Fall Camp Preview - Quarterback

Are you ready for some football? Fall camp is a week away and the Aggie Websider gets you prepared with a position-by-position inside preview. Special contributor Jeffrey Jennings takes our first look at the quarterback position where senior Ryan Tannehill assumes control of the Aggie offense. Who will back him up and how does freshman sensation Johnny Manziel look?

Due to an inconsistent early season performance (including eleven turnovers in six games), caused by a recovering shoulder, Jerrod Johnson became the last in a line of promising Aggie signal callers that fell flat in their senior campaigns the past decade (preceded by Mark Farris, Reggie McNeal, Stephen McGee). However, while the injury marred what should have been a brilliant final season for Johnson, it didn't spell the end for the Maroon and White, as Ryan Tannehill was given the reigns to the Aggie offense, and led the Aggies through an extraordinary, six game run to close out the season, including monumental wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Heading into 2011, a deep and talented A&M unit has a very legitimate shot at taking the conference crown, and even mentioned in the national title discussion by some. But reaching those goals will be contingent on Tannehill breaking the senior curse. While it's highly unlikely that the latter thought is even on his radar, he clearly must continue his success, and as impressive as he was last November, Ryan will need to continue "nailing big game to the wall" if A&M is going to have the kind of year expected by Aggie fans.

All indications are that he's well on the path of elevating his play, and perhaps all-conference honors by seasons end. He'll be aided by an outstanding and experienced offensive line, two blue chip running backs, and a host of talented, playmaking pass catchers, including potential All-American Jeff Fuller. Let's take a closer look at how he's handling the new role as the outright leader of the team this off-season, his skill set, and what he aims to improve. We'll also get a glimpse of the up and coming signal callers that will battle for the all so important backing job, and maneuver themselves to assume the thrown in 2012.

Locked In At Starter

Ryan Tannehill, took the reins of the Texas A&M offense in the 2nd quarter of the Kansas game, and swiftly made his mark, leading the team through an impressive win streak to close out the season (1,638 yards in six starts and as many wins). The Aggies finished with a share of the Big XII south title, defeating perennial conference giant Oklahoma (in only his second start) and taking down a very tough Nebraska team, cementing a historic turning point win for the program. Though Texas A&M fell short to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, Tannehill actually played a pretty good game, hitting Jeff Fuller eight times against top five draft pick Patrick Peterson, and threw two touchdowns against an extremely fast and potent defense. Needless to say, in a relatively short time, Ryan Tannehill established himself as the undisputed leader of the Aggies under center, not bad for a guy that started at wide receiver earlier in his college career.

It's His Team

Though he admitted, "it's definitely different", taking over the team hasn't been a difficult transition for the natural leader, as he was already highly respected, and his presence in leading them have no doubt been strengthened by the aforementioned pelts he collected last November. A&M has a locker room full of guys that will go through a wall for him, and have unquestioned faith in him as a quarterback, that has proven he can and will get it done against the best. That said, a huge benefit of the role is the exclusive work he's gotten with the team for the first time in his career, primarily the timing and chemistry with receivers.

Skills & Attributes

At the A&M Pro-Day in spring, an always honest Coach Sherman, was overheard telling a Green Bay scout, "That is my 6-foot-3, 220-pound quarterback. He has all the tools to be an NFL QB".

Physically, it's hard to find a weakness in the prototypical signal caller. He has great size and a live, accurate arm with plenty of heat to make all the throws and place the ball between multiple defenders. In addition, he boasts superb athleticism and speed (he spent several seasons doubling as a very productive wideout) to make plays inside and outside the pocket. He's elusive with good footwork in the pocket, where he does well in creating more time for receivers and himself with his balance and ability to avoid the rush and reset his feet. Though a pocket passer first, with a great feel for pressure, when things breakdown he is very dangerous as a scrambler. Ryan is very comfortable under center, but excellent out of the shotgun, and his ability to run the zone read on occasion, coupled with his aforementioned passing ability, gives Coach Sherman and the Aggies yet another weapon to keep defenses off balance.

An aspiring orthopedic surgeon, it's no surprise that Tannehill is an extremely smart football player. He's had Sherman's system down for several seasons, and he sees the whole field, makes his progressions quickly, is quite adept at diagnosing and exploiting defensive weaknesses, and seamlessly spreads the ball around to all of his targets. This off-season, he has looked poised and relaxed (much like last November), and has completely mastered the offense, even with Sherman throwing in new offensive wrinkles to broaden the playbook.

Room for Improvement

While Tannehill has a strong physical and mental skill set, with the intangibles to match, that is not to say that he is flawless. He takes pride in ball security, and in that regard has proved a quick learner in not repeating mistakes. For example, he wasn't perfect in his win against the Sooners, in fact he threw several ill-advised interceptions, but he learned from it, and didn't put the ball into the opposition's hands again until the LSU game. This spring he occasionally looked down wide receivers when pressured, which led to an interception here and there. It wasn't excessive, but Coach Sherman wants it cleaned up. No quarterback at this level is a finished project, it needs some work but it's not a huge concern, especially considering his attributes, his improvement ceiling at this stage, his talented teammates, and no doubt the finest coaching.

Battle for Backup

Last year, the talk of Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel centered around the advantageous situation of having two freshmen quarterbacks enter the program as early enrollees. The advance jump that extra spring camp and summer session provided for their careers is hard to quantify, but it has clearly served them well. Both signal callers put together highly productive spring and summer workouts, and have a good grasp of Sherman's offense. With their feet squarely under them, they are now set to square off in an extremely heated competition the next few weeks, and Coach Sherman said he would name the leader about ten days into camp. The stakes of this battle are huge, as the winner not only gets to back Ryan Tannehill this season, but will also get the majority of the reps over the other guy this fall, spelling a big advantage heading into next spring and off-season, when the battle for A&M's next signal caller takes place.

Sizing up the two quarterbacks is difficult, because they have distinct skill sets and advantages over the other. Physically the edge goes to Jameill Showers, a tremendous athlete, who has the strongest arm on the team, and while he's a pocket passer, he also has the ability to scramble. As a true freshman, Matt Joeckel quickly grasped the offense early, and the big, sturdy 6-foot-4, 230-pound athlete earned the most practice reps throughout last season. Matt has average arm strength and is better in the short game. He's considered a technician of the offense and is adept at running Coach Sherman's system. While Joeckel made some early strides last fall, Coach Sherman said that Showers made up significant ground, picking up the system heading into spring practices.

With Showers more comfortable and relaxed in running the offense, his physical abilities and arm strength seem to have given him a slight edge coming out of spring, but don't read too much into that because Matt is right there and it's completely up for grabs. Jameill does have a little more glimmer in his game, but Joeckel is smart, steady, safe with the ball, and consistent. Needless to say this is going to be a dogfight and one of the most important, marquee position battles the next few weeks.

Johnny Football

Also elbowing his way into the fray is true freshman Johnny Manziel, who is actually picked up the offense quickly this spring according to Coach Sherman. However, he still has a ways to go, and though he is listed in the hunt for the number-two job, it would be a Herculean feat if he were to emerge at the top of that fray ten days into fall camp. He still has a lot to digest, but according to Sherman is very coachable, and he's a very explosive athlete on his feet, who shows tremendous poise under pressure. Manziel is a rare talent, a playmaker, and a winner. That said he is obviously green and inexperienced, who has thrived making plays through improvising. He will need to play more within the system. He also needs to clean up a few things mechanically, and while his short and intermediate game are solid (he has a very quick release and a knack for finding and hitting receivers in stride), he needs to develop better arm strength for the deeper throws.

Though Sherman had talked about Manziel getting a look at wide receiver, as he develops as QB, he didn't really get many reps there in spring, so it's likely he'll redshirt this season and concentrate on his development at quarterback. However, f the staff starts getting his feet wet at wide receiver this fall, then look out. He is talented and dangerous enough with a ball in his hands, and as he showed in high school and even at the spring game, he's a playmaker. He's a winner. It remains to be seen, but expect big things out of Johnny Manziel, one way or the other, in the coming years. He's a natural, smart football player, and flat out gets it done when the lights are on.

Overall Position Analysis

It was a long road for Ryan Tannehill, but he stuck with it, and did what all the great ones do, in making the most of the opportunities given. Having proven he can get it done against some great competition, and with his first off-season as the starting quarterback of the Aggies, the talented signal caller is set to lead a very dangerous offensive unit, and one of the best teams Texas A&M has fielded in some time. However, if that is going to happen, he must continue his progression and eliminate the occasional interception. He must break the senior curse. Behind him, the war for his backup will be well worth following, as the winner will not only serve the obvious important backing role this season, but may well be his successor in 2012.


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