas -- With all the multiple camps, combines and special events happening each spring, DaMarkus Lodge chooses not to be a regular on the circuit.

It’s not that Lodge is against them, or that he thinks he’s above them. The ESPN 300 receiver has simply prioritized his life as a student-athlete. The camp circuit happens to be a middle-of-the-pack priority.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider


No. 2 CB Sheffield Talks Recruiting
Fort Bend Marshall cornerback Kendall Sheffield landed at No. 12 in the new ESPN 300. That's good enough to earn him the top spot in Texas. Sheffield spoke about the ranking, a recent trip to LSU and his decision date with ESPN's Phil Murphy.Tags: Kendall Sheffield, Fort Bend Marshall, RecruitingNation, ESPN 300, high school football recruiting, Phil Murphy