The Texas A&M football team practiced outdoors for the first time this spring under sunny skies this afternoon. The storyline for the afternoon was the performance of the wide receivers.
Jeff Fuller is certainly making Ryan Tannehill's job easier. Tannehill throws it in his vicinity and he catches it. The duo already look very comfortable with each other and I think as long as Fuller stays healthy in 2011 he's going to easily surpass his numbers from previous seasons.
When he's healthy like he is now, Uzoma Nwachukwu is a completely different receiver. Against elite competition last season, Texas A&M's receivers struggled to gain separation on the coverage due to the lack of explosion coming out of cuts and breaks. Well, that's exactly what Nwachukwu is doing now. When his ankles aren't bothering him, he plays with so much extra energy and quickness, and you can see it in his routes today.
But to be honest, the staff expects those veterans to step up and perform so that's not really a big surprise. What is a surprise is the play of the pass catchers further down the rotation, particularly Malcolme Kennedy and Brandal Jackson. Jackson has looked very comfortable catching the ball the past two days, but he took it to a new level Thursday afternoon during the simulated hurry-up offense drill that ended practice.
It started with the first team offense beginning a final drive of the game at their own 35 yard-line with no time outs and needing a field goal for the win. After a first down sack by Demontre Moore on Tannehill, the first team offense did not convert and lost. Then it was the second team's turn under the same game conditions with Jameill Showers running the show. It soon turned into the Brandal Jackson show as Showers hit Jackson on three consecutive completions, with two being difficult sideline catches. In fact, the second completion was the offensive highlight of the practice when Jackson left his feet while being smothered by the defender and hauled in the ball with his outstretched fingertips for a 30 yard gain. The play drew impressive reactions from the players and fans in attendance. The completion also set-up a game-winning 37 yard field goal by Randy Bullock.
Jackson also looked very crisp in passing drills and made another acrobatic catch that drew praise from Nwachukwu. He has shown a knack for making the difficult catch, and if he continues to flash that ability, he'll see a lot more reps than he did in 2010.
The other storyline worth mentioning is Malcolme Kennedy who seems to be a natural at the position. He's catching every ball that comes his way in drills and he comes out of his breaks nicely. With so many veterans in front of him this year, I'm not expecting a big year from him, but he does look poised to get some reps along the way. But more importantly, when the coaching staff looks at the future of this position in 2012 and 2013, what they are seeing from the redshirt freshman has to make them feel good that capable receivers are filling the pipeline for the future. After practice, Coach Sherman seemed very upbeat about Kennedy and his abilities and work ethic and said he was a "pleasure" to coach and have in the program. He has nice size too. He's filling out.
Coach Sherman was vocal today, really pushing the team in certain areas. He definitely loses his laid-back persona when a running back fumbles, and he chewed on Ben Malena and Mister Jones for putting the ball on the turf, and for good measure he forced Johnny Manziel to run as well for the less than perfect hand-off.
What is most impressive about Coach Sherman is his hands-on approach and his detailed knowledge of every ounce of the offense. This morning, he was outside with the offensive linemen helping Coach Turner. This afternoon, as he's walking by the passing drills, he sees a receiver roll his cut and he used that as a teaching moment for some of the receivers and stuck around to make sure those guys were cutting sharply and back to the ball. He's not a screamer, but he will get his message across when he needs to and the players and staff respect him for that. In fact, when Sherman first came here, the perception was that he was passive and maybe a little soft. If you ask people around the program about Sherman, they will say he keeps the staff on their toes. He's fair but he does expect a lot and he does hold staffers accountable whether it's on the field or with recruiting.
News and Notes
1) Charlie Thomas still worked out at RB, but Coach Sherman indicated that THomas will go back to defense at the end of the week and that was the plan all along. They simply wanted to get him enough reps where he can be considered an emergency back-up.
2) Coach Turner cross-trained Evan Eike at center today for the first hour of practice, and that allowed redshirt freshman Jarvis Harrison to run with the first team at guard. This kid is incredibly big, all the way from his tree trunk ankles to his long arms. He's only 18-19 years old, and he looks like a grown man in the NFL. In fact, I want to use this time to again comment on the size and athleticism of the offensive line. I want to see them perform with the shoulder pads on in live action, but this is an incredibly impressive looking group. For years, Texas A&M's offensive lines were populated by big guys with limited athletic ability or with good athletes that were undersized. But now, the offensive line group is both athletic, long, and big. Yes, they look like an offensive line from a big, power conference...which is a first for this program in many years.
3) I know I was hard on Johnny Manziel on Tuesday, but I;m going to give the kid credit tonight. In passing drills, he has improved significantly in each workout. The kid is a gamer. There's no doubt about that. I still think he's a long way from competing with the two redshirt freshmen, but you have to like this guy's spunk. He has some Bucky Richardson in him.
4) The staff is giving Ben Malena a ton of reps right now. It's obvious they are going slow with Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael since they know what they have with those two and they want to keep the two bell cows healthy. Also, Malena appears to be the odds-on favorite to be the No. 3 running back, and if one of the veterans goes down, then Malena will be needed in meaningful action. They also like to use him coming out of the backfield. I think you'll see a lot of Malena in 2011, especially in September.
5) Steven Jenkins had a couple of nice stops behind the line in 11-on-11's with the 2nd team. It's early and I need to see him play with the pads, but you can see a good athlete and a possible contributor with the JUCO transfer.
The team will be off on Friday and will return for a Saturday and Sunday practice.
Spring Practice Report - Day 2
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