Spring Preview 2009: WR/TE

Quarterback Jerrod Johnson should have plenty of weapons to throw to this spring, provided many of them can get healthy, but regardless the receiving corps should be much improved this season. Websider contributor Jeff Jennings takes an inside look at the WR/TE positions.

WR

Heading into the 2008 season we had a lot of questions. Offensive line, defensive tackle, linebacker and wide receiver were foremost on that list and it was quite possible they would all struggle. In fact following most reports I was hearing, wide receiver would have been one of the predicted failures. As it turned out, thanks to a breakout year by the young future star in Jeff Fuller and the unexpected record setting efforts of converted QB Ryan Tannehill, they were actually a pretty solid and steady unit on what was an obviously struggling offense (contributing to 340.9 total yards per game, with 252.4 passing average). The McCoy brothers also helped round out that success.

Thanks to a great recruiting haul in the face of a new staff and a brutal 2008 campaign, reinforcements and some truly big talents are on the way. In the mean time, let's take a look at the guys who are already here this spring and the small handful who are already established and further developing themselves or others who are simply trying to improve their stock in the eyes of the coaches and in respect to the depth chart.

When I mentioned a small handful of established pass catchers, I basically meant Jeff Fuller (there are two others but their situations are both uniquely limiting this spring as I'll delve into later). It was obvious when he joined the team last spring, as an early enrollee, that the freshman was a star in the making. The ultra-talented pass catcher approaches his position with a great work ethic. His route running, his leaping ability, his hands, his ability to shake off defenders after the catch…he is simply the most talented WR we've had since Terrance Murphy and he will be a key to the Aggies turning things around for, hopefully, the next three years (two if he turns pro after the 2010 season).

The other two players at the top of the list are Ryan Tannehill and Roger Holland but they will be limited in receiving reps for various reasons. Tannehill is a guy that would be a clear leader at WR if it wasn't for the fact he will be every bit in the running for starting quarterback when his shoulder is back to 100%. While Sherman's priority for him will be at QB he also stated clearly in the pre-spring press conference, if the incoming freshmen struggle to pick things up he won't hesitate to plug Tannehill back in at receiver. However, when he is used at wide out this spring, it will be very gingerly here and there for the sake of his health.

Roger Holland's situation is also injury related but a little different and uncertain. As Mike Sherman informed us in the pre-spring press conference:

"Roger Holland was hurt last spring with a concussion injury. We thought he was done (his career) and then he went to Pittsburg and went to some specialists, guys that actually deal with all the concussions in the NFL…They have given him a green light to go to practice and compete. We're still very cautious with Roger at this point because of the severity of a head injury. He's certainly a guy with extreme quickness -- a Wes Welker style of player -- but he has to make it through practice without headaches and fuzziness We have to see how that goes so we are going to be very careful with him."

While it's hard to determine on how solid footing his starting job will be heading into fall given the anticipated infusion of talent, Terrance McCoy was definitely a guy that helped the receiving corps achieve well beyond their expectations last season. This spring he will look to further develop his skills and solidify himself in the eyes of the coaches. (McCoy started in eight games and made 24 grabs for 237 yards.)

In the press conference leading into spring, Mike Sherman mentioned a few guys who did well in the off-season and will certainly have their chance but the onus is on them to step up and show what they've got. Howard Morrow is now entering his last season and as the window closes will have probably the last and best opportunity this spring to consistently flash some of the brilliance we haven't seen since those sporadic moments early in his career. That is by no means all his fault, but the young man who once stood out as one of our best potential playmakers just a few years back has been very silent during his A&M career and will have several very talented wideouts hitting campus in August and breathing down his neck. Two other receivers who were said by the coaching staff to have had strong seasons and will have ample chances to prove themselves this spring are Nick Trice and Kenny Brown. Chevar Bryson and Cody Beyer are also guys who will look to make a splash and work their way into the mix.

Overall

The Aggies have some talented and capable wide receivers on campus and they also have some players who quite honestly have a lot of work to do. Jeff Fuller and a possibly-healthy Roger Holland are no-brainers but will work hard to take their already impressive games up a notch. Terrance McCoy proved himself as a sound wideout but will have some work to do to this spring to improve his game and put some distance between him and the impressive crop of freshmen pass catchers who will be arriving in about four months. Howard Morrow and numerous other guys, who don't lack for raw talent, will be working hard to hone their skill set and get themselves into the mix and emerge on the depth chart. Undeniably, both the current and anticipated competition should serve this group well.

TE

Following the departure of two great and well rounded TEs, Martellus Bennett and Joey Thomas, we didn't quite have the answer there in 2008. The only guys we had to field were situational types. Either there were guys who could block or there were pass catchers but no true tight ends. The spot looks to be stronger in 2009, however, with two very solid incoming recruits. In the meantime, we have a few guys who will be aiming to set themselves apart from the pack by taking their games to the next level.

After previous years of bouncing around from QB to WR, Jamie McCoy landed at TE and proved he could be a very productive pass catching TE last year. (He reeled in 43 catches for 500 yards including 5 for touchdowns. Also notable is that 70% of his 43 catches were for first downs.) However, he was one-dimensional given his blocking left a lot to be desired. He has put on some significant weight in the offseason so we'll see how that and what marks about a year at the position translates to him becoming a sound blocker on the edge and thus a complete package at TE.

Possessing great hands, speed, quickness, and strength, K.J. Williams is another guy who is developing but has the potential as a true, balanced TE. He earned his way into the TE mix midway through his freshman year in 2008 and will look to keep his momentum moving through spring. A capable blocker and pass catcher Frank Avery (who played in 9 games last season) needs to add some size and strength. Assuming he's addressed that, this is another player who will bolster the group and look to further raise his standing in the pack.

Overall

The Aggies have several tight ends who we need to improve for our sakes and theirs. If even two of these three players can take the next step in their development, we'll be way ahead of where we were last year at a position that Mike Sherman is famous for utilizing to it's fullest. We need players here who aren't obviously situational because it's very limiting to our offense. They have proved their worth to some extent but with two talented newcomers coming this August, this spring is crucial in them getting a leg up on the competition and displaying their worth as complete tightends.




Aggie Digest Top Stories