Going into the 2008 season, the biggest question for this Texas A&M football team has been depth across the board, especially at offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. With a large, talented recruiting class coming online in fall practices, it's critical that some of these freshmen step up to contribute at key positions with needs.
1. CYRUS GRAY, RB, DESOTO
Gray at the top spot is a no-brainer. The high school quarterback-turned-running back has been a coach's dream. From day one of fall practices, Gray established himself as a weapon in this new west coast offense. He has excellent vision, top-line speed, and hands that make him a weapon all over the field. The staff quickly moved him up the rotation, and he was taking snaps with the first team just a few days into workouts. When Michael Goodson was sidelined with injuries for a week, the offense didn't missed a beat with Gray who is every bit as explosive as Goodson. Based on recent practices and scrimmages, the staff sees Gray as an integral part of this offense and a playmaker that can score at any moment from any spot on the field. He'll likely return some kicks and punts as well. Greg Hill and Leeland McElroy didn't have the type of impact that Gray will have as a true freshman. Yes, he's that good.
2. Tony Eddie (Jerod), DL, DESOTO
There must be something in the water at Desoto High School because another true freshman that is making waves in fall camp is Tony Eddie. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound lineman has quietly moved his way up the depth chart and now is solidly with the second team rotation. He has an NFL frame and his motor for a freshman is impressive. Several veteran offensive linemen have commented on the ability and progress of the young defender. While the Aggies have solid starters in the middle with Kellen Heard and Lucas Patterson who have locked down the starting spots, the depth in the middle is thin and in today's game a coach needs two units rotating in and out throughout the game. That's why Eddie will see plenty of playing time starting with the first game. Another asset for Eddie is his versatility and his ability to move outside to the end position in certain three-man sets. In short, he's the most impressive freshman in a very deep and talented defensive line freshman class.
3. Jeff Fuller, WR, McKinney Boyd
It helps that Fuller graduated in December and participated in spring drills with the returning veterans, so his feet were already wet when the rest of the freshman class hit the practice fields for the first time in early August. If you recall, Fuller was Coach Sherman's first success story in recruiting pulling the four-star receiver away from his commitment to OU. There's no doubt that Fuller will be a playmaker at Texas A&M. His 6-foot-4 frame and his playmaking ability is undeniable, and with a depleted wide receiver unit fighting to flourish and catch passes in this new offense, Fuller will have every chance to contribute on the field. Fuller has had his moments of brilliance on the field, but he has also shown some inconsistency as well like much of the receiving corps this fall. He has been running with the second team most of the fall, and that will get him some action on game day. As Fuller matures and gets comfortable on the field, he should emerge as one of Stephen McGee's primary targets but he does need to step it up a little to get there.
4. Eddie Brown, DL, Waller
An unheralded prospect during the recruiting process, Brown showed incredible athleticism and quickness at the Texas Coaches All-Star Game in July dominating the line of scrimmage. He's carried that over to the collegiate level impressing coaches and teammates with his aggressive play and ability to shoot the gaps and make big plays. Sometimes he's too quick and finds himself out of position, but that's expected for a freshman. However, for a defense that has lacked the quickness, speed, and ability to make the big play for several years, Brown is just what the doctor ordered. He's another lineman like Tony Eddie who will primarily play inside, but has the versatility and quickness to shift to the outside when needed, especially in three man sets. He's also received some reps at fullback. The staff will get him on the field in some capacity. At 270+ pounds, he's just too quick and fast not to have on the field.
5. Brian Thomas, OL, Pearland
At the beginning of fall workouts, the offensive line unit was in need of several newcomers to step in and be ready to contribute. With just eight scholarship OL's in the spring, the team is desperate to find a few true freshmen who can play immediately which is a tall order for a position that is so difficult to learn and master. Thus, the emergence of Brian Thomas as a freshman has been a significant development this fall. The Pearland product worked his way up the depth chart the first two weeks of camp and has been getting reps as the starting left guard with Michael Shumard shifting over to left tackle. Thomas has been getting solid reviews from Coach Jim Turner and his peers on the line. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, Thomas isn't physically dominating but he has good footwork and more importantly he has been a sponge in soaking up everything the staff has thrown at him in a short time. For a unit that needs 8-9 healthy offensive linemen heading into the football season, Thomas will definitely be part of that rotation and he could find himself being the starter at left guard.
Others to Watch
There are several other true freshmen garnering praise from the staff in August and there's a chance that a few more will eventually see the field. Kicker Randy Bullock has been in a dogfight with veteran Richie Bean for the kicking job and it appears the competition will go down to the final days of practice. K.J. Williams got a late start in fall practices waiting for clearance from the NCAA, but he's got all the tools to be a big-time tight end at the collegiate level. As with any freshman, he's been inconsistent in catching the ball and he's learning the importance of blocking, but with tight end such a value position in this offense and the lack of playmakers once you get past Jamie McCoy, Williams will be given every chance to earn playing time this season.
Katy's Trent Hunter has come on strong in recent workouts, getting mentions from Coach Sherman after practice. The defensive backfield is pretty crowded, but Sherman has indicated that Hunter may see some action this season. Finally, Ricky Cavanaugh has been mentioned at times as a freshman who is turning heads at linebacker. He hasn't crashed the first unit, but he's someone to keep an eye on as the season progesses.
Top freshmen in 2008
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