Spring Camp Guide - Receivers/Tight Ends

The Aggies are expecting big things from the offense in 2011 with nine starters returning from a productive unit last season.The receivers will play a key role in 2011. Aggie Websider's Jeffrey Jennings takes a look at the receiver and tight end positions and what to expect this spring.

Simply put, Texas A&M has a large stable of veteran wide receivers returning in 2011 which is a good sign for the Aggie offense. The receiving talent has been building since 2009, and the depth and playmaking ability of the 2011 group will give Ryan Tannehill plenty of weapons in the air attack. From Jeff Fuller's size and game-breaking skills, to Ryan Swope's playmaking ability underneath, to starter level depth, to true tight ends, their varied abilities compliment other offensive weapons at quarterback, running back, and offensive line to form what could be one of the most balanced offenses in college football. Still, there is room for improvement and plenty of opportunity for the Aggie pass catchers to raise their stock this spring and set themselves up to get a lot of balls thrown their way in 2011 and beyond. Let's take a closer look at A&M's pass catchers and their standing in a talented pack.

Locked in at Starter: Split End

Jeff Fuller who caught 72 passes for 1,066 yards and 12 TD's (including an impressive 7 catch-83 yard game against LSU's Patrick Peterson, the best corner in the nation), but his biggest headline may have come this off-season when he decided to forgo the NFL Draft and return for his senior year in Aggieland. Don't expect Fuller to rest on his laurels though. The young man has taken every off-season as a personal mission to be the best, and he has grown by leaps and bounds each year. While he's honed the more obvious aspects of his position, he's also made huge strides with the finer things like the extraordinary run blocking he did last season. Look for a monster 2011 for Jeff and keep in mind that when he's not catching balls, his presence alone out there is opening things up for everyone else (the last team besides LSU that tried to run man on him got lit up for eleven touchdowns, 171 yard and 2 touchdowns, I'm not going to name names or anything but Texas Tech really helped give Ryan Tannehill a brilliant first start).

Depth

Turning heads as an impressive newcomer last summer and putting in a very productive camp were the enormous, steady hands of Nate Askew. Also aiding him in his first full off-season and bid to gain some significant play time, is his speed and size which he uses so well down the field and in the red zone. With Fuller departing after this season Askew definitely needs to make some strides in his development this spring, and after proving a quick study last summer, I'd be surprised if he didn't.

Probable Starter: Flanker

Uzoma Nwachuku has always been a nicely packaged receiver, with outstanding hands, athleticism, leaping ability, impressive route running, and very capable blocking. However, while he didn't have a horrible season in 2010 (36 grabs for 407 yards and four TD's), he was not at his best due to nagging injuries. Nwachukwu had an outstanding eight catch performance against Baylor, but was fairly quiet during the Aggies' impressive, second half of the season run, before getting it going in a great four catch, two touchdown outing against LSU. So far this off-season, he's working hard in building off of that performance, and seeks to seriously elevate his play this spring, erasing any doubts and setting up a breakout junior season. But the key for the Allen product will always be his health, and more specifically avoiding the sprained ankles he has sustained in his first two seasons in College Station.

Depth

It's hard to believe, but Brandal Jackson is preparing for his junior year, and I get the feeling that the young man might be poised to start making his move this off-season. Though he did make a pair of catches against a stingy LSU defense, his numbers weren't anything to write home about in 2010, but he is well thought of by his coaches, and his hard work and talents are starting to payoff. He saw a lot more of the field from the midway point of the season onwards and Jackson has no shortage of ability to emerge as quality target. It's a crowded field but it will be worth keeping tabs on the Navasota native. He provides steady depth and a strong option when that fourth man is trotted onto the field.

Malcome Kennedy enters his first spring camp as a potential playmaker, with phenomenal athletic ability, size, strength, and leaping ability, all of which he uses well downfield and in the red zone on jump balls. He's not a burner but he has good speed and is a sound route runner. Kennedy's natural abilities turned a lot of heads upon arrival last summer, but due to depth issues at safety, got his first look there. Back on offense, look for Malcome to possibly start making some noise as a future face of the receiving corps.

Locked in at Starter: Slot

Ryan Swope (72 catches, 825 yards, 4 TD's) is the perfect example of a guy hitting a light switch in spring ball. It was evident last year, that Ryan had turned the corner of "young player showing flashes and promise" to "consistent playmaker". He routinely caught the short ball, then either juked himself around or broke the tackle, before letting his speed take over and racing down the sidelines. These plays weren't a now and then thing, they were a consistent everyday occurrence that continued in fall camp, and more importantly throughout the 2010 season (and he did it against all levels of competition, 8 catches-136 yards against OU, 4-49 NU, 5-45 LSU). Deadly in the open field, he was instrumental in: taking pressure off of the rushing game, getting big chunks of yac yards, saving drives, showing a knack for the clutch grab. There is not a lot to key on with the junior-to-be in the spring, but expect more great things from a player that ceases to amaze and keeps making guys behind keyboards look smart.

Depth

Kenric McNeal provides a devastating one two punch with Ryan Swope out of the slot and just because he isn't the starter doesn't mean he isn't a high level caliber player. His numbers on the year weren't great (23 catches, 202 yards and 2 TD's) but most came late in the season (had a six reception outing against UT and made a touchdown grab against LSU) and it was apparent that Ryan Tannehill found McNeal a valuable and sought after target, who is always a threat when he has the ball in the open field. His speed, hands, athleticism, route running, are only matched by his work ethic. He added some beef last year, which aids him well in the slot and as the fearless and aggressive punt returner you saw last season. While backing Swope he'll also be the odds on favorite for the Zebra position when A&M goes four-wide. Expect another solid off-seasson from the quality pass catcher and no less than a big time junior year. Like the men in front of him in the slot, LaKendrick Williams is very dangerous in the open field, and was considered a return specialists out of high school. Primarily a defensive guy, recruited as an athlete, Williams is very raw but has a lot of upside.

Wildcards at Wide Receiver

Two other A&M playmakers who could find themselves as pass catching options are aspiring signal callers, Jameill Showers and Johnny Manziel. Both young men are very much in the quarterback mix but as Coach Sherman has proved, he wants his playmakers making plays, not holding clipboards. I'm speculating on Showers but Sherman has named Manziell by name as a player on the "Ryan Tannehill plan", meaning until he catches up to the quarterback position at this level, he'll get plenty of opportunities to make plays. Probable Starter: Tight End

Coach Sherman has always been big on utilizing tight ends as yet another dangerous aspect of his offenses but his hands have been tied with one dimensional guys until now with two up and coming prospects. After an impressive off-season, Mike Sherman wasted no time in getting Nehemiah Hicks feet wet, as he played in all thirteen games, starting in nine of them. His numbers didn't jump off the page, but he was a steady performer for a freshman and proved his potential worth as a blocker off the edge. Though he was physically impressive when he stepped on campus, he's got some filling out to do, and after cleaning up his game some this off-season, fully expect Hicks to be a major component of A&M's offensive attack.

Depth

Backing Hicks, though not far behind, will be another high quality tight end with a balanced skill set. Hutson Prioleau had some catching up to do coming out of private school, but he is a sound blocker who moves defensive ends off the ball very effectively, with good footwork, hand technique and those efforts are aided by his temperament. He's also got good hands and I would look for the competitive Huston to take it up a notch in the next few weeks as he knocks elbows with Hicks in a bid for starter and playing time. Michael Lamothe also serves the position well as a hard nosed, contact seeking former linebacker, who not only makes a good shortage blocker, but a stealthy and dependable red zone pass catching option as he showed a few times last season.

Wide Receiver/Tight End Overall

Texas A&M finds itself on very strong footing with the talent and depth of offensive positional areas, and is no different with it's pass catchers. From dynamic, big name playmakers, to highly talented, starting quality depth options, to finally having what they need at tight end, the Aggie passing attack is set to lend it's hand to a national powerhouse offense.


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