Football Team Notes
Let's talk scholarship numbers first. By my count, the team has 11 seniors, 18 juniors, 19 sophomores, 7 redshirt freshmen, and 27 incoming freshmen. That's 82 scholarship players on paper. We've heard that several players could either retire due to medical issues or graduation, or are considering a transfer to another program. I think it's no secret that the A&M doctors have not and will likely not clear Michael Richardson to play due to his back condition from an injury last season. Richardson did not participate in the spring but was with the team every day in street clothes. OL Nate Gutekunst is another player who sat out the spring with chronic injuries and some sources have suggested he may call it a career, although there has been nothing official from him or the school on his status. We're also hearing that Johntel Franklin will have enough credits to graduate and is considering whether to finish his senior season at A&M, transfer somewhere else to play immediately, or move on to the next phase of his career. Either way, that doesn't change the scholarship numbers for the 2014 class since he's a senior.
I'm also hearing some more speculative information on 4-5 other players buried on the depth chart that may transfer to another program for the fall, but I want to get more tangible information before mentioning names.
So by my count, I'm at 69 when you subtract the senior class. That's a starting point of 16 scholarships for the 2014 class. Between the four underclassmen that could go pro after the season (Manziel, Ogbuehi, Evans, Everett) and the 4-5 transfers I mentioned earlier, the Aggies could have as many as 25 spots available in the 2014 class which is much higher than what we've been projecting earlier. Now, I don't think A&M loses all four underclassmen to the pros and who knows how many players actually transfer. But I think it is safe to say that the 2014 class should be no lower than 21 and no greater than 24. I project it will fall between 22-23 on signing day.
Football Offseason News
I've been trying to figure out how to pass along the positive buzz from the offseason grapevine. The team's QB's, RB's, WR/TE's, LB's, and DB's are conducting voluntary 7-on-7 workouts and the entire team is trying to survive weight room sessions with "Black Death" (Larry Jackson). First of all, when talking to people whether they are players, staff, or friends of the program, the feedback is always about who is looking good and who is standing out. So yes, these reports are always a feel good assessment of selected veterans and incoming freshmen.
I've been told that the defensive line is looking better today than what we've been projecting in the spring when so many veterans were out and question marks were everywhere along the DL. I'm hearing that Kirby Ennis is 100% good to go and many are expecting him to have a break-out senior season with so much on the line for him. Also expect him to step up in a leadership role as a senior along with Donnie Baggs on the defense. Steven Jenkins is a senior that many would think will be a vocal leader, but that's not his style, so I think you'll see Baggs try to step into that role. Alonzo Williams continues to bulk up and the once hybrid DE/DT looks destined for the interior when it's all said and done. The staff is still being conservative with Julien Obioha, but everybody expects him to be 100% when August workouts begin. But a word of caution, just because a player has been cleared to play doesn't mean it won't take weeks if not a couple of months to overcome sitting on the sidelines for eight months.
In regard to incoming freshmen, if there is an overall theme of what we're hearing is that the veterans have had their eyes opened to the quality of athletes coming into the program. Basically, they are both excited and a bit motivated to work harder knowing that the depth chart just got a lot more talented with this freshman class. Overall, the group is already getting rave reviews and the veterans are taking notice. As people in college football say, the best way to motivate a college player is to bring in talent that can take their job away. A&M has not been in that position across the board since the mid-1990's. From what I'm being told from these first few weeks of workouts, competition will be fiercest at defensive back and receiver, but that veterans at all positions will be challenged and pushed by the 2013 class.
At receiver, everybody's buzzing over Jaquay Williams and his combination of size, speed, and ability to go get the ball. That's not a surprise at all to me, because in watching spring ball he's the most talented pass catcher on the squad. Now, he may not be the most skilled or the most polished, but he's the most gifted of the bunch. He'll be a factor, especially in the deep game. Add him to the mix with proven veterans Mike Evans, Malcolme Kennedy, and Derel Walker (who I think will have a nice senior season), and that's a salty bunch before even discussing the incoming freshmen. Ricky Seals-Jones has received very positive reviews so far and is better than advertised in the speed department. He's not simply a tall receiver that plays like a WR/TE hybrid. He has wide receiver speed, and that should make every Aggie fan happy. He's still rough on his routes, but that's why you have fall training camp and David Beaty.
Jeremy Tabuyo is doing exactly what the A&M staff envisioned….he's a precise, route-running tactician with good quicks. Kyrion Parker has surprised some observers with his advanced skillset for a true freshman. Usually, these big receivers are raw because they never had to do the little things correct to dominate in high school, but Parker has been well-coached and is turning heads. Nobody can stay with Quiv Gonzalez in his route running and he's definitely someone getting the most buzz at 7-on-7's. It will be interesting to see if he can still do his thing with pads on in the fall. Sebastian LaRue is due into town for the second summer session, so he's another that could add to the competition at an already crowded position…not to mention Sabian Holmes who is putting in a workmanlike offseason performance.
The other position that appears to have many riches is defensive back. Devante Harris has been working hard to improve his bulk and strength, and it appears to be paying off so far. Everett is a known commodity as well as Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven at safety. But I'm hearing that corners like Noel Ellis and Tavares Garner are flashing enough skills so far that they will be pushing for playing time as fish. Ellis is by far the best cover corner…very similar to the reviews Harris received last year at this time. The key will be what he can do with the pads and how he looks in run support. Garner is very physical and his top-end speed is very impressive although he doesn't have the quickness and hips of Ellis.
I'm hearing that the freshmen safeties are big, bigger, and biggest. Their collective size is the most impressive aspect of Kam Miles, Victor Davis, and Jonathan Wiggins, something that A&M has lacked over the past decade at the position. That will change starting in 2013 with Howard Matthews and a beefed up Floyd Raven, and the pipeline is now filled with more size and athleticism. To be honest, this is the one area where A&M has really struggled from a length and athletic standpoint where safeties can coverage and attack from over the top.
I thought the mid-term freshmen lb's did a pretty decent job in the spring under the circumstances. I saw a lot of potential out of both Brett Wade and Reggie Chevis, but when it comes to the freshman that is built physically like a veteran backer, it's Jordan Mastrogiovanni. Some observers say Jordan is the likely freshman to see the field in 2013. Whoa now, tap the brakes. Nothing matters at linebacker until you see them in live scrimmages and game situations where instincts far outweigh physical build and offseason drill work. But it is nice to hear that he's physically ready to play at this level.
A&M fans seem to be most curious about the trio of four-star defensive tackles that will be counted on to provide at a minimum contributors in the second rotation, and eventually as starters later in the season. According to sources, Justin Manning, Isaiah Golden, and Hardreck Walker have been as good as advertised physically. I was told this group is the most talented DL's in the program since the early 1990's DL of Sam Adams, Eric England, and Lance Teichelman and the 1996 DL of Brandon Mitchell, Eddie Jasper, and Pat Williams who all had pro careers. Surprisingly, some people think that Hardreck Walker has performed the best of the three in offseason drills. Needless to say, that has observers excited because Manning and Golden were considered the two locks of the three. But these three are freshmen and they will make mental mistakes as they learn. Can they be ready by September 14? They better be, but again that's why you need to take these offseason reports with a grain of salt. Impressing in the weight room and in drills has very little to do with whether these fish will be ready mentally to play Alabama in front of 90,000.
I'm also not taking much stock in the QB observations. What I can say is that Kenny Hill is showing good arm strength and accuracy on his throws. He's more of a pocket guy and a technician of the offensive system, but again until he has to start reading defenses and making decisions at full speed against 11 defenders, we are only getting a part of the picture and data points. Matt Davis has been working with Kevin Murray and making some changes to his delivery. That's fine, but in my spring observations, Davis' issues have been with decision-making and quickly checking off…a common problem for young QB's. Johnny Manziel's torque and ball speed apparently has continued to improve and he looks good on throws to all areas of the field. His deep ball has been better so far.
With Andrew Young leaving the program for Fresno State, that leaves the Aggies with 12 scholarship players and one open spot for the 2013-2014 season. In talking to my sources, they do not expect to fill that spot unless a great player drops in their lap which is unlikely at this point. They want to keep that scholarship for the 2014 class, especially when the class will be small. Currently, there will only be two spots to fill in the upcoming class. The staff is focused on landing a point guard and a post player.
The staff has been working hard on recruiting Mansfield Timberview Alex Robinson. The 6-foot-1, 170 lb. ballhandler was considered very talented but many high level schools felt he shot too much and passed too little for a point guard. So when I spoke to Alex in early May, the teams that were recruiting him the hardest were A&M, SMU, and Vanderbilt. Well, he's been playing for the Texas Titans of the premiere EYBL AAU league and he's been distributing more and impressing observers and schools. At the big-time Pangos All-Star Camp in early June he had a great showing and was recognized as one of the top performers. As a result, when Scout.com released its updated 2014 rankings on Tuesday, Robinson jumped up to No. 46 in the nation and a solid 4-star prospect.
I spoke to him Tuesday night, and he still has A&M high on his list. In fact, for now I'd say A&M and Vandy are neck-and-neck. It sounds like SMU has gone another direction. But in just the last two weeks, Pittsburgh and Miami have offered and Baylor stays in touch. With the coaches' evaluation period coming up in July, expect to see more teams jump onto his radar but it does sound like A&M should get a visit and the staff has sold him on immediate playing time and he'd be the only point guard they've taken in the last two classes. He's been to A&M several times and he's close with the staff and players. But the reality of the situation is that if he continues to blow-up, he'll get some new offers he can't refuse. But for now, I'd say Robinson is a top realistic target that A&M really wants. There are others, like Justin Coleman from Alabama, but I'll have a more in-depth hoops update during the evaluation period in July.
I mentioned Ben Lammers earlier, and i think the legacy from San Antonio is probably A&M's best shot at a good post. A&M was in pretty good shape with 6-foot-11 post Myles Turner whom I interviewed a month ago when he was a fringe Top 100 low four-star prospect. A&M has been on him a long time and the kid really does like A&M's academics…he's a very smart, academically-focused kid. But in the past month, he's completely blown up on the AAU circuit. How much? Well, Scout.com just moved him up to a 5-star and a national Top 10 prospect, so you know the big boys are coming and we must face reality. I'll try to interview him this week to see if there's still any hope for the Ags, but…
Back to Lammers, he was sold on the future of the program and according to Ben, Coach Kennedy was very convincing. He likes the talent they've brought in and he thinks the program will turn the corner this season. The staff told him they expected to win between 20-30 games in 2013-2014. Right now, Lammers is a high 3-star prospect that will shake out in the Top 125 national range. What limits Lammers in the rankings is his length. He's between 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9 with average length. He's not a dynamic athlete, but he is very quick with his feet and he's as technically sound defensively as any high school post I've seen. He is a highly skilled big man, and if he can grow another inch this year he can be a VERY good D-1 post. As he is now, he's a solid D-1 prospect.
In talking to Ben, he's very guarded about talking about his list of schools but he did mention Oklahoma State and Stanford along with Kansas State and the Aggies of course. He said he plans to narrow his list by the end of July and will take some visit in September and October. I think it's a pretty good guess that he'll come in for an official visit on the Alabama weekend. In fact, I bet you'll see several recruits visiting that weekend…leverage the football success and the crazy weekend atmosphere. In the end, I think A&M has a good chance here. They are working him hard, and his dad is an Aggie still very much connected to the university…but it's not a slam dunk by any stretch.
Hoops Team News
At the SEC hoops teleconference on Monday, I was the lone A&M media member who participated in the call with Coach Kennedy, but the SEC office still only allowed me to ask one question and then a follow-up. I asked Coach about the point guard position and if he felt good about the team's ballhandling. He said last year's struggles was a result of having to rely so much on a true freshman and no one to really take the pressure off J-Myke Reese when he got overwhelmed on the court. He said he's very pleased with his development this offseason and he expects a much bigger year from the former junior high all-American. He also said that Fabyon Harris will take on some of the load, but they are also grooming Alex Caruso to be an option at the point.
I then asked about the role of Shawn Smith and his skill sets. Kennedy said Smith is definitely a two guard and he brings athleticism to the court. He said Smith will likely be their number one defender and stopper and that he'll see plenty of minutes next season. The SEC moderator cut me off, and that was that. Short session.
A lot has been said about A&M's most recent signee, juco corner infielder and pure hitter GR Hinsley who is playing for the Brazos Valley Bombers this summer. I've seen him a couple of times and he has a nice, quick power swing. In the past 2-3 days he's been in a mini-slump and his average has dipped to .280, but he's a mainstay in the No. 3-4 hole in a very talented Bombers lineup. FYI, the Bombers are an incredible 19-3. What hasn't been mentioned much is that there's another JUCO hitter that has signed with the Aggies. Patrick McLendon is the second baseman for the Bombers who played at Cisco JC last season. He currently hits in the No. 2 hole and is batting a white hot .352 with a .455 on-base percentage.
I also watched Tomball's Nick Banks at the 4A UIL state championship game and the lefty had a whip for a bat…very smooth. If these three along with the JUCO shortstop that they signed are the real deal, then there may be some hope for this batting lineup in 2014. We'll see. I still can't believe the staff didn't add some JUCO bats after last season. As you can see, there are quality bats in the JUCO ranks every year. The staff is back in on the JUCO hitters so we'll see if the Aggies can fare better against SEC pitching in year two.
Offseason Team Notes and Nuggets
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