Spring Practice Preview 2012: Quarterbacks

It may be starting a little later than usual, but the Aggie football team and the new staff will get to work on March 31. Aggie Websider's Jeffrey Jennings previews the spring competition. Today, we look at the all-important QB position where four candidates are looking fill Ryan Tannehill's shoes

For the first time in about a decade, other than Ryan Tannehill pushing Jerrod Johnson before the 2009 season, the battle for Texas A&M's starting signal caller will be a true, wide-open, up for grabs contest. Past reloads were not exactly anxiety-laden affairs, and enjoyed smooth transitions, as the actual starters were more or less assumed before the camps began. However, for various reasons, the jockeying for the prized spot amongst four strong heavyweights, easily headlines an Aggie off-season filled with major plot lines.

First off, unlike their predecessors, none have logged starting time, or much game time under center at all for that matter. Also notable, is the introduction and installation of the first new offensive system since 2008, which considerably levels the playing field for the contenders. Despite two years of development for Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel, and one for Johnny Manziel, each young man, even freshman Matt Davis, is in the same boat. Finally the elephant, or tiger, in the room, is the fact that whoever makes the cut will be leading his Aggie's into their inaugural SEC season, in by far college football's best and toughest division.

The Contenders

If you put a gun to my head to pick a starter right now, I'd hesitantly go with Jameill Showers. It's not just the fact he won the gig coming out of last year's fall camp, and no doubt has benefited from the extra reps that honor afforded him, but of all the guys, he undisputedly has the strongest arm. However, as mentioned, the brand new system could play against Showers. He took a little longer than Matt Joeckel picking up Mike Sherman's offense, and a big reason he emerged atop the heap last August, was that he'd finally mastered it, allowing him the comfort level to just play and let his athletic ability and arm take over. Showers is a solid scrambler but a true pocket passer who uses his feet well to buy time. If he can match his athleticism and arm with more efficient reads and soundness in the system, he'll be very hard to beat out. However, those are two big "ifs". Bottom line is Jameill is starting from ground zero like everyone else, and that's just one element that makes this contentious rite all the more intriguing.

Escalating the race will be red-shirt freshman Johnny Manziel. A high-caliber, dynamic playmaker, Manziel does phenomenal things with the ball in his hands, and it's exciting to think what could be when properly utilized by A&M's current staff. Between the threat of his designed or improvised runs, and passing ability, he will keep defenses very honest and completely off balance. Johnny has proven to be a quick study, a poised playmaker, and a winner, who is explosively quick, has superb acceleration, excellent speed, and is simply a natural football player that gets it done when the lights are on. On the downside, he has a tendency to sling the ball with a low release, and given his height, it's a concern at this level. In addition, while his short and intermediate games are solid (quick release, good velocity, hits targets in stride, out of reach of defenders), a consensus knock on him is arm strength on the deeper throws. While it remains to be seen, early returns from off-season drills are that Manziel's arm has benefited tremendously from his first year of work and maturation. It will be fairly obvious early on in camp where he is with both delivery and strength issues. If he picks up Sumlin's system, adequately addresses the aforementioned issues, and quickens the pace in making his reads, he'll have a legitimate shot to grab the starting spot.

Matt Joeckel has to be licking his chops for his second chance to emerge as Ryan Tannehill's heir apparent. It can't be understated enough, the advantage of the new system in vying for the job falls heavy in the favor of Joeckel, who picked up Mike Sherman's offense much faster than his 2010 classmate Showers. While Jameill has the edge him athletically and slightly from an arm strength angle, fans and coaches can rest easy if Joeckel were to pull this off, as the heady signal caller will get the job done. I hesitate to break out comparisons to greats when a player hasn't even wrestled away a starting job, but style wise Ben Roethlisberger comes to mind, minus the riverboat tendencies. The twin brother of A&M's, stand-out left tackle, Luke Joeckel, is likewise very stout, bringing a substantial 6' 4" 234 pound frame to the pocket and is hard to bring down. While not a great scrambler, Matt moves well enough in the pocket to extend plays. He can make all the throws, is highly efficient in the short game, protects the ball very well, is excellent in seeing the field and making reads. Bottom line, he consistently moves his unit down the field and is safe with the ball. He is not the most dynamic option, but just as capable as any on the roster, and if slow and steady wins the race, Joeckel is your man.

The Newcomer

Cut eerily from the same gun-slinging, dual-threat, mold as Johnny Manziel, is Matt Davis. While Davis shares much of Manziel's skill set along with a very live arm, he is an extremely rare standout in terms of on and off field leadership, one can spot from a mile away. He simply has "it", and "it" was no more evident than his efforts a recruiter amongst his class and the "#aggswagg" movement. It's safe to say Coach Sumlin did a remarkable job in holding the class together upon Mike Sherman's dismissal, but he also owes a large debt of gratitude to this young man. Highly competitive, athletic and poised, Matt Davis won't go quietly in the spring quarterback battle, but obviously any freshman trying to emerge atop this fray, especially one this talented, is a very tall order.

Overall Quarterback Thoughts

Due to shared inexperience, a new system, and four talented contenders, the competition for A&M's new signal caller will easily be the marquee story of spring camp. What also adds to the intrigue will be what is on the table and hanging in the balance upon the results. The responsibility of being Texas A&M's quarterback is always a big deal, but you add that this young man will be leading an extremely talented offense in the school's first season in their new era, in the Southeastern Conference, and the stakes simply don't get any higher. Fortunately a team couldn't ask for a better or deeper field. Whoever emerges is going to round out an explosive offensive attack that will come complete with an excellent and experienced offensive line, top notch running backs, and some potential, big time receiving targets.

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