Countdown 2007: Wide Receivers

With a backfield full of studs, the one question that haunts the Aggie offense heading into 2007 is, what about the receivers? But after talking to Franchione and several players, they don't seem that concerned. Aggie Websider takes a look at one of the wild card positions for the 2007 Aggies.

With the running game hitting on all cylinders, the question for the Aggies to answer this season is whether the downfield passing game can catch up to their vaunted ground attack. It's a remotely familiar question to those Aggies who followed the run-dominant teams of the early 90's, as those squads tended lack any creditable downfield threat. The difference between then and now? A stable of wide receivers with numerous combinations of size and speed–some with incredible speed.

The most familiar name among the returning wideouts belongs to senior Kerry Franks, a second team All-Big 12 selection last fall who will start at the "X" receiver position in 2007. Dangerous anytime he gets his hands on the ball, Franks led the Big 12 last year with 25.6 yards per touch, and was instrumental in transforming the kickoff return team from #109 in 2005 to the #2-ranked unit in the country in 2006. Several times last season, Aggie fans turned their heads down field to see a wide open Franks catching a TD pass or setting up the offense inside the opponents' five yard line.

"I look for Kerry Franks to have a breakthrough year, after watching him through spring and summer, and the first day of practice," says Head Coach Dennis Franchione. "He's been a little up and down to this point, but I see signs of more consistency...catching the ball and running routes."

Backing up Franks will be junior Howard Morrow, who dropped 20 pounds over the offseason to come into fall camp in the best shape he's ever been in. Morrow has four career starts, and caught seven passes last season for 82 yards. He should see the field a lot more often this fall, and is determined to make his opportunities count. "I'm going to make the play," Morrow insists, "I don't care if it's three defenders, I don't care if it's five. If I get the ball in my area, it's mine."

Senior Earvin Taylor returns this fall, whose 6-foot-3, 231 pound frame provides quarterback Stephen McGee a big target in the middle of the field. Taylor has twenty one career starts, eleven of them last fall. The strong, possession-type receiver caught 19 passes in 2006, including a crucial third down grab on "The Drive"—the Aggies' incredible 88-yard game-winning drive against the Longhorns in Austin.

Junior Pierre Brown, one of the top receivers and special teams contributors from last fall, returns to man the "Z" slot in 2007. A deadly combination of size and speed, Brown had 12 receptions for 104 yards in his sophomore campaign, and averaged 24.8 yards on eight kickoff returns. The versatile Brown also contributed ten tackles on kick coverage units.

Whether one of these veteran receivers emerges as a standout among his peers remains to be seen, but as a whole, their combination of size and speed will keep defenders honest. "I think our group is going to be solid across the board," says Franchione, "I don't know yet if we're going to have a standout, I think it's going to be a committee of guys, which in some ways is a positive because you'll have to defend the width of the field."

Sophomore converted quarterback Jamie McCoy, and his younger brother Terrance, a redshirt freshman, are a pair of 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 speedsters who will provide some depth in backup roles this fall, but the underclassman most likely to garner significant playing time in 2007 will be the freakishly athletic sophomore E.J. Shankle, whose dazzling kick-return moves during the Maroon & White game made him an instant celebrity with the assembled crowd.

Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning sums up Shankle's speed and athleticism quite succinctly: "When you tell E.J. on your mark, get set, it's ‘gone.' It's not ‘go.' It's ‘gone.' When he gets to know what he supposed to do, he's going to be really, really good. His speed is really good. He's really showing up (in fall practice) too."

Overall, despite the loss of Chad Schroeder and L'Tydrick Riley, the Aggies return a veteran corps of receivers with game speed, size and athleticism, along with a couple of very dangerous backups. There's no question they have the ability to stretch the field vertically, and junior QB Stephen McGee–unhampered by injury this fall–is demonstrating the development in his reads and decision-making that coaches and teammates are looking for.

If the Aggies can put that combination together on the field this fall, then for the 2007 Texas A&M passing game, it will be on your mark, get set.....gone.

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