Hop's Tidbits and Musings of Truth

It's time for another installment of Hop's Tidbits and Musings of Truth where Aggie Websider's David Sandhop looks at the news and notes of the week from Aggie sports. In this edition, he looks at spring practice performances, the impact of last week's junior day,and what A&M hoops looks to do with its final scholarship in 2013.

1. Thursday's football practice was the first one outdoors, and it was the first workout in full pads. But other than more eyeballing size and conditioning, there wasn't much to analyze. The team spent most of the 20 minute media session going through special teams teaching. There weren't any position drills. With that said, there were a few observations of note.

First, I got a good look at Donnie Baggs. He's always been muscular and he sports some nice cannons, but it appears he's really filled out this offseason in the lower body and the rear end. I've always considered him an under-sized Mike linebacker, and he's still not the longest guy around. He's several inches shorter than J-Stew, but he has matured and built himself into a pretty good looking physical specimen for the position.

Second, I'm liking Tommy Sanders more and more each time I see him. He looks even better in pads. He's not thick, but he's put together well….a high twitch athlete. Add in the initial thoughts from Coach Snyder that Sanders was standing out in live drills and "flashing", and I'm starting to feel cautiously optimistic about the linebacker position. There is a caviat, and that's Steven Jenkins who's sitting out. I know his injury isn't serious and he'll be back at full speed, but I've seen far too many times that guys that miss spring practice struggle early in the season. Hopefully, he won't have too much rust to knock off in August because that Alabama game will be here before we know it.

Anyway, Baggs, Jenkins, and Sanders gives the A&M defense a nice first unit, and then you let the rest of the incoming freshmen and a trimmer Shaun Ward see if they can push these guys for a starting spot and provide some quality depth. The linebacker position is still a year away from being where it needs to be, but if Sanders can be the type of player that he's "flashed" so far on the field, the unit can be adequate for what is needed in 2013…knowing the scoring potential of the offense.

2. One area where we likely won't get satisfactory answers in the spring is at defensive tackle. Yes, Alonzo Williams looks like a keeper and he received early positive reviews from Coach Snyder after the first day in pads, but it is clear that overall the most deficient positions is in the interior of the defensive line…and really the defensive line overall although I think the staff has more potential to work with on the edges. Polo Manukainiu looks sturdier and he's made the physical transition to the interior, but let's not kid ourselves, Williams and Manukainiu is nowhere near the physical presence and experience of the DL's found at just about every other defensive front in the upper division of the SEC. The return of Kirby Ennis will help, but even though he's out at practice, he's not going through any significant drill work or live action and he's definitely soft in the middle and overweight. He will also have to deal with the rust factor in August.

That leaves the very talented incoming freshmen who I think eventually will stabilize the position by the end of the season….but unfortunately, the most important game is in mid-September and it's hard to imagine Justin Manning, Isaiah Golden, and Hardreck Walker will be at 100% efficiency by then. I think A&M will have some exposure and risk early in the season…about the only position where I think A&M will have concerns early in 2013.

3. It figures. I fawn over Jaquay Williams for the first two practices and in the 11-on-11 action on Thursday, he drops the first pass thrown his way. Then again, Mike Evans also dropped his first pass. But seriously, it was first live action jitters. Williams is the real deal.

4. In the limited sample size of plays run and drills practiced, it appears that Clarence McKinney likes to throw to the backs out of the backfield more than Kingsbury. Or, it could be that he feels he has the more effective weapons to throw to out of the backfield in Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. I like what I've seen from Carson catching balls on swing passes. He looks comfortable doing it and gets a good head of steam quickly. Also, with Cameron Clear and Nehemiah Hicks looking big, the offense has also practiced some two tight end formations, something I think will pay off in the SEC. One thing is for certain. Next year's offense will have more weapons and it will be a more diversified attack. That can't be a good thing for SEC defenses since only LSU could slow down last year's unit.

5. Let's discuss some recruiting, specifically the defensive ends where A&M is suddenly in serious contention for at least five four-star prospects. A&M will probably take two and possibly three if these elite guys fall in their lap. The five that list A&M in their top 3-4 include in-state DE's Jarrett Johnson (Katy) and Myles Garrett (Arlington) along with out-of-state DE's Qualen Cunningham (AZ), Justin Thornton (AL), and Deondre Clark (OK). I went back to look at each players' tape and re-evaluated and ranked. First of all, there's not much difference in both overall size, athleticism, and playmaking ability. A&M will be happy with any DE recruits on their board right now. Here are my thoughts.

1) Deondre Clark

I like how this kid carries himself on the field and the urgency he plays on every play. He's athletic enough to star at tight end, but he plays with a fire on defense. He's simply a good ballplayer with the size and athleticism to make plays at the collegiate level…and he does it with a little swagger to boot. 2) Myles Garrett

The most physically impressive target on the hoof with a ton of upside potential. Great first step and explosion off the ball with power behind his game. If he applies himself, he could be the best DE in the SEC one day. 3) Qualen Cunningham

Nice, strong hands. He does a good job of using those hands to shed blockers at the line of scrimmage. He has a little bit of that killer instinct once he gets close to the QB. 4) Justin Thornton

Probably the best pure pass rusher of the bunch. Not only is he quick, but he has good closing speed and good top-end speed for a DE. He's also the thinnest and least physical DE in this group. 5) Jarrett Johnson

Once he gets going, he has excellent sideline-to-sideline speed and has a nose for the ball. In the film clips I saw, he lacks that special first step explosion you see with Clark and Garrett but he makes up for it in his violent play pursuing the ball to the sideline and down the field. His motor doesn't stop.

The Aggies have a good problem in regard to the DE position in 2014. Garrett continues to list the Aggies as his leader and will likely make it back a third time for either Friday Night Lights or the spring game. Qualen Cunningham is a legacy and he's listed Texas A&M as his top choice for months now. Jarrett Johnson was considered a Texas lean heading into the A&M junior day last week, and according to a network analyst who spoke to him this week, he is now listing Texas A&M as a slight leader over the Longhorns and he's very close to making a decision.

Justin Thornton received his A&M offer a couple of weeks ago after tweeting that he wanted an A&M offer. That message reached the A&M staff and they immediately offered the high four-star DE. I spoke to one of our people in the southeast, and they think Florida leads slightly over LSU and Texas A&M. The Aggies have the opportunity to make up ground as his dad lives in Dallas and comes to visit Texas several times a year. He'll be down for spring break and both he and his dad are tentatively scheduled to unofficially visit Aggieland in the next week or two. Clark has already decided to forego the in-state Oklahoma schools to play in the SEC, and just about every SEC program is interested including LSU, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas A&M.

It will be interesting to see if Johnson is the first to commit based on his comments because both Garrett and Cunningham have been considered long-time A&M leans. With holes to fill at OL, QB, WR, TE, and LB, can the staff take more than two DE's if this scenario plays out?

6. Wednesday's loss to LSU was both disappointing and crushing to A&M's hopes of making the postseason. The Aggies need to reach 20 wins to have a shot at the NIT, and now must win at Arkansas (where no SEC has won this season) and win two games in the SEC tourney…or win three games in the tourney. The fact that A&M is now all but assured of playing a first round game is actually a good thing. That game will likely be played against last place Mississippi State. If they win that game as expected, they will face a middle seed like a Georgia, Tennessee, or LSU. That's a tough game, but a winnable game. Then A&M would need to upset one of the more rested, higher seeds for that elusive 20th win. Yes, that seems like a tall order…but that's the path.

7. In talking to sources, Elston Turner's status is still up in the air due to the left hand he injured on Wednesday. He'll likely give it a go, but the question is how much pounding can he take and will the injury affect his stroke to the basket. He was supposed to have it x-rayed again on Friday.

8. With Chad Frazier in the fold, A&M has one spot remaining in this 2013 class. First, I just want to clarify a few things. People were wondering if Shawn Smith was still with the team since he wasn't on the bench for the last two home games. I was told he's been sick and missed the games. He's actually doing great in class and the staff is very excited by his play in practice. He's a guy they are counting on next fall. Also, I'm being told by a staff member they do not expect any issues with getting Tony Trocha into school in the fall.

With that said, the staff will be very guarded with that spot. One thing is for sure. That spot will be Keith Frazier's if he wants it when he visits in the next couple of weekends. FYI, he's playing for a state championship later today in Austin. Many pundits think SMU leads with Texas Tech and the Aggies in a close race for second. FYI, Tech is in the race because Frazier and his mentor are good friends with Tech's interim coach, Chris Walker. If Walker retains the job, the Red Raiders are in the picture. If Tech relieves him at the end of the season and starts a coaching search, Frazier's camp will eliminate them.

I'll simply say this. A&M has worked hard for well over a year and they've built a close relationship with Keith even though he has a new mentor. Frazier loved his first trip to College Station last summer and the staff is holding out that they can duplicate that feeling again. But we won't know much until Frazier and his coach return from the state tournament next week.

After Frazier, the staff is still weighing several options including high school prospects like Richardson Berkner's Kendal Harris, point guard Trey Dickerson, and a few others. I was also told that there are some potential transfers that the staff may want to pursue once the season is over. This didn't come from an A&M source, but separately I was informed that several Longhorn players may be looking to transfer. It is no secret that Sheldon McLellan has had several run-ins with head coach Rick Barnes and could be looking for his transfer papers. So keep an eye there, although I must say I was a bit surprised that the staff may consider a transfer given that they need to win next season.

9. The baseball team had its best win of the season when they beat No. 8 Cal St.-Fullerton 6-1 on the road late last night. The Aggies scored four runs against the Titans' No. 1 Friday pitcher who came into the game with a paltry 0.87 ERA. Last night also marked Texas A&M's first Friday night win of the young season. Mikey Reynolds and Krey Bratsen continue to hit at the top of the lineup while Cole Lankford is starting to heat up with two RBI's on Friday. So the task at hand is to win one of the next two and come home with an impressive road series win against the No. 8 team in the country. A struggling Georgia team will be A&M's first SEC foe next weekend at Olsen Field.

10. A&M had a great junior day last weekend with the three commits…two of those coming from the top interior DL and the No. 1 safety in the state. Both commits from DeShawn Washington and Dylan Sumner-Gardner were direct head-to-head wins over Texas. As I mentioned earlier, the Aggies are positioned to beat Texas head-to-head with DE Jarett Johnson. Texas and A&M appear to be deadlocked for two more high profile junior day visitors that I spoke to this week. The Aggies made up a ton of ground on Cy-falls LB Otaro Alaka, and while Alaka considers the race even for the most part, he did admit that the Longhorns have the slightest of leads going into the next round of visits to both in-state rivals. It sounds like he'll make a decision in about a month, and after his comments about the urban setting of Austin, I get the feeling A&M is fighting an uphill battle but one that they can still win as he plans to take visits again.

I also spoke to WR Armanti Foreman from Texas City and he fell in love with Texas A&M, but the current OU commit (really, he's not) isn't close to a final decision because he's trying to get an offer for his twin brother as well who plays RB and LB. Unfortunately, the brother isn't quite as good and A&M, OU, and Texas have all held off for now. I don't see how A&M has the room to take both twins, so if anybody swoops in and offers the brother to get Armanti, it will likely work. That's why I'm not so high on A&M landing him.

It may not matter, if the Aggies can land WR Davion Hall who I think is the not only the best WR in the state, but possibly my No. 1 prospect overall. Hall made an early commitment to Baylor because his girlfriend goes to school there. Or must I say his ex-girlfriend goes there. Apparently, the two have broken up and Hall is back open on the market. He's rumored to be in Arkansas this weekend and will likely be at the Friday Night Lights. He's tentatively scheduled to see OU on April 13.

Finally, the staff seems somewhat confident that they will eventually land 5-star tackle Braden Smith from Kansas. If you recall, he visited A&M back in January and came away very impressed. We'll see…

Hop's Weekly Top 10 A&M Targets and Realistic Gets (probability)

1. Davion Hall (50%)

2. Myles Garrett (75%)

3. Braden Smith (40%)

4. Zac Whitley (40%)

5. Qualen Cunningham (70%)

6. Jermaine Roberts (35%)

7. Otaro Alaka (45%)

8. Jarrett Johnson (60%)

9. Koda Martin (50%)

10. Brandon Harris (30%)

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