Fall Camp Preview:Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

As fall camp creeps closer and closer the excitement for the 2009 season continues to build. Aggie Websider's Jeffrey Jennings takes an in-depth look into two of the most intriguing spots the Aggies have on offense. Jennings break down includes quotes from players and coaches along with expert analysis. Read it in the tailgate!

Our wide receivers pleasantly surprised Aggie coaches and fans last season as they ended up going from one of the teams predicted weaknesses before the season to one of the bright spots throughout the year. Thanks to key guys stepping up to the plate in clutch performances such as a breakout year by the young future star Jeff Fuller and the unexpected record setting efforts of converted QB Ryan Tannehill (who only switched to the position weeks before the season began in fall camp), and key aide from the McCoy brothers, they were a solid and steady unit on what was an obviously struggling offense (contributing to 252.4 receiving average to our 340.9 YPG average). Heading into this season, thanks to the foundation they laid down and a very good recruiting haul at the position, the group will be improved and should be the least of A&M's worries.

The Veterans

It was obvious when he joined the team as an early enrollee in the spring of 2008, that Jeff Fuller was a star in the making. Following a solid first year, the ultra-talented, sophomore pass catcher still has a huge ceiling and approaches his position with the work ethic needed to get there. Coach Sherman said recently at the Big XII Media Day, ". . .There's so many things he can do so much better. . .He's taken this off-season as a mission to be the very best. Whether he's there this year or next year or the year after, I don't know, but he's on a mission to be as good as he can be. And I envision him to make a lot of progress. . ." . More specifically as Taylor Hamm recently reported on summer workouts, "He has gotten quicker off the line and has improved his route running.". That's following a brilliant spring where he turned in amazing performances in literally every session. His hands, his ability to shake off defenders after the catch, his leaping ability, his knack for going up over multiple defenders and consistently snatching the ball…he is simply the most talented WR we've had since Terrance Murphy and perhaps more accurately in recent Aggie lore, considering those attributes would be Robert Ferguson. Clearly, 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).



While it's hard to determine on how solid of footing junior Terrance McCoy's spot will be heading into the season, given the anticipated infusion of new talent, he clearly enters fall camp as a proven starter. McCoy helped the receiving corps achieve well beyond their expectations last season and this fall camp he will look to further develop his skills and solidify himself in the eyes of the coaches. While he may lack in some of the upside the talented crop of freshmen will bring, in 2008 he started in eight games, had 24 grabs for 237 yards and will be a sound option atop the Ags' depth chart.

Entering his senior season Howard Morrow will have his last chance to live up to some of the expectations and sporadic flashes he's displayed since his arrival at A&M. So far it's fair to say his career has been a disappointment but the coaches haven't given up on him and are giving Morrow a golden opportunity to battle for and quite possible hold onto the three spot this fall. If he can follow up what has been a productive spring and off-season (Sherman recently praised him stepping it up for his last season and said he rose to a challenge given by coaches and shed over ten pounds.) with a strong fall camp showing, he may emerge as a steady target for Jerrod Johnson in the slot. He's got soft hands and big catch potential, no denying that, but he's really got to kick it up a notch with a steady performance if he wants to leave A&M with his head held high.



The Freshmen

Fans aside, the coaches and the team are really excited about the arrival and contributions of some long anticipated reinforcements to the receiving corps. Clearly their rate of development will remain to be seen but Uzoma Nwachukwu, Brandal Jackson, Ryan Swope, and Kenric McNeal should enhance the talent level at the position a great deal and at least two or three have a wide open opportunity to step up in their first year to log some serious playing time and give Jerrod Johnson and/or Ryan Tannehill some very good targets. All four have been on campus for close to a month and have looked good in their headstart of learning the offense and in developing timing with their quarterbacks'.

As David Sandhop recently reported Uzoma Nwachukwu is going to have a really good shot of stepping in early as, in addition to his great athleticism, he is way ahead of the curve as a freshman receiver in regards to his being a willing, able and proven blocker. We'll have to wait and see where he fits. The young man has made a career, so far, using that toughness he uses for blocking in establishing himself in the slot. However he also has a shot on the outside as he could plausibly be quite dangerous in the deep game. Something not often mentioned but is equally if not more important than speed and quickness (which rest assured he does have) and that is stopping fast; which he also does well in running routes and going in and out of cuts.

Playing his college career close to home is Navasota's Brandal Jackson. The newcomer has good height and a vertical to match. His leaping is not only good on paper but like Jeff Fuller, he has an aggressiveness and knack for going after and coming down with those jump balls. Jackson needs to add some pounds and strength up top to avoid getting tangled up at the line by pressing defenders, but he is a smooth route runner, has great hands and once he makes a catch can be very dangerous in the open field. He's definitely a player to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.



Like Brandal Jackson, Kenric McNeal also has good height and athleticism but needs to add some upper body strength. McNeal has great speed, hands and once he has the ball is elusive in one-on-one situations. Coach Sherman said he'll see some time in the slot but he missed a good portion of last season with injury and will be transitioning from QB to WR so his development may take longer than the other candidates. That's not for certain and he has looked good in summer drills but it's something he'll have to overcome. As a minor footnote, his high school position does open the door in the future as a wideout capable of carrying out a high percentage gadget play (ala Jason Carter or Chad Schroeder) as he was an effective passer. Speaking of Austin Westlake products, Ryan Swope is expected to log some serious playing time and possibly have quite an impact as a freshman. Similarly to McNeal he'll have to adjust to the slot but it shouldn't be as drastic a change for him as he already has a head-start on the nuance that accompanies the position. Swope comes in with not only good height like a few of our other candidates but overall size and strength to match. He has good burst, great speed and versatility. Coach Sherman has already mentioned him seeing time in the slot and as a tailback. In addition to that it was encouraging to hear he'd be seeing time on special teams as well. An aspect of the Ags game that desperately needs these types of athletes, especially ones with the on field toughness and mentality that guys like Swope bring to the table.

Other Hopefuls

About halfway through spring drills sophomore Lionel Smith was switched over from the secondary and while understandably very rough at this stage has very good upside, which he displayed. While he has decent hands and good body control his biggest asset is clearly sub 4.4 speed. He'll continue to be a work-in-progress and he needs to gain some upper body strength but if Smith can get off those jams he gives us a very dangerous vertical threat. Two other receivers who look to prove themselves in camp are Nick Trice and Cody Beyer.



Given the fact that Ryan Tannehill set an A&M freshman record at receiver (after only moving to the position from quarterback that August before the season) in receptions and receiving yards (55grabs/844yards/5tds) questions abound as to whether the young, versatile athlete will still be getting looks at WR. Sherman has mentioned he would rather have the quick study Tannehill in the QB mix and let the talented crop of freshman wide receivers step up over there. Just recently though, he said, that if it's 3rd down he would have a hard time keeping him on the bench when he knows how capable he is of going out and getting us that first down. We'll see how that goes down but one would expect when the season is underway and the option of putting the only other presently viable quarterback option in harm's way arises, the coaches' thinking will edge a little more towards the conservative side.

Roger Holland was brought along very slowly in spring after returning from major concussion issues and it was recently announced that he will sit out this fall and give it another go next spring. In a lot of cases you wouldn't see a player still pursuing a football future after this but Holland wants to play badly and if he can at some point he will.

Overall

The Ags have several capable wide receivers on campus and are about to add four talented newcomers to their gameday roster. Jeff Fuller is a no-brainer while Terrence McCoy and Howard Morrow should be sound options and are working hard to take their games up a notch and put some distance between themselves and the impressive crop of freshmen pass catchers. The staff proved last year they can coach up even a thin group of wideouts and undeniably, both the current and anticipated competition should serve this group well no matter who shakes out at the top of the depth chart.



Tight End

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 slightly stronger in 2009, however, with one very solid incoming recruit, Huston Prioleau. 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, SR 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 (about 245 without noticeably losing a step as a receiver) 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.



Aside from Jamie McCoy the Aggies only pure TE is Huston Prioleau. Physically, Prioleau is very impressive especially considering he is a true freshman entering his first fall camp. His future is bright as he will be Coach Sherman's first pro-style tight end he's had at A&M (and most are aware of Sherman's fondness for utilizing this type of player). Well balanced as a blocker and a surprisingly soft-handed receiver, the young man could very well have a big first year in the Ags' offense. In addition, he moves defensive ends off the ball very effectively with good footwork and hand technique. The newcomer is definitely the future of the position for the Aggies and the first true TE we've had since Martellus Bennett and Joey Thomas departed.

Recently moved to TE are JR Kenny Brown and RS-FR Keon Furtch. The move is experimental so clearly it's all up in the air until camp gets under way but neither are anticipated to be pure TE's, rather slightly bigger bodied one dimensional pass catching options out of the slot. Coaches felt K.J. Williams talents would better suit us at DE so he is now trying his hand on the other side of the ball.

Overall

Though razor thin at TE, the Ags' are stronger here than at this point last season. In 2008, Jamie McCoy proved to be an extremely effective target over the middle and was clutch for A&M in gaining first downs. He needs work on his blocking but should be more effective in that regard than he was a year ago. Freshmen Huston Prioleau gives us a pure TE option and though inexperienced came physically ready and brings a well-rounded skill set to the fray. With Prioleau, we aren't as limited in our offense as we are with obviously situational players at the spot.




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