NCF Nation: Matt Joeckel

Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban are in no hurry to name their starting QBs for the fall.
Everywhere you turn in this league, there’s a quarterback competition underway, from Alabama to Georgia, Arkansas to Kentucky, LSU to Texas A&M. Maty Mauk is surely the presumptive starter at Missouri, but even he's not a sure thing. Gary Pinkel says he wants competition, never mind that there were times when Mauk looked better than former starter James Franklin.

But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.

Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.

Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.

“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.

“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”

Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.

“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.

“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”

While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWho will replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's QB? Kevin Sumlin isn't saying anything right now.
LSU coach Les Miles said he has a good sense of the competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. “But it always plays out,” he said, harkening back to when Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell duked it out eight years ago. It looked like Flynn had the job in hand after winning a bowl game and watching Russell come into camp out of shape in 2006. But Flynn's body faltered down the stretch and Russell kept going, eventually winning the job.

"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."

Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.

Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.

Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”

The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.

Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.

“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.

Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.
Texas A&M got an unwelcome distraction on Friday when the news of Kenny Hill's arrest broke.

Hill, a sophomore quarterback who is part of a three-way competition for the starting job, is suspended indefinitely, per Texas A&M athletic department policy after he was taken into custody on a public intoxication charge.

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hill's suspension leaves him unable to participate in the rest of Texas A&M's spring practices.
This is the third arrest and Hill is the fourth A&M player involved in an off-field incident since mid-February -- not an ideal situation for coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff.

The news broke just hours before the Aggies were scheduled to hit the field for their annual "Friday Night Lights" practice, an energized scrimmage/recruiting event that Sumlin has hosted since his first year as the Aggies' head coach.

Hill's suspension likely means the other two contenders for the starting quarterback job, senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen, will see increased repetitions in his absence. The Aggies have four spring football practices remaining after Friday's scrimmage.

Many observers might be quick to point out that Texas A&M's recently departed quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and potential first-round NFL draft pick Johnny Manziel, survived an offseason arrest in 2012 and won the starting job before going on to his historic freshman season. However, Manziel's arrest came in the middle of the summer, not during the spring, thus Manziel did not miss valuable practice time or scrimmage opportunities.

By all accounts, the quarterback battle has been a tight one. One factor that could work in Hill's favor is Sumlin's patience in quarterback competitions: He typically does not name a starter until two weeks before the season opener, and that is likely to be the case again this season. So there is a long way to go until anything happens, giving Hill time to recover from his legal incident.

Hill came into this spring with an edge over newcomer Allen because of his game experience (he appeared in five games last season) and because he's a dual threat with plenty of experience dating back to high school with no-huddle spread offenses like the one the Aggies run. But by enrolling early, Allen -- the No. 1 pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class -- is doing everything he can to put himself in position to succeed. And Joeckel, the veteran of the group, has the most experience and has long been waiting for his opportunity.

If this proves to be an isolated incident for Hill, it will likely become a footnote if he bounces back and wins the starting job. This doesn't help his case for the time being, though.

This is the latest off-field incident for the Aggies, as starting defensive teammates Isaiah Golden and Darian Claiborne were arrested last month, and safety Kameron Miles was dismissed from the team earlier this month. Claiborne and Golden have both sat out all spring (Golden actually withdrew from school recently, though Sumlin said he expects the defensive tackle to return) and Miles is headed to Butler Community College in Kansas.

Sumlin has been swift in dealing with off-field issues this offseason, but the last thing he wanted was to have to deal with another.
Setting up the spring in the SEC West:

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Succeeding McCarron: The Crimson Tide must find the person who will step into AJ McCarron’s shoes. There are several quarterbacks on campus: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman. The person most have pegged as the favorite, however, won’t be on campus until the summer: Jacob Coker. A transfer from Florida State, Coker is finishing his degree before enrolling at Alabama. But new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get a chance for a long look at the others this spring.
  • What’s next for Henry?: Running back Derrick Henry has the fans excited after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance (eight carries, 100 yards), and he brings great size to the position (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). T.J. Yeldon is a returning starter who is more experienced and battle-tested, and there are still other talented backs on the roster, such as Kenyan Drake. But plenty of eyes will be on the sophomore-to-be Henry.
  • Replacing Mosley: Linebacker C.J. Mosley was a decorated star and leader, so his presence will be missed. Alabama has plenty of talent in the pipeline; it’s just not tremendously experienced. Watch for Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland.
ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Keeping it positive: It’s been rough around Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks closed their season with nine losses in a row; coach Bret Bielema is a focal point in the unpopular NCAA proposal designed to slow down hurry-up offenses; and leading running back Alex Collins served a weeklong suspension last month for unspecified reasons. The Hogs could use some positivity.
  • A new DC: The Razorbacks will be working in a new defensive coordinator, Robb Smith. He came over from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the linebackers coach. Smith made a significant impact at his last college stop, Rutgers, where he led the Scarlet Knights' defense to a No. 10 ranking in total defense in 2012.
  • Year 2 progress: Making a drastic change in scheme isn’t easy to do, which is what the Razorbacks tried to accomplish in Bielema's debut season. In the second spring in Fayetteville for Bielema, things should come a little more easily as the Razorbacks continue to institute Bielema's brand of power football.
AUBURN

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Picking up where they left off: The Tigers put together a memorable, magical 2013, and with eight starters returning on offense, keeping that momentum going is key. Replacing running back Tre Mason and O-lineman Greg Robinson won't be easy, but there is still plenty of talent on offense to aid quarterback Nick Marshall.
  • Marshall's progress: Marshall’s ascent last year was impressive, but can he continue it? He’s great with his feet and made some big-time throws last year. As he continues to progress as a passer, it should add another facet to the Tigers’ explosive, up-tempo, multifaceted attack.
  • Improving the defense: The Tigers lost five starters from a group that was suspect at times last season. But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a history of improving defenses from Year 1 to Year 2, and it should be interesting to see if he can do that at Auburn.
LSU

Spring start: March 7

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • All eyes on Prescott: With some strong performances to close out the season in the Egg Bowl and in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, quarterback Dak Prescott certainly played the part of an elite SEC quarterback. He'll enter the season with more national attention after putting together some gutsy performances while pushing through some personal adversity last season after the death of his mother.
  • Malone stepping in: Justin Malone was on pace to start at right guard last season, but was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury in his foot in the season opener against Oklahoma State. With Gabe Jackson gone, the Bulldogs need another solid interior lineman to step up, and a healthy 6-foot-7, 320-pound Malone could be that guy.
  • Offensive staff shuffle: The Bulldogs added some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, bringing in young quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Utah quarterback. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, though head coach Dan Mullen will continue as the playcaller in games.
OLE MISS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Wallace’s development: Coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Bo Wallace will be helped by having more practice this time around; last year, January shoulder surgery had Wallace rehabilitating most of the offseason, and Freeze believes it affected Wallace's arm strength later in the season. A fresh Wallace going into the spring can only help, and as he’s heading into his senior season, the coaching staff will look for more consistency.
  • Status of Nkemdiche and Bryant: Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested last month and suspended. Ole Miss is investigating the situation, but their status remains undecided.
  • A healthy Aaron Morris: During the season opener against Vanderbilt, Morris tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The offensive guard was recently granted a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility. Getting Morris back healthy for 2014 is important for the Rebels as he is a key piece to their offensive line.
TEXAS A&M

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: None (final practice is April 5)

What to watch:
  • Life after Johnny Manziel: Texas A&M says goodbye to one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and must find his successor. Spring (and fall) practice will be the stage for a three-way battle between senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Only one of those three has started a college game (Joeckel), and he played in just one half last August. Whoever wins the competition will be green, but all three have the ability to run the Aggies’ offense.
  • Retooling the defense: The Aggies were pretty awful on defense last season, ranking among the bottom 25 nationally in most defensive statistical categories. They have to get much better on that side of the football if they want to be a real factor in the SEC West race, and that starts in the spring by developing the young front seven and trying to find some answers in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions.
  • New left tackle: This spring, the Aggies will have their third different left tackle in as many seasons. Luke Joeckel rode a stellar 2012 season to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Senior Jake Matthews made himself a projected top-10 pick for this year's draft while protecting Manziel last season. This season, Cedric Ogbuehi gets his turn. Ogbuehi has excelled throughout his Texas A&M career on the right side of the offensive line (first at right guard, then at right tackle last season) and is looking to follow in the footsteps of Joeckel and Matthews.

Over the span of their careers they threw for 48,824 passing yards. There were a total 403 touchdown passes among them, and they won 184 games in which they appeared, including 11 bowls and two national championships. They were, arguably, the most talented and productive class of quarterbacks ever to play in the SEC at one time. And now they’re all gone.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson saw a lot of playing time last season when Connor Shaw went out.
The SEC had to say goodbye to James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in January. The void they leave behind is enormous, and while some programs already have an idea of who will take their place next season, not all are so lucky.

We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?

When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.

Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.

Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cornwell
Courtesy of Cornwell familyEarly enrollee and former four-star recruit David Cornwell will get his shot at Alabama's starting QB job this spring.
LSU: The Tigers faithful got a sneak peek at their next quarterback, Anthony Jennings, after Mettenberger tore his ACL and was forced to miss LSU’s bowl game. The rising sophomore didn’t drop anyone’s jaw against Iowa, but he did just enough, throwing for 82 yards on 7 of 19 passing, while letting his supporting cast do the heavy lifting. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jennings has the look of a starting quarterback in the SEC. The former four-star recruit played sparingly in 2013, though, attempting just 10 passes prior to the Outback Bowl. He’ll have to contend with Brandon Harris, ESPN’s No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat passer in the 2014 class, along with rising senior Rob Bolden and rising sophomore Hayden Rettig.

Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.

Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.

Aggies need work, time to excel in SEC

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
3:00
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Many parts of Texas A&M's first two seasons in its new conference home, the SEC, have been dreamlike.

It has included top-10 rankings, a Heisman Trophy, historic wins, huge crowds, big television ratings and, at times, the eyes of the college football world.

But on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La., the Aggies were dealt a dose of cold, harsh reality during a 34-10 loss to LSU in what were, well, cold and harsh conditions. Life in the SEC is tough. For everyone.

Texas A&M's success in the nation's premier conference came much more quickly than people outside College Station anticipated and even faster than some wearing maroon-colored glasses could have pictured. Coming off a 7-6 season in its final Big 12 Conference campaign, it was widely thought the Aggies would, as Kevin Sumlin has said before, "get their brains kicked in."

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesKevin Sumlin has fashioned winning records in Texas A&M's first two seasons in the SEC, but will he stick around for the long haul?
That didn't happen. The Aggies went 11-2 in their first season in the league, beat No. 1 Alabama and took home sports' most prestigious individual award, the Heisman Trophy, which went to quarterback Johnny Manziel.

And even though there remained a window of hope this season for attaining a berth to a BCS bowl for the first time since 1998 and potentially a second Heisman for Manziel, LSU ended those hopes emphatically on Saturday.

It helped illustrate two points: (1) The Aggies still have a ways to go to reach the level of the league's very best programs, and (2) once you get to the top, it's hard to stay there.

Take LSU as an example. The Tigers have been consistently among the SEC elite for the last decade-plus. They've won four SEC championships since the turn of the century (2001, 2003, 2007, 2011) and two BCS national championships (2003 and 2007). But the Tigers currently have the same 2013 record as the Aggies (8-3), the team they just beat.

Two weeks prior to Saturday, LSU was beaten and battered at the hands of No. 1 Alabama. The second half of the Crimson Tide's 38-17 win, and in particular the fourth quarter, was intriguing to watch as the Tide asserted its will on both sides of the football.

That was done to a program that's 92-24 in the Les Miles era.

Florida (4-7), is by all accounts, a mess right now. Florida was in the Sugar Bowl last season and was ranked No. 3 before taking a beating from Louisville. It's also a program with two BCS national titles in the last decade (2006 and 2008).

Building a program that succeeds at the level of Alabama and LSU takes time. It takes talent and years of strong recruiting classes. It takes stability in the coaching staff.

Early in their SEC membership, the Aggies are taking steps in that direction. The work on a $450 million renovation of Kyle Field, to turn it into a 102,500-seat palace, is under way and scheduled for completion in time for the 2015 season. The Aggies had the country's eighth-ranked recruiting class in the 2013 cycle, and they currently have the sixth-ranked class in 2014.

After a strong debut season in Aggieland, Texas A&M took care of head coach Kevin Sumlin with a raise to take his annually salary to $3.1 million, so that commitment is in place. Whether Sumlin, whose name is thrown around for other jobs almost annually, chooses to stay or make another move is another matter, but if he chooses to remain at A&M the potential for a power program under his watch appears to be there.

As for the current squad, Saturday's result and the Aggies' losses to Alabama and Auburn earlier this season have made a few things evident. The depth and experience needed on defense for consistent SEC success is not present yet. The Aggies are recruiting heavily on the defensive line, but it will take time for those players to be ready to contribute. The way Alabama, Auburn and LSU were able to run the ball (not to mention several other teams) when they had to shows the need for growth there.

The offense, while usually productive in its first two SEC seasons and even in the losses to the Tide and Auburn, can still improve. Even with a one-of-a-kind player like Manziel, who can mask deficiencies with his playmaking ability, the Aggies weren't able to fool LSU, a team with speed at all three levels on defense and a well-respected defensive coordinator, John Chavis. And Manziel likely won't be around next year, so the Aggies will have to progress with another quarterback, whether it's one of the current backups, Matt Joeckel or Kenny Hill, or incoming ESPN 300 recruit Kyle Allen.

It's not a given that all of those things will work out. Fortunes can change fast in this league, as Auburn and Florida have shown us this year. But regardless of how the Aggies end this season, they've had two winning campaigns to start their membership in the SEC. Dreams of BCS bowls, SEC championships and national championships apparently have to wait. In this league, it takes time.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Throughout his short collegiate career, there have been many terms used to describe Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Whether on or off the field, Manziel sparks discussion, but until recently, there was one word that wasn't frequently used when listing the traits that make the Heisman Trophy winner elite.

Toughness.

Despite his penchant for scrambling and running the football, the redshirt sophomore quarterback has been able to avoid significant injury through his first two collegiate seasons. Things seemed easy for him and he took every hit and got back up.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Juan DeLeon/Icon SMIJohnny Manziel has been banged up in recent weeks but said missing a game "really wasn't an option."
But in recent weeks, toughness has personified Manziel. After one particular tackle that led to an injury to his throwing shoulder in the fourth quarter of a 45-41 loss to Auburn on Oct. 19, Manziel was down, in visible pain. It became difficult for him even to throw the football.

Manziel missed just a little more than five minutes of game time before returning to finish the game.

And despite his status being questionable and little practice time throughout the following week as he rehabilitated from the injury, Manziel started on Saturday in the Aggies' 56-24 win over Vanderbilt.

He didn't begin throwing until Wednesday and didn't participate in 11-on-11 practice until Friday during the Aggies' walk-through. But Manziel said he was planning to play all along.

"In my mind, I was always going to play," Manziel said. "It would take a lot to keep me off the field and away from these guys. They count on me and they expect me to be there. If I have to come in and get treatment and do whatever I have to do to get back, I have to do it for those guys. This offense and this team means everything to me, so to miss a game, that really wasn't an option for me."

Throughout the week, coach Kevin Sumlin called Manziel's status "hopeful." While Sumlin is known to selective about releasing injury information about his players, he admitted Saturday that Manziel was truly a game-time decision.

When Manziel woke up on Saturday morning, he informed the coaching staff of soreness that he felt in the shoulder, but once he participated in warmups before the game, Manziel felt good enough to go.

"I was a little concerned," Sumlin said. "We really didn't make a decision until warmups. People thought I was being coy, but we didn't really know. We worked [backups Matt] Joeckel and Kenny Hill the whole week."

And it's not simply noteworthy that Manziel has played through pain the last two weeks; he has played at a high level while doing so. After returning for the final 9:06 against Auburn, he completed 9-of-10 passes for 102 yards and ran for a touchdown. On Saturday against Vanderbilt, he remained a pocket passer for most of the day (he carried the ball four times for a career-low 11 yards) and completed 25-of-35 for 305 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception in roughly two-and-a-half quarters of work.

"It just really wasn't in our game plan [against Vanderbilt] for me to run," Manziel said. "My shoulder is just a little sore. I don't know if it was bruised or what all was going on. It kind of got squished when I went down last week against Auburn. But it didn't cause me too many problems [in the game], so that was a positive."

When Manziel led the Aggies' to a come-from-behind win over Ole Miss -- a night in which he briefly after grabbed his left knee in what turned out to be more of a scare than a serious injury -- Sumlin called Manziel "one of the greatest competitors that I've ever been around." Manziel's determination to play the last two games, regardless of the circumstances, seems to support that thought.

"My dad and family were a little cautious about me coming out because they didn't know how severe it was but in my mind, I was always going to play," Manziel said. "I wasn't going to leave these guys without being out there."


Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is "hopeful" that quarterback Johnny Manziel will be able play Saturday against Vanderbilt.

Manziel injured his throwing shoulder in the Aggies' 45-41 loss to Auburn this past Saturday but returned to the game and finished with 454 yards and four touchdowns through the air and 18 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

"I would list him as hopeful," Sumlin said Tuesday. "That's where he is right now."

If you watched Manziel after he went down, he was pretty much in pain for the remainder of the game. He winced when he threw on the sideline and showed obvious pain on his face following every play on the field after returning with a little more than nine minutes remaining. Still, Manziel was able to complete nine of his 10 passes for 102 yards and run for a touchdown after his injury.

That's pretty impressive when you consider the state he was in. While there's no official word on what the extent of Manziel's injury is, he was wearing a sling on Monday during practice. He was even throwing with his left arm, too.

The kid is a true competitor and probably wants nothing more than to be on the field Saturday, but he and Texas A&M's staff have to be careful here. We all know how deadly shoulder injuries can be for a quarterback, especially one as run heavy as Manziel. There's no question Manziel is one of the toughest football players around and has no problem slinging his body around, but he has to think about more than just Saturday.

Sure, the Aggies don't want to overlook a solid Vanderbilt team that just upset Georgia, but with the offensive weapons the Aggies have, using Matt Joeckel or Kenny Hill wouldn't be a killer for this team. The question is whether the defense would be able to support an offense that doesn't have Manziel at the helm. That is something we really don't know, and I'm sure it's something Sumlin doesn't want to find out.

A major reason for A&M's success this year has been the play of Manziel, and neither Joeckel nor Hill have his playmaking abilities. No one really does, so you can't fault them for that, but you have to worry about a team with a defense this bad if its best offensive player isn't on the field. The Aggies rank 120th nationally in total defense and have been bailed out time and again by Manziel. Vanderbilt doesn't have the most imposing offense, but it's averaging more than 400 yards per game and six yards a play.

Manziel has a week of rest and treatment ahead of him, so there's plenty of time. But with his health in question, there's even more pressure on a struggling A&M defense.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Silence isn't a word typically synonymous with a stadium hosting more than 86,000 rabid fans, particularly at Kyle Field, where Texas A&M is known to hold a tremendous home-field advantage.

But silence is a key word in describing some of the growing pains the Aggies had to go through in their season-opening win against Rice on Saturday, as they played 16 true freshmen, 11 of which were defensive players.

A&M coach Kevin Sumlin illustrated that point thusly:

"We had a couple situations where a couple guys actually froze up out there and wouldn't even open their mouths and couldn't get lined up," Sumlin said after Saturday's 52-31 victory. "The D-line said they couldn't hear and then one of them admitted to me "Coach, I just didn't say anything. I was just standing there.'"

Not exactly what a coach is looking to hear from defensive players, particularly when facing a no-huddle offense. Communication, especially in those situations, is key for a defense.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayFreshman wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones made an impact in his college debut, hauling in a 71-yard touchdown pass.
But that was the position the Aggies were put in, missing eight players to start the game, six on defense -- including five defensive players who were listed as starters on the week's depth chart -- because of suspensions. There were true freshmen playing in every defensive position group, plus some at receiver. That doesn't include a handful of redshirt freshmen and junior college players who were making their debuts as well.

The Aggies coaches did what they could to prepare their newcomers, but some lessons are only learned the hard way.

"It's like anything else," Sumlin said. "As a coach, you try to prepare guys for all situations, but until the live bullets are flying, you don't know. It'll get better as it goes on, but I think the experience that we gained from today will help us down the road, a bunch. Particularly [in the front seven] because that's where most of the guys are gone."

The struggles were clear. As the defense tried to find its footing, Rice showed the ability to move the ball with ease. The Owls finished the game with 509 total offensive yards, including 306 rushing. The last time they gave up that many offensive yards was in their marathon battle against Louisiana Tech last October (615) and they haven't allowed that many rushing yards since a 66-28 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma on Nov. 8, 2008.

True freshman played on the defensive line (Jay Arnold, Isaiah Golden, Daeshon Hall and Hardreck Walker), at linebacker (Darian Claiborne, Jordan Mastrogiovanni, Shaan Washington) and defensive back (Noel Ellis, Tavares Garner, Alex Sezer Jr. and Jonathan Wiggins).

"There's no way to duplicate the tempo and the emotion [of a game]," Sumlin said on Tuesday. "You know what you're doing, but the pressure to perform in that environment can be very, very difficult on a young guy, and that's what experience is all about."

Offensively, the Aggies were much better off. Even though Matt Joeckel made his first career start at quarterback, he's a junior who has spent more than a year practicing in the offense and he had at least seen some game time. Center Mike Matthews, who received high praise from Sumlin on Tuesday, also played in games and traveled with the team last season.

The true freshmen who saw the field for the first time on offense were all receivers: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jeremy Tabuyo, LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ja'Quay Williams. But because there were more experienced players surrounding them on Saturday, not to mention Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel entered the game in the third quarter, the transition was smoother for the Aggies' offense.

In total, 21 newcomers saw the field for Texas A&M on Saturday, many in significant roles. Plenty will log significant time this Saturday against Sam Houston State, as four players received two-game suspensions and won't be back until Sept. 14 against Alabama. With a signing class of 31 players in February, there was no question the Aggies were going to need some of the newcomers to contribute. By being forced to play so many in the first game, Sumlin feels like it could be a positive later in the season.

"[It's] a real, real learning experience," Sumlin said. "I think for those guys, that's going to pay dividends for us down the road."

Joeckel gives Aggies confidence in QBs

September, 3, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- While many eyes were on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel on Saturday, the Aggies showed they have more than one reliable option on the roster to call the signals.

Junior quarterback Matt Joeckel, who got the start in place of the suspended Manziel, quietly put together a solid half in his first career start, a 52-31 win over Rice. Joeckel went 14-of-19 for 190 yards and a touchdown and -- most importantly -- no interceptions while helping the Aggies to 28 first-half points.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin had come into the game planning to play both reserve quarterbacks, Joeckel and true freshman Kenny Hill, but he stuck with Joeckel because of his performance.

[+] EnlargeMatt Joeckel
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsMatt Joeckel will be among the Texas A&M QBs battling to replace Johnny Manziel.
"I thought he was in a rhythm, and I thought he was playing well," Sumlin said. "How he was playing, I think he deserved to keep playing."

The 6-foot-4, 234-pound product of Arlington, Texas, displayed accuracy and the ability to run the Aggies' up-tempo attack at a solid pace throughout the first half.

"I think Matt Joeckel did a really good job of doing exactly what was asked of him to do," senior running back Ben Malena said. "I think the series of plays and playcalling was fit for him. He didn't turn the ball over, which was good. He made all the right reads. I think he did a pretty good job."

The biggest play for Joeckel came late in the second quarter on third-and-1, when Joeckel faked a handoff and found freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, who ran by a Rice defender and found open space. Joeckel hit Seals-Jones right in the chest, and the freshman turned it into a 71-yard touchdown play.

While Joeckel is a more traditional pocket-passer and won't make the highlight reels with his feet like Manziel, he did what he was asked.

"Matt did good," offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "He was comfortable, he looked like he had been starting for a while. He's the ultimate game manager. He's not going to do anything outstanding, but he's not going to lose the game for us. I think that he did a really good job."

Sumlin debated putting Hill in late in the game but decided against it. The coaching staff is confident in the true freshman, and with ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) already committed and on the way to Aggieland in the 2014 recruiting class, it appears the future of the quarterback position is in capable hands.

"The big decision at the end of the game was to play Kenny or not, because Kenny's going to play this year," Sumlin said. "I just didn't want to put him in there with two minutes to go and handing off. I want him to be able to run the offense. Matt, I thought, executed our offense. We had a great tempo, he didn't give the ball to the other team and operated and let the people around him execute. He was a distributor.

"I think he gained a lot of confidence out of today, and I think our team gained a lot of confidence out of him today, and that's the way both of those guys have been during camp. We've got confidence in all three of the quarterbacks, and I think today you see why."


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There are several reasons Texas A&M was so highly thought of and had lofty expectations coming into the 2013 season.

The No. 7 Aggies, who were ranked in the top 10 of both preseason polls (they were No. 6 in the coaches' poll), returned a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, a plethora of running backs and an All-America caliber tackle, and play a style of offense that many SEC teams -- defending champion Alabama included -- find hard to defend.

And while there were several positives to take away from Texas A&M's season-opening 52-31 win over Rice on Saturday at Kyle Field, the win also illustrated that the Aggies still have a long way to go in several areas if they plan on fulfilling championship expectations.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Eric GayThe good news is Johnny Manziel looked like his Heisman Trophy winning self once he got in the game. The bad news is the Aggies look like they still have lots of work to do if they want to win titles.
One of those areas is maturity. Head coach Kevin Sumlin discussed that after the game, and while he was specifically addressing it in relation to the ejection of freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall and the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty drawn by quarterback Johnny Manziel after a touchdown pass, Sumlin's words can apply across the board.

The Aggies had eight players miss at least the first half of Saturday's game. Four were suspended for "violating Texas A&M athletics department rules and regulations." Three were suspended after offseason arrests and Manziel was suspended for the first half after "inadvertent violations" that occurred as a result of signing autographs after the conclusion of an NCAA investigation.

That was also part of Manziel's message, according to Sumlin, to his teammates when he addressed them on Friday as part of the requirements of restoring his eligibility.

"Actions just like today and just like other guys on this team, those actions may be actions that you think just hurt you, but they end up hurting the whole football team," Sumlin said. "That was the real gist of [Manziel's] message to the team. That everybody's individual acts affect the team. When that happens, it's not good."

Of the suspended players, five were defensive starters (defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive end Gavin Stansbury). Another, Floyd Raven, is a key player expected to contribute this fall and was one time projected to start at free safety before Clay Honeycutt wound up first on the depth chart after a strong training camp.

As a result, the Aggies' defense was filled with true freshmen and newcomers getting significant playing time on Saturday and ended up surrendering 509 total offensive yards. Now, Rice is a good team in Conference USA that could contend for the league title, but it’s not nearly the caliber of opponent Texas A&M will see on its SEC schedule. The Owls ran for a whopping 306 yards -- six yards a carry -- and appeared able to run right at the Aggies' defense.

The Aggies struggled with missed tackles and missed assignments, which are to be expected when you have a significant number of 18- and 19-year-olds on the field.

"We played 20 guys out there that had never played before," Sumlin said. "Is that an excuse for our play? No. I think we learned from today."

The Aggies regain the services of Ennis and Raven next week, though Everett will again have to sit out a half, by rule, because he was ejected in the second half after being called for a targeting penalty. The other four suspended -- Jenkins, Harris, Stansbury and receiver Edward Pope -- won't return until Sept. 14 when the Aggies host No. 1 Alabama.

But there were plenty of positives to be seen as well, most notably in the win column. Backup quarterback Matt Joeckel showed he was capable of moving the offense, leading the Aggies to 28 first-half points while putting up more than respectable numbers (14-of-19 passing, 190 yards). Joeckel's lone touchdown pass was a 71-yard catch-and-run completion to an apparent star in the making, 6-foot-5, 240-pound true freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.

Players who are considered to be among the team's leaders, running back Ben Malena (100 total offensive yards, two touchdowns) and Mike Evans (84 receiving yards, two touchdowns) played their roles aptly. The kicking game was consistent as Taylor Bertolet was perfect on all his kick attempts, something he struggled with last season. And as Sumlin noted, the positive to having so many young players on the field on defense means they'll have a chance to learn from their mistakes and develop. Though there were struggles, they came up with turnovers and still did enough to win.

Most importantly, the Aggies got their quarterback, Manziel, back on the field in the second half and he looked like the player who captivated the nation a season ago. He was 6-of-8 passing for 94 yards with three touchdown passes and showed his trademark scrambling ability, though Rice did a solid job of keeping him from running too wild.

This is a team that has encountered a lot this offseason. From the headlines Manziel made and the NCAA investigation, to the suspensions and most importantly, the death of a teammate -- Polo Manukainiu -- the Aggies have already dealt with their fair share of adversity.

The Aggies honored Manukainiu on Saturday by wearing decals with his number, first name and a Tongan-inspired design on their helmets and electing sophomore defensive tackle Alonzo Williams to wear Maunkainiu's No. 90. The team will elect a different defensive lineman to do so each week as a nod to Manukainiu and his family that he is "still out there with us," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said.

This team has lofty goals. Hurd mentioned Saturday the team would wear the Manukainiu decal "each and every week, leading [up] to the national championship." If they plan to get there, they have a lot of work still to do.

Greetings from Kyle Field

August, 31, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- After what has been an eventful offseason, game day is finally here for Texas A&M.

The No. 7 Aggies host Conference USA foe Rice at 1 p.m. ET today, giving their fans a taste of real football after an offseason that involved a lot of headlines.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel will miss the first two quarters, serving a suspension announced Wednesday by Texas A&M and the NCAA after the investigation into allegations that he profited from autographs concluded.

The big question is, who's starting? The answer hasn't officially been made public at this point -- head coach Kevin Sumlin did say that both junior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kenny Hill will play in the game.

The speculation seems to be that Joeckel will get the nod in the game's first series, though. Former Aggies defensive tackle Spencer Nealy posted a congratulatory message to Joeckel on his Twitter account on Friday night, tweeting:



The Aggies will be shorthanded on defense, with several players serving out suspensions stemming from offseason incidents. Starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis and safety Floyd Raven, who is listed second on the depth chart at free safety, will miss the entire game. Junior cornerback Deshazor Everett, a starter best known for his interception that sealed A&M's upset victory at Alabama this year, will miss one half of action.

True freshman defensive tackle Hardreck Walker is the likely replacement for Ennis when the Aggies are in four defensive lineman alignments. Junior Clay Honeycutt is the starter at free safety after having a strong preseason training camp and look for a combination of Tramain Jacobs and Alex Sezer, Jr., to fill in for Everett when he's sitting.

Rice comes in with a veteran group, led by a fifth-year senior at quarterback in Taylor McHargue. This will be his fourth-straight opening game start; he is one of seven current FBS quarterbacks to have that distinction. The Owls will also be without a pair of defensive starters, linebacker Cameron Nwosu (injury) and cornerback Phillip Gaines.
Kevin Sumlin, Johnny Manziel Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIt's been a long offseason for Texas A&M, with Johnny Manziel's eligibility status and the death of Polo Manukainiu, so Kevin Sumlin and Co. can't wait to get back to playing football.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Since joining the SEC, Texas A&M football has been building.

Take one walk in front of the Bright Football Complex and evidence is everywhere. While you can hear the echo of quarterbacks barking commands, coaches making critiques and whistles blowing, those familar sounds are sometimes overshadowed by the sound of moving construction vehicle or the engine of an 18-wheeler.

Last year, it was a 20,000-square foot, $9 million football-only weight room. This year, it's a $4 million expansion of the Bright Complex's lobby and the addition of $12 million nutrition center where athletes can dine. Over the next two years, Texas A&M will renovate Kyle Field to the tune of $450 million.

On the field the Aggies are building for what they hope is a special season. With a preseason top-10 ranking, a Heisman Trophy winner returning at quarterback, a handful of returning starters in key spots and a plethora of talented newcomers added to a squad that was 11-2 in its first SEC campaign, hopes have been high for the Aggies this offseason.

When news came to light about an NCAA investigation into allegations that Johnny Manziel profited from signing autographs for brokers, dreams of that historic season required a brief pause. With his eligibility in question, it was uncertain how much field time -- if any -- he would miss. If he missed too much, the Aggies' hopes of an SEC West title, an SEC title, and perhaps even a BCS title, would likely be dashed.

But Wednesday the saga was resolved. The NCAA and Texas A&M released a joint statement indicating that Manziel has a few things to do to restore eligibility, including serve a suspension in the first half of Saturday's season opener against Rice.

What that means for the Aggies is that fans can go back to dreaming about what could be. Since the redshirt sophomore quarterback won't have to miss an extended period of time, he'll be on the field when the Aggies host No. 1 Alabama in a Sept. 14 showdown and every game thereafter as the Aggies attempt to do something they haven't since the last century: win a conference championship, and perhaps a national championship.

(Read full post)



COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The saga involving Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and the NCAA investigation into allegations that he profited from signing autographs saw a resolution Wednesday, as it was determined that Manziel will be suspended for the first half of the Aggies' season opener against Rice on Saturday.

While the investigation was ongoing, many turned their attention to the quarterbacks on the roster not wearing No. 2 on the chance that one of them might have to play. With Manziel missing a half, the Aggies will begin Saturday's showdown against the Owls with either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill calling the signals.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesWith Johnny Manziel suspended for the first half of the season opener, the Aggies will turn to Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill.
So who are these quarterbacks?

Both were engaged in a three-way backup quarterback competition during preseason training camp, one that included redshirt freshman Matt Davis, who last week decided to transfer to Tyler (Texas) Junior College, leaving just two contenders. On Tuesday, coach Kevin Sumlin did not name a backup and said the battle between the two is an "ongoing competition."

What does each player bring to the table?

Joeckel's advantage is experience. Though he doesn't have much game experience -- appearing in five games and attempting 11 passes last season -- it's still more than Hill, and Joeckel has already spent a season working in the Aggies' offense, serving as the No. 3 quarterback last season. He's more of a traditional pocket passer.

"He's a big kid [6-foot-4, 234 pounds] but not the most mobile guy, so you'd probably call the game a little differently than with Johnny in the game than him," Aggies quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said earlier this month.

The 6-1, 215-pound Hill, who has no collegiate experience, comes from a Texas high school powerhouse, Southlake Carroll, known for producing Division I quarterbacks. Chase Daniel, Greg McElroy, Kyle Padron and David Piland are among those who signed with Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the past decade.

"He's talented," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. "He was the Gatorade Player of the [Year in the] state. He's a dual-threat guy. With what they did at Southlake Carroll -- a lot of the Texas high schools are going to a similar offense to what we're running. I think it prepares guys like him to play at this level. The operation of it is real similar to what he's already done."

Spavital has made sure to give Hill plenty of practice repetitions during camp to help him grasp the offense. Teammates say both have competed well in training camp.

"Both of those guys have really done great things when they've had their opportunities during practice," senior running back Ben Malena said. "Both of those guys are really smart guys, and they've both had their opportunities to make plays and they have. It's great competition at the backup quarterback spot."

Sophomore center Mike Matthews echoes that sentiment.

"As [Hill has] progressed, he's really proven to me that he's a real good quarterback," Matthews said. "He can move around the pocket. If it comes down to it, he can scramble and run with the ball, and he's also been throwing the ball pretty well. Matt, he's an older guy, 6-5, more of a pocket passer, so I'm confident with both of them."

Sumlin said he has tried to rotate each quarterback with the first team in certain instances during training camp. It's something he has done in the past simply so his backup quarterbacks can build a camaraderie with the first unit should they ever be pressed into duty.

Hill and Joeckel's teammates are confident they'll play well no matter who is calling the signals.

"The backup quarterbacks are putting in the time and effort," Matthews said. "I believe in them. Matt and Kenny, they come in every day and they put the work in, so I'm confident in the quarterbacks that we have. So if it turns out that [Manziel] isn't able to play, I'll be confident in our backup quarterback."
ESPN’s Travis Haney reported late Monday that NCAA investigators met with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel on Sunday, seeking clarification on allegations from autograph dealers that he accepted payments for a series of signing sessions.

A source told Haney that the NCAA officials met with Manziel for nearly six hours in College Station.

Aggies athletic director Eric Hyman released a statement on Monday evening indicating that head coach Kevin Sumlin, assistant coaches and players were asked not to comment on the status of Manziel, who is the subject of an NCAA investigation into allegations that he profited from signing autographs. Sumlin, his coordinators and several players are scheduled to meet the media on Tuesday for the Aggies' regularly scheduled weekly news conference.

“The focus of our coaches and student-athletes is solely on preparing for Rice this Saturday, and in the best interests of Texas A&M and the 100-plus student-athletes on the team, I have instructed Coach Sumlin, his staff and our student-athletes to refrain from commenting on or answering questions regarding the status of our starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel," Hyman said.

It is worth noting that both Hyman and senior associate athletic director for external affairs Jason Cook referred to Manziel as the Aggies' "starting quarterback" on Monday evening. Cook did so in a tweet related to Hyman's statement.



Manziel was listed No. 1 on the Aggies' recently released depth chart. Starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, who is suspended for the season opener, is also listed first on the depth chart, so that isn't necessarily an indicator of Manziel's status. When asked at different times during preseason training camp this month, Sumlin hasn't indicated whether he plans to start Manziel in the season opener. Manziel spent the duration of training camp taking practice repetitions with the first team.

Manziel has not spoken to the media since the news of the NCAA's inquiry into the allegations against him broke on Aug. 4. After addressing his redshirt sophomore quarterback's status briefly on the first day of training camp, Sumlin has directed all questions about Manziel's off-the-field status to Cook.

Cook or the athletic department also hasn't commented on Manziel's status or whether he will play. Last week, Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp did make strong comments in support of Manziel, telling Bryan, Texas, television station KBTX: "I know he's innocent. I know that he didn't do what they accused him of doing.”

Early this month, Manziel's attorney, Jim Darnell, predicted while he was a guest on "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" that Manziel would start against Rice.

Last season, Manziel compiled an SEC record 5,116 total offensive yards along with 47 total touchdowns. He became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy.

Manziel is not scheduled to appear at the Aggies' news conference on Tuesday. Manziel's backup on Saturday will be either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill.

Joeckel appeared in five games last season and attempted 11 passes. Hill is a three-star prospect out of Southlake (Texas) Carroll who signed with the Aggies in February.

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If Johnny Manziel leaves early for the NFL after the 2013 season, it looks like the Aggies won't have to look too far to find a viable candidate for being the quarterback of the future.

On Monday, Texas A&M added to its 2014 recruiting class when ESPN 150 member Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) verbally committed to the Aggies' staff.

Here's what Allen, who is ESPN's No. 128 overall player and No. 5 pocket passer, tweeted:
I will be playing my college football for Coach Sumlin at TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY!! GIG EM!!


Kevin Sumlin must be thrilled about having Allen. While Manziel has been quiet about his future, many think the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will leave early for the NFL. Obviously, Allen still has to sign his letter of intent next February, but keeping him will give the Aggies a big-time player to compete for the starting quarterback spot down the road.

The Aggies lost Jameill Showers to transfer, but still have redshirt freshman Matt Davis, who enrolled early last spring, and junior Matt Joeckel on the roster. They'll also add three star quarterback Kenny Hill this summer. ESPN 150 member Kohl Stewart might not make it on campus because he could go pretty high in this week's amateur baseball draft. That makes Allen's commitment that much more important.

One thing that has to be encouraging for Sumlin, is the fact that Allen wanted to play in the SEC because he wants the challenge of playing the country's top defenses.
"If you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best. A lot of quarterbacks come out of the Pac-12 and Big 12, where they throw the ball around, but they don't play against as good of defenses. A&M does the same thing those programs do on offense but they do it against the best defenses in the country. My dream is to someday become an NFL quarterback, and I want the best training and the best preparation for that. That's in the SEC."

That move to the SEC just keeps working out for A&M.

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