Aggies show flashes of promise during practice

April, 8, 2009
4/08/09
12:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Sorry about the delay in getting my practice report up after this afternoon's work. My wireless stick didn't work so I hurried back home as soon as I could to file this missive.

During my time at Texas A&M, I was impressed with the enthusiasm the Aggies brought to their workouts. The practices were open to current A&M students and faculty members, invited guests and former A&M students with an Aggie ring. It resulted in a crowd of about a hundred people on a sun-splashed afternoon with ideal conditions for the practice.

Here are some of my observations after watching A&M work:

  • The Aggies' offense likely has had better days of work than its outing Tuesday afternoon.

Quarterback Jerrod Johnson had what would have been sacks on three straight plays, followed later in the practice by an interception and a fumble. The offense never maintained any sense of real continuity throughout the two-hour workout.

"We did a good job, but once we got going, we gave up a sack or a pressure and started falling apart a little bit," A&M coach Mike Sherman said.

Despite the struggles, Sherman said the Aggies are making good progress with two weeks left in practice before their April 18 spring game at Kyle Field.

"We're working hard and we're making progress," Sherman said. "It's never as much as I would like and probably anyone would like at this point. But as long as they work hard, we'll get better and make the progress we need to make. I'd like to be further ahead, but we're not very far from where I'd like us to be."

  • The most impressive player to me at the practice was wide receiver Jeff Fuller, who appeared to be dominant as he toyed with the smaller Texas A&M cornerbacks.

It won't be as easy for him when the season begins and he faces bigger opponents. But Fuller looked like a receiver who could erupt for 80 catches in 2009 if he can maintain the level of play he showed Tuesday afternoon.

  • Cyrus Gray showed some flashes as he attempted to distance himself from Bradley Stephens at tailback. It will be important for an Aggie back to emerge this spring as most practice observers already are ceding arriving freshman tailback Christine Michael with immediate playing time once he gets to Aggieland later this summer.
  • Speaking of Michael and the other arriving freshmen, I was surprised that no freshman chose to arrive in school a semester early to start their assimilation into the A&M program during the spring. That trend has been prevalent at many schools in recent seasons, most notably in the Big 12 by Texas.

But in order to make that work, college coaches need to start talking early to recruits to convince them to arrive early. And with Sherman's staff finishing its first complete recruiting class earlier this year, it's understandable why it wasn't able to start that groundwork before this year.

  •  With projected quarterback challenger Ryan Tannehill sitting out spring practices to this point while recovering from shoulder surgery, Johnson is throwing many more passes than he did in practice last season. It's resulted in a weary arm from all of the added work, he said.

"This year is a lot different. I'm throwing about 125 balls in the last two days of practice," Johnson said. "They've been trying to gauge my reps at times and try to keep me fresh. My arm has been sore a couple of times, but I'm doing all right."

  • Sherman mentioned he's worried about center snaps to quarterback from shotgun formations.

"We're struggling with our snaps," Sherman said. "When we are in the shotgun, it's inconsistent. If they pick it up off the ground they get the defense streaming on them so they're running around. It kind of takes us off our rhythm, so we've got to get our snaps fixed before we do anything."

  • Three players who are projected to challenge for starting jobs on the offensive line -- seniors Lee Grimes and Kevin Matthews and junior Lucas Patterson -- all have been limited this spring with injuries. It's leaving Sherman using a makeshift line with only six scholarship players through his early spring work.

"It's difficult because everything is brand new," Sherman said. "We have a lot of guys in there who haven't played before. You're teaching everybody everything brand new from the get-go. They are young and not really sure what to do. It probably takes away our offensive production and some confidence."

  • A&M began team drills Tuesday afternoon with Brian Thomas starting at left tackle, Michael Shumard at left guard, Danny Baker at center, Matt Allen at right guard and Vincent Williams at right tackle.

But Sherman made a switch midway through practice, cross-training Baker at left tackle and Thomas at center.

"I think Baker probably athletically is one of the better tackles we've got in order to keep Von Miller out of the backfield until Lucas Patterson gets healthy and the other guys get healthy we're going to have to make a decision," Sherman said. "We took [Baker] from center and moved him over to tackle. We took Brian Thomas and moved him to center. We are going to take two weeks looking at it one way and then two weeks looking at it the other way.

"I don't like moving guys like that, but we really don't have a choice."

  • Sherman experimented Tuesday by switching positions for three players. Cornerback Lionel Smith moved to wide receiver, linebacker Cole Graybill switched to fullback and safety Keon Furtch switched to tight end for the practices.

"I just thought he was a receiver in high school and we looked at him at corner all last season, so we looked at him for two weeks here and have a fair amount of guys coming in at that position," Sherman said about Smith. "He was a heck of a receiver in high school. We just wanted to give him an opportunity to show what he can do."

Sherman was intrigued with the play of Graybill, a 236-pound junior who transferred to A&M after earlier playing at Arizona.

"He and I talked last week. I told him I wanted to give him two weeks at linebacker," Sherman said. "We're really struggling at the fullback position and we haven't played a lot with one just yet. But the next couple of practices to the spring game we'll play with one. We'll give him a hard look at the position."

Sherman particularly likes his instincts at the position, where he would double as a primary blocker and occasional receiving threat.

"I think he's a natural fit there," Sherman said. "He's a tough kid and has pretty good hands. He's pretty stout and strong and can bend his knees."

  • Junior wide receiver Kenny Brown struggled in practice with a couple of drops in his first practice back after injuring his left shoulder last week.

"We were just glad to get him back," Sherman said. "It will take a while to get him going. He's a rep guy and once you get his reps he's pretty good. It will ta
ke him a couple of days to get back in the thick of things."

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