Spring Camp Preview 2010: WRs/TEs

In this series Websider's Jeffrey Jennings will take an in depth look at the personnel of A&M's wide receivers and tight ends. The focus will be on their attributes, current status, what they have on the line this spring, and where they hope to find themselves at camps end. Jennings will also give a brief sneak peak at the new faces that will be joining them in August. Subscribe to Websider today!

Spring Camp Preview 2010: Wide Receivers

Last spring A&M was really thin at wide receiver but the players on campus were looking to put some space between themselves and the large crop of talented freshmen, which were to arrive later in the summer. Those new faces didn't disappoint and contributed heavily to the Aggie's 16th ranked passing offense in the country. Having bolstered our pass catching stable and increasing the talent significantly, they look to enter their first spring as a very dangerous unit ready to build on their early success and compliment their physical attributes by polishing the finer points of their games. The Aggie's are very comfortable in this area in regards to starters and depth. Lets take a look at players who look to take their next steps forward including the playmakers, the role receivers, the quality depth that rounds out the position and a brief peak at the big talents that will add to the ranks in August. We'll also get a glimpse at tight end, which is once again thin but has several strong candidates.

Flanker

Jeff Fuller may begin his NFL career following his junior season this fall but if not this star in the making will be a focal point of the Aggie's offense for the next two years. He is quick off the line and is a solid route runner. In addition 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 the Ag's have had since Terrence Murphy and like Murphy not only does he have the physical attributes to excel at the next level but he also approaches his position with the work ethic needed to get there. Like Coach Sherman mentioned last off-season, "He's taken this off-season as a mission to be the very best . . ." . His momentum was slowed in the second game of the season last year as he fractured his lower leg and missed four games (UAB, Arkansas, OSU, KSU) before being eased back into things. Given the time he was out and his limited role coming back, his numbers weren't stellar but still impressive considering the nature of the injury (41 catches in 9 games for 568 yards, and seven touchdowns). However, he rapidly burst back onto the scene against tu, when he hauled in a 70-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive. He continued those efforts with a 100-yard plus game against Georgia in the Independence Bowl.

Backing Jeff Fuller at flanker will be Navasota's ultra-athletic Brandal Jackson. Jackson is one of the four youngsters that hit the ground running and provided immediate quality depth for the receiving corps in 2009. His best game of the season was a solid performance against Arkansas (the fourth game of his career as an Aggie) where he tallied four grabs for 118 yards and one touchdown. On the season, he racked up sixteen total grabs for 272 yards (17 yard/per reception average), with a long of 60 yards and a touchdown. Not earth shattering but solid for a freshman in an offense that sees a fairly equitable ball distribution. The talented pass catcher has good height and a vertical to match. Brandal's leaping is not only good on paper but like Fuller, he has an aggressiveness and knack for going after and coming down with those jump balls. Jackson is also an effective blocker, a smooth route runner, has great hands and once he makes a catch can be very dangerous in the open field.

Split End

An amazing compliment to Fuller on the opposite side of the field (and possibly sometimes in the slot) and keeping Big XII defenses honest next year is Uzoma "EZ" Nwachukwu. The newcomer blast onto the scene in his second college game, when he racked up 101 yards and three touchdowns on three receptions against Utah State (on the year he put up 40 receptions for 708 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 54.5 yards per game. While he didn't maintain that fierce reception/touchdown ratio, he has been outstanding and was the first freshman to lockdown a starting spot at split end. He has great athleticism and steady hands, as well as the ability to go up and make the big grabs. Something not often mentioned but equally if not more important than speed and quickness (which rest assured he does have) and that is stopping fast, which EZ also does well in running his routes, going really fast in and out of cuts and breaks. In addition, he is not only a willing, but an able and proven blocker as well a rare but highly important trait for a receiver at this stage of his career.

Backing EZ at split end is Terrance McCoy, who last August finally began showing the consistency that had been his biggest holdup. While a solid option, his efforts were not quite enough to stave off the up and coming Nwachukwu's push for the starting job. While he may lack in some of EZ's upside, he's a proven starter will make a high quality back-up and further illustrates A&M's depth at the position.

Ryan Tannehill set an A&M freshman record at receiver (after only moving to the position a weeks before the 2008 season) in receptions and receiving yards (55 grabs/844 yards/5 TD's) in a move to infuse much needed talent at the time. Given the increased profile at WR and the fact he was the only other viable quarterback option it was uncertain just how Ryan would be utilized heading into the 2009 season but coaches soon proved he would be used a good deal and it was worthwhile gamble as he added 46 receptions, 609 yards, four touchdowns/about 46.8 yards per game) to the Aggie's offensive efforts.

Slot

Ryan Swope started slow as a freshman contributor but showed his plenty flash of his future and steadily increased his production towards the end of the season. This spring he will look to replace Howard Morrow (who had a great career resurgence as a key contributor his senior year across the middle in the intermediate game). Coaches initially planned for Swope to see time in the backfield and the slot but once coaches saw what they had he was used solely in the slot. He'll look to work his way into a more steady option and target this spring and as he does he'll be threat to rack up a lot of YAC yards and be flat out dangerous with space. Swope has good height like a few of our other candidates but overall size and strength to match. He has good burst, great speed and versatility. Ryan also had 200 total yards of kick returns and really plays that like you want in that role. He gets the ball and doesn't start sidestepping. He fields it and aggressively and bursts up field immediately. He may get a more extensive look as a return man this season as watching him you can just tell coaches love what they are seeing.

Also contending to step up for the role in the slot will be Kenric McNeal. He has good height, athleticism, great speed, and once he has the ball is very elusive in one-on-one situations. McNeal also has that Jerry Rice fearlessness across the middle and his hands are amazing. He didn't see a lot of action last year but will be another solid option in the slot and is every bit in the running with Swope the next few weeks and perhaps in fall camp as well.

A Brief Look Ahead to August 2010: Wide Receiver

Nate Askew is a very productive dual-threat (if you will) wide receiver. He has great speed, hands, athleticism, that allows him to excel down the field but also has the size and physicality that make his projected role more interesting. He can makes deep plays as a flanker or split end but also could be a great receiver in the slot. Knowing this staff I would not be surprised if he doesn't end up doing both at least in certain spots. His height and leaping ability will also make him a great red zone weapon for the Aggie's. Joining Askew is Malcome Kennedy, a sound route runner, a very physical receiver and one that has a real knack on going up for the jump ball.

Tight End

Kenny Brown has been moved around but had a very productive camp for himself as a quality pass catching tight end last August and after a backing departed Jamie McCoy, he seems to have the inside track to assume the starting role this spring. His work ethic and consistently intense efforts on special teams have really raised his stock in the eyes of his coaches and lead to optimism that he'll put in the work on his blocking to match his pass catching ability. Given that and his length, reach, intensity, and propensity for contact, I can see this part of his game coming along relatively short order. At worst he'll take his first steps as starter much like his predecessor McCoy (who began as a one dimensional TE that makes a great short and intermediate target). I would assume if his blocking comes along he'd not only be a tight end but basically an H-Back (tight end/fullback in spots).

A potential pure TE is relative newcomer, Huston Prioleau. He was slowed in his development with a foot injury early in his college career so we'll see where he is. Physically, Prioleau looks the part but has started slow, struggling with catching. He is a decent blocker who moves defensive ends off the ball very effectively with good footwork and hand technique.

Coaches have moved several players to the position recently, former quarterback Tommy Dorman and linebacker Michael Lamothe. Both young men have a lot of athletic ability. I would see Dorman at best being a solid short to intermediate receiving tight end while Lamothe will be called on more for his physicality and blocking in run situations.


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