2012 Fall Camp Guide - Wide Receivers

Texas A&M's offense is undergoing a facelift, and while touches will be more balanced than most realize, there is no mistaking the biggest beneficiaries of the new system. Jeffrey Jennings continues with his preview of each position. Today, he looks at the receiver/tight end position.

Texas A&M's offense is undergoing a facelift, and while touches will be more balanced than most realize, there is no mistaking the biggest beneficiaries of the new system. The wide-receivers stand to catch a ton of balls, rack up a lot of yards, points, and hopefully will help pave the way for a lot of victories.

In the limited time reporters and observers were allowed to watch spring camp, one thing was different from the previous regime. The intensity and focus in receiver drills, be it catching, route running, breaking the jams at the line, and working on chemistry and timing with the quarterbacks was night and day. This staff knows that the fuel that makes this engine purr is the performance of their pass-catchers, and given the intensity and reps they've taken this off-season, the unit should be ready to go when the season is underway.

Some may shrug at that assertion, but when you put Sumlin's system in context of where he's been, it's hard to be immune to the optimism. The Houston Cougars made that offense go with guys who were by no means blue-chips. I don't say that to disparage their players, they did a tremendous job (and guys like Patrick Edwards earned their way into NFL careers), but to say A&M doesn't have that level of player across the board and with relative depth would be inaccurate. True they are playing at a whole other level in the SEC, but the simple fact remains, while not laden with experienced game-breakers, other than Ryan Swope, there is a host of young men who will be sure and steady weapons, not to mention several fresh young faces that will inject a great deal of needed speed and playmaking ability. Beyond the talent, competition will further enhance the development of the group, as all will be in the hunt, for those precious starting jobs in August.

They've got the potential, and with the right spark can gain a little swagger, but in the meantime, they've come along very nicely in the off-season, and just need to add some polish the next few weeks and sure up some inconsistency. Let's take a look at the veterans, Jucos, and incoming freshmen that are vying to land starting jobs, and emerge as key targets alongside Ryan Swope.


Slot Receivers

One of Kevin Sumlin's first orders of business upon arriving in Aggieland was to retain the services of Ryan Swope, who was contemplating the NFL draft. Fortunately for the Aggies he succeeded, and A&M will greatly benefit from their primary veteran playmaker. Recently named to the 2012 Pre-Season All-SEC second team, the record setting receiver became Ryan Tannehill's go-to guy last season. Using his speed, size, ability, a knack for pulling down the clutch receptions, and racking up yards after the catch, Ryan hauled in 89 balls for 1,207 yards (both school records). He also scored eleven touchdowns. More impressive, is the fact he did so after missing several starts, due to an early season concussion. Deadly in the slot, he is instrumental in taking pressure off of the rushing game and saving drives. Swope shows a knack for the clutch grab, and has proven he can do it against all levels of competition. Further, while he put up impressive numbers in the previous system, in spring he clearly demonstrated, that he would absolutely feast in his new offensive setting, a facet that certainly couldn't have hurt Sumlin's pitch to him last winter.

Kenric McNeal was primed for a breakout junior season in 2011, but a season plagued with injuries brought him back to earth. However, McNeal put together an excellent spring, quickly taking to the new system and proving himself a highly dependable and productive target. With great hands, athleticism, smooth route running ability, and as one of the faster players on the roster, he'll be towards the front of a pack, in a group looking to round out it's starters. In fact, look for him to have a much bigger role as Kevin Sumlin works the deep middle of the field (a slight edge Kenric has over Ryan Swope with his speed). In spring, I had him eyed as a dark-horse candidate, to elbow his way into a bigger share of the spotlight. It's a tall order with the caliber and depth A&M has in the slot, but he's ahead of pace to do just that. Barring injury, which admittedly is a distinct possibility, fully expect a big year from the dynamic, hard working, heady senior.

Entering his third fall camp, Malcome Kennedy has really come along physically as of late, something that will aid him immensely as a receiver getting off of press coverage. In addition to his physical development, Malcome put together a sound spring camp. He is not a pure speed guy, but is a very good route runner, dangerous with the ball in space, reliable in making the catch, and good at pulling down jump-balls. He was under utilized in 2011 (11 catches for 140 yards), and while there is plenty of competition in the slot, there will also be plenty of balls to go around. An intense competitor, he has put in the work, developed a great deal, and is primed to take advantage of his new offensive setting in 2012.

Upon arrival, Coach Sumlin soon realized his receivers needed reinforcements with superb speed to run his offense, hence the late switch of Sabian Holmes, received his Aggie offer, and committed in January. He needs to add some beef, but his ability to get open downfield, and his dangerous moves in the space, will likely see him in the slot. Holmes is athletic enough to excel on both sides of the ball, but as David Sandhop reported this summer, " is comfortable in the offensive scheme, plays like a veteran, and has the physical skills to give our defensive backs fits . . .If he can stay healthy in August, he will play a lot".

LaKendrick Williams put together a solid spring, and took to the new system very well. However, he must improve his pass catching, something to keep an eye on with all A&M receivers in camp. Williams can be dangerous in space, but isn't going to get a lot of yards once defenders get their paws on him. He's turning into a quality target, but the next few weeks will spell a lot whether he's come far enough to work his way into the rotation, or at worst, ending up as upper-end, serviceable depth.


Wide-Outs

A quiet, steady-worker, Michael Evans has done nothing but progress, and made a great first impression with the new staff this spring. He is an excellent athlete that does a great job in utilizing his size (6'5" 200 pounds), to get open, overwhelm defenders, and claim the jump-balls. Evans has great hands, good speed, runs clean routes, and seems to have arrived as the threat this offense needs on the outside. Matching his abilities is a work ethic, which will make it difficult for anyone trying to wrest away the starting "Flanker" spot he carries into fall camp. His emergence as true threat at wide-out could be crucial to the Aggies' offense. As David Sandhop recently pointed out, "A&M fans saw how much the offense stumbled when the outside receivers struggled. When defenses no longer feared Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu, it tightened the windows of opportunity for Ryan Swope and the inside receivers". He's not the only possibility here, but he's on the right track, and it would obviously be a huge lift, if he materializes as the weapon he appears to be.

Uzoma Nwachukwu looked much stronger in and out of cuts in drills, but had a silent spring, which was surprising given he was finally healthy, and preparing to enter his senior season. After a breakout performance early in his freshman year, nagging ankle injuries have plagued him his entire college career. Other than catastrophic injuries, ankles are debilitating for receivers performance, in limiting efficiency in getting off the line, and in really handcuffs the ability to get in and out of routes at a competitive level. Bottom line is it kills consistency, and he was unable to provide a definite answer for a 2011 team that desperately needed a solution in stretching the field. Still with 50 catches, 639 yards, 2 TD, in 2011, he was by no means sitting on his hands, and making excuses. Further, Nwachukwu is capable of the clutch grabs he's made throughout his career. However, as mentioned, "EZ" is yet to take the next step from the splash he made as a freshman (40 grabs, 708 yards, 6 touchdowns). Fully capable, if he's going to make a move to secure his starting spot that's hanging by a thread entering his last year, the time is now.

Breaking down his game, Nate Askew's the progress was evident last season, but he has yet to put it all together and turn the corner. In 2012, the 6'4" 220 pounder, showed the ability to stretch the field and get open deep, but he often failed to make the grabs when they came his way. Those drops, especially the ones in the end zone really hurt his production (6 receptions, 85 yards, 1 TD), and the teams' efforts, as the Aggies just didn't have a deep threat last season. In this case, the culprit seems to be effort. Unfortunately the spring spelled more of the same, though good reports leave the door open for optimism. What's clear is with better focus, he could be great, but only August will tell if the big, athletic, junior, has his head screwed on, and can consistently tap his tremendous potential.

Fully expected to be an impact freshman, is signing day surprise, Thomas Johnson. Johnson is another member of the 2012 class that brings a timely infusion of excellent speed to the Aggies' receiving corps. He's also a versatile receiver that can play either in the slot or on the outside. A big time, play-making ability, he uses his hands and speed very well in getting separation off the line. Thomas is also is excellent in duping defensive backs with double moves, and is extremely quick and efficient, in and out of his breaks. A versatile talent with soft hands, and a playmaker in space, he could shine in the slot, but will likely line up on the outside where he excels (and his assistance is needed the most). Durability could be a concern, but if his injury woes are behind him, the sky is the limit for Johnson, and he should make short work in kicking off his legacy.

All was been quiet on the Brandal Jackson front, which is somewhat disappointing for a player entering his last go round this season. Jackson came in with a lot of promise, but has yet to have a break-through season. I was hoping for a late senior "light-switch", for the Navasota native, but the decision to leave him off the 105 roster for August practice is a mortal blow to his senior season.

Slowed by injury in spring, there is not a lot new to report on Juco-transfer Derel Walker, a late addition to the 2012 class. Coach Sumlin brought Walker in as a player of need, saying at the time, "He had the size and speed to compete in the SEC". A late bloomer, Derel had to walk-on at Trinity Valley as his size scared off potential suitors (he was 5"11, 150 pounds). However the hard worker, prospered from a late growth spurt, and greatly improved his size (up to 6-2, 185), speed, strength and technique off the line, earning his first start midway through his red-shirt freshman season, and became a highly productive target. If his skills, translate to this level, the Ags' will have a solid contributor. With two years of eligibility remaining, and no time to lose, he'll have a great opportunity in competing for one of the outside spots in fall camp.

Another versatile late get for A&M was Edward Pope, a potential playmaker on either side of the ball, but will play wide-out to begin his collegiate career. Pope is another explosive speedster, from the 2012 class. He needs to put on some weight, but has great height for climbing up the ladder on those deep jump balls. But he faces an uphill battle as a true freshman weighing under 160 pounds.


Tight End

Michael Lamothe serves the position well, as a hard-nosed, timely, dependable contributor. He is not only a good shortage blocker, but has proven a stealthy and solid red-zone pass catching option the last two seasons. Lamothe has served as a solid H-Back and after quickly proving himself to the new staff in the spring, and off-season, look for the silent, steady, senior to see an escalation in his production, with this system.

When healthy, Nehemiah Hicks clearly stands to benefit from more opportunity this offense affords. However, he needs to make better of it, unlike some memorably painful drops endured last season. Still with a concentrated effort on his catching, he is on the verge of being the complete package, as his blocking has gotten really good, but he has a lot of work to do in August to get up to speed in the new system.

Hutson Prioleau and Coach Sumlin mutually agreed that it's best for the Fort Worth native to retire from football and focus on graduating from Texas A&M this year. Unfortunately, Prioleau got caught up in the transition from a pro-set to the receiver-focused offensive scheme that Coach Sumlin is implementing. Prioleau saw the writing on the wall that playing time would be sparse. There's not a big need for a big, run-blocking tight-end.


Receivers Overall

Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury are installing the "Air-Raid" offense in Aggieland, and to make it work they obviously must get the most their pass-catchers and find playmakers not named Ryan Swope. They have a lot to work with in strong and varied contenders. From seasoned veterans, to red-shirt freshmen, to juco-transfers, and newcomers, all have been working extremely hard, in intensive receiver drills since the staffs arrival, but question marks still abound as to just who will emerge, not just as starters but playmakers that make this engine run. Spring alleviated a lot of concerns, and gave a slightly clearer picture, but August will tell the tale of just how productive this offense can be, as the Aggies enter their new era in the SEC.

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