Friday, April 9, 2010
Texas A&M receivers looking to emerge
By ESPN.com staff
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Jerrod Johnson is staring off onto the practice field and talking about his receivers. He sounds like he's imagining each player's highlight reel -- playing the role of narrator, voicing a montage written to introduce the cast of characters at the start of some yet-to-be-written film about Texas A&M's upcoming season.
"Jeff Fuller's your big, big-play receiver. He’ll go up and get the ball over the middle," he says.
"Uzoma [Nwachukwu], he's your size and strength. That’s one reason we were so high on him when he was recruited, because he blocks so well," he says.
"Kenric McNeal. He's kind of the shifty guy inside. He’s real quiet. He won’t talk too much," he says.
"Ryan Swope. He’s really explosive. He was a running back out of high school, so any time he catches the ball, he’s a great running threat," he says.
Each receiver brings something different to the Aggie offense, like a carefully crafted crew ready for another filmed, formulaic heist.
Then the camera flashes back to Johnson, who smiles.
"When you get everybody together and with me controlling the dials, yanking the wires a little bit," Johnson says. "It works out pretty well."
But a bank vault isn't keeping Texas A&M from its goal of a crystal bowl; they'll have to get past a handful of competitive South teams and a meeting with a North opponent in Arlington.
Texas A&M's offense scored the third-most points in the Big 12 last season, and with eight starters from the unit returning, it looks poised for another year of putting big numbers on scoreboards across the conference.
"I think it’s one of the best kept secrets -- how good those guys were," Johnson said. "People like to look at my numbers and how I did, but a lot of that’s attributed to how those guys caught the ball."
Johnson's equality in divvying up receptions kept it that way. Nwachukwu led the team in receiving yards, but barely topped 700 yards. Five receivers caught 35 or more passes last season, but none caught more than 46. Johnson threw his 30 touchdown passes to nine different receivers, and Fuller led the team with seven. McNeal and Swope could replace the departed Howard Morrow and Jamie McCoy and become more frequent targets this season, but both caught touchdowns last season.
Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman says his team's sub-.500 record last season is to blame for his receivers' relative anonymity on the national stage.
"[People] don’t need to know anything about [our receivers] right now because they haven’t done anything yet," said Sherman. "Once they do something, people will know who they are."
But perhaps their best attribute is the one that will give them plenty of time to produce and the country to learn their names: their youth.
McNeal, Swope and Nwachukwu will be just sophomores. Ryan Tannehill and Fuller, Johnson's admitted favorite target ("I can put it in a real wide radius and he can make me look good," Johnson said), will be juniors. Tannehill has gotten more work this spring after offseason shoulder surgery has limited Johnson's availability in live team drills.
"It’s special to see a group of guys like that," Johnson said. "If you know your guys’ strengths, you know how to get them the ball the best way, so I try to get to know them the best I can and I have."