Kevin Sumlin opened up Saturday's critical scrimmage to the public inside Kyle Field, and a record crowd showed up for the fall scrimmage. On the field, the heavy competition for the back-up QB role (and possible starting role) played out between Matt Joeckel, Matt Davis, and freshman Kenny Hill. It was almost a year ago to the day that Johnny Manziel and Jameil Showers were locked in a struggle for the starting job, and it ws in this scrimmage where Manziel separated himself from Showers and was announced the starter a few days later....and the rest is history.
While quarterback was the highest-profile battle on Saturday, it wasn't the only battle. I'll provide a synopsis of each position.
The back-up QB job was wide open going into Saturday. Neither of the signal callers had established themselves as the leading candidate heading into the scrimmage, so Saturday's performances were huge in the big picture.
And frankly, there was a clear cut winner and to many observers' surprise, that winner was veteran Matt Joeckel. Many pundits and fans had written off the twin brother of first round NFL Draft pick Luke Joeckel. However, Joeckel had the best statistics of any QB (including Manziel) completing 7-of-14 for 108 yards and a touchdown. Another TD was dropped by a walk-on receiver.
Two highlights for Joeckel. On the first play of his second series that started inside the 10 yard-line in a red zone situation, Joeckel quickly came off a play action and hit Ricky Seals-Jones on a quick hitter over the middle with perfect timing and tempo....no hesitation at all. On his third series, Joeckel looked completely comfortable as he quickly moved the second unit down the field on a 13-play drive. At one point, he completed five consecutive passes (one called back for holding downfield) and they were all of the quick-hitter type and decisive throws.
Joeckel had his share of incompletions as well, ending his day with three straight misses in his only 3-and-out of the day. Joeckel is at his best when throwing quickly and in rhythm. He may lack some of the dynamic playmaking skills of other QB's, but he ran the offense the most efficiently of the back-up QB's and he did so by a wide margin...at least on this day.
Saturday was a tough day for Matt Davis. His first series went nowhere. He not only missed on all three passes, but he missed badly throwing one pass behind his target, one with the nose of the football down that hit at the feet of the receiver, and the last was a significant overthrow. Two of these passes were not difficult throws.
In his second and last series, he completed a 1-yard pass to Jeremy Tabuyo, overthrew another receiver, and was sacked by freshman Isaiah Golden. Whether planned or as a result of his bad day, Davis did not get any reps later in the scrimmage with Joeckel and freshman Kenny Hill given most of the snaps after Manziel retired to the sidelines.
Last year at this time, Jameil Showers struggled in the team's final dress rehearsal and he promptly lost the starting job to Manziel. Will Saturday's struggles hurt Davis' chances to win the back-up job? Probably...
Kenny Hill is the QB I'm having a hard time evaluating. He looks good at times, looking poised and throwing some nice balls. At other times, the ball comes out strangely and inaccurately, and he doesn't appear to have the same instincts in the pocket that both Manziel and Davis have when the play breaks down. But he did throw two touchdown passes on his first two series (9-yarder to Parker; 11-yarder to Kennedy) and whether a coincidence or not seemed to get more reps than Davis as the scrimmage moved along.
As for Johnny Manziel, he jumped out to a good start throwing impressive touchdowns to Malcolme Kennedy in his second and third series. But he struggled in his last three series. In possession No. 4, the offensive staff called for an option play to the short side of the field. The pitch to Trey Williams was off and hit the turf and bounced into the waiting arms of Tommy Sanders who outran Manziel to the end zone for a 90-yard fumble return. Yes, Sanders has some jets.
On his next series deep in his own territory, Manziel tried to hit a short seam route but didn't see Steven Jenkins and the pass was intercepted inside the 20 yard-line. His last series was a quiet three-and-out. Johnny finished just 5-of-12 for 48 yards but did have two touchdown passes. I don't think it's anything to worry about. The scrambling element was taken away in the scrimmage and you have to remember that this defense has seen Johnny multiple times every day over the past two weeks.
But back to the topic of the day...the backups. based on Saturday's performance only, I'd have to say the pecking order is:
I spent a lot of time with the quarterbacks because that's the biggest storyline by far, especially given the unknown status of Manziel, so I'll move much quicker at the other positions.
At running back, the staff chose to limit Ben Malena's participation mainly because they know exactly what he can do and there's no need in risking injury at this point especially with Brandon Williams still out with a foot injury.
Trey Williams split time with both units, but was primarily running with the second unit. He had an incredible 21-yard run down to the four yard line that led to a TD showing he's still one of the most slippery backs in college football. Coach Sumlin also praised his blocking and said he's night and day from where he was last season and that will earn him more reps this year.
One of my top performances of the day was turned in by Tra Carson. I must say, in the spring and even in the first few practices this fall, I felt Carson's effectiveness was marginalized because he ran too high. But the staff has obviously worked hard with him on that aspect because he's running much lower with forward lean and he ate up plenty of yards between the tackles behind the dominant No. 1 OL unit. Carson received the most carries of the scholarship backs and I expect to see him used more than just short yardage situations.
James White was running too high and seemed to lack explosion...probably because he was running too high. I think he'll need to be a power back in his career, and I expect improvement as they work with him to run with a lower center of gravity.
The balls were spread evenly among numerous receivers on Saturday. Quiv Gonzalez had the longest pass play with a 40-yarder when he juked fellow freshman Victor Davis after a short catch and sprinted down the sideline. But the go-to man in the red zone was veteran Malcolme Kennedy who had three short touchdown catches (two by Manziel, one by Hill). Sumlin said after practice that Kennedy is the most improved player on the team from last year.
Mike Evans continues to be Johnny's first option, catching a 9-yarder and a 20-yarder in the first two series before retiring to the sidelines early to let the young guys battle it out. Veteran senior walk-on WR Travis Labhart hooked in with Joeckel on one drive and actually finished the scrimmage as the leading receiver with four catches for 52 yards.
Kyrion Parker had a 9-yard TD catch in the red zone while Ricky Seals-Jones had an 8-yard TD catch from Joeckel. In all, 12 receivers caught at least one pass and most were of the short variety. Although he did get a pass interference call in the red zone that led to a score, senior Derel Walker was otherwise quiet with the first unit.
There were some two tight end packages that utilized the tight ends, but for the most part the position was quiet with no catches or really any designed plays for the tight ends down the field. We hear through the rumor mill that they are throwing to the tight ends in practice, but I've yet to see it this fall in the limited window I'm given to watch.
No surprises in the rotation on Saturday with Cedric Ogbuehi back at it after sitting out a couple of days. The first unit is simply dominant. Manziel had plenty of time in the pocket, and Tra Carson had room to run behind the starting five....a unit I think can be better than last year's group if they stay healthy.
The second unit had its usual rotation of Stuckey, Klinke, Compton, Gramling, and Cheek. The group isn't as effective as the starters obviously, but there's a pretty significant dopp-off in performance. They gave up a couple of sacks to Tyrell Taylor and one to Isaiah Golden. The run blocking was decent getting some push for walk-on RB Brice Dolezal.
There was a lot of mixing and matching with this group, and the performance was pretty solid across the board. No major changes in rotation from the practices. I didn't see Julien Obioha play much (if at all) and that's probably for precautionary reasons. I saw him on the field during warm-ups dressed out and looking fine. The Taylor brothers get little respect from many fans, but with Obioha taking it easy, we got a heavy dose of the Taylors at defensive end. Tyrell registered a couple of sacks but both against the second unit. He didn't apply much pressure against the No. 1's. ACtually, that seems to be a common theme for all defensive ends...they look a lot better and more disruptive against the No. 2's which both a testament to the No.1 OL and a statement that A&M needs to find a playmaking rusher at end.
EVentually, that person could and should be Daeshon Hall. You can see him slowly getting better wih each practice and scrimmage. He made some nice backside tackles on running plays, and he has a pretty decent outside rush move, but he needs a little more bulk and strength to be able to use that swim move and also add a spin move to force tackles to worry about covering inside and outside. Right now, they can cheat outside with Hall because that's where he's most dangerous.
If you ask me, the best chance to find that speedy playmaker on defense is Tommy Sanders even though that speed comes with a little less weight and mass. If anybody wondered about how fast Sanders was for a linebacker, that question was answered on the 90-yad fumble return where Manziel could not catch him. Sanders had another gear and scooted the length of the field to pay dirt.
Steve Jenkins had the big interception and did a good job of baiting Johnny into that throw. If Jenkins can stay healthy, he'll have a big year and will be one of the leaders of the defense in terms of making plays. Donnie Baggs was a bit quiet, but I'm not too concerned. He's had a good fall camp so far. I'm really digging Darian Claiborne (and yes he was one of my sleeper newcomers to make an impact) and so are the coaches. It's clear he's moved into the rotation and he's getting a ton of snaps with the No. 2's. He has a little attitude as well, talking it up and celebrating after a big stop. Now, he was flagged for it and that's a no-no in the game, but it's good to see that Claiborne is into the game and playing with emotion. It's pretty clear by now that both he and Jordan Mastrogiovanni are starting to separate themselves from the mid-term freshmen Brett Wade and Reggie Chevis.
Devante Harris is really developing into a very good cover corner. He basically shut-out Derel Walker. With Deshazor Everett out with a broken thumb, the other first team cover duties went to Tremain Jacobs and Alex Sezer. Sezer was beat by Evans on a deep post route but Manziel overthrew the play. Sezer has been a pleasant surprise this fall, but I'm not sure he's ready to run with the first unit just yet. Jacobs has had his moments.
For the first time that I've seen this fall, the staff utilized Clay Honeycutt and Floyd Raven at safety more than they used Howard Matthews but they were likely experimenting. Still, I think Honeycutt has put himself in position to win that starting job opposite Matthews, although it's a close battle with Raven. Floyd has such incredible athleticism, but Honeycut seems to be at the right place at the right time on most plays.
The walk-on Lambo was doing the kicking and he was accurate on extra points and most of the short field goals. He struggled with several attempts over 40 yards. There's no timetable for Berolet's return.
Last year, Drew Kaser would boom a laser beam 60+ yards that would take your breath away, and he would follow that up in practice with a 20-yard shank. Well, the consistency seems to be getting there in year two as he boomed several 60-65 yard punts in a row and then had some nice directional punts for over 40 yards. Sumlin appeared very pleased with Kaser in the post-scrimmage presser.
Websider Fall Scrimmage Report
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