SEC: Joseph Cheek

Things to watch as Aggies open camp

August, 1, 2014
8/01/14
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M begins preseason training camp today. In about four weeks, they'll take the field at South Carolina to open the 2014 season. Here are some things to watch throughout camp:

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Bob Levey/Getty ImagesFormer three-star recruit Kenny Hill, a sophomore, played in five games last season. Could he be the successor to Johnny Manziel?
1. The quarterback battle: Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen? That's the question that has been asked and will continue to be until coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital make a decision on who the starting quarterback will be on Aug. 28 at South Carolina. Hill, a sophomore, has slightly more experience after seeing some playing time in a backup role last season. Allen, the true freshman, enrolled early in January to catch up. Allen had a solid spring, as did Hill until an arrest for public intoxication caused him to miss the final two scrimmages and the final week of spring practice. But both players were told they were on even footing entering summer 7-on-7 workouts. How much each has progressed in the past three months will be displayed early on in training camp. Expect a decision midway through August.

2. Defensive line depth: The Aggies lost two starting defensive linemen for off-the-field reasons: defensive end Gavin Stansbury (left team for personal reasons) and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden (dismissed after two arrests). For a team that struggled to stop the run last season, that doesn't help as the unit tries to find the quality depth necessary to succeed in the SEC. Fortunately for the Aggies, they get two players who missed spring football because of injuries back for training camp -- sophomore defensive ends Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall, both of whom saw playing time last season. There are also several veterans (Julien Obioha, Alonzo Williams, Tyrell Taylor) and youngsters (Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Zaycoven Henderson) not to mention a few incoming recruits to help the unit, but the Aggies have to find answers quick to improve on a disastrous 2013.

3. Safety play: Sumlin hasn't been shy about saying it and it's true: the Aggies have to get better play from their safeties. They return three players who started last season -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt. Matthews got positive reviews from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder in the spring. Keep an eye on Devonta Burns, who saw time in the spring at safety and nickel cornerback, as someone who could be in the mix. And an influx of 2014 recruits could help here as well.

4. Fabulous freshmen: The Aggies' 2014 class was a top-five haul for a reason. They brought in some big-time talent, so don't be surprised if some of those freshmen make waves quickly in camp. Receiver Speedy Noil already impressed in the spring and will look to build on that this month. Five-star defensive end Myles Garrett is the highest-ranked player nationally the Aggies have signed since Reggie McNeal in the 2002 class. With depth concerns on the defensive line and Garrett's college-ready physique, it's safe to say he'll find a way on the field in short order. Henderson, who was an early enrollee, likely figures into the rotation at defensive tackle. And of course, all eyes are on Allen at quarterback to see if he can win the starting job.

5. Right side of the O-line: Sophomore Germain Ifedi, who started all of 2013 at right guard, saw much time at right tackle during spring drills and is listed as the starter there heading into camp. If that holds, the battle on the offensive line -- a unit that returns four of five starters -- will likely be at right guard where Joseph Cheek saw first-team action and junior college transfer Jermaine Eluemunor saw second-team work in spring. Veteran guard and starter Jarvis Harrison, who missed spring because of shoulder surgery, should be ready to go at left guard. He has a capable backup behind him in Garrett Gramling, who started two games last season and saw virtually all the first-team work at left guard this spring. Left tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi) and center (Mike Matthews) is set in stone.

A few other notes:

" Redshirt freshman cornerback Victor Davis, who was arrested on a shoplifting charge in his hometown of Rosenberg, Texas, last month, is still serving an indefinite suspension. Sumlin said on Wednesday that Davis still has some things to do internally in order to get back in the team's good graces.

" Sumlin noted that every one of the class of 2014 recruits is qualified academically and on campus. Kealvin "Tank" Davis, the Aggies' offensive tackle recruit from Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial, was the last player Texas A&M was waiting on in that regard and he arrived on campus Wednesday and will be ready to go. This is the second consecutive year the Aggies have not lost a signee to qualification issues (the 2013 class only had one player who didn't make it to campus, Kohl Stewart, who was a first-round pick in the MLB draft).

" The Aggies will practice in helmets only Friday and Saturday, have meetings only on Sunday (no practice), helmets and shoulder pads on Monday and Tuesday and they'll have their first full-padded practice on Wednesday. Thursday will be their first two-a-day practice followed by a single practice on Aug. 8, then a scrimmage on Aug. 9.

Texas A&M spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
4/30/14
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Texas A&M Aggies:

1. The O-line and running game are in good shape: These might be the two deepest areas on the squad. The Aggies have four solid scholarship running backs, and the offensive line depth was illustrated while starter Jarvis Harrison sat out with a shoulder injury, paving the way for Garrett Gramling and Joseph Cheek to work with the first team.

2. The defensive line depth will be better: The Aggies returned all the defensive linemen who contributed last season plus bring an influx of talent from the 2014 recruiting class. The unit needs as much help as possible, and they'll be able to rotate players this season in order to keep everyone fresh.

3. Terry Joseph's impact is felt: The Aggies have a new secondary coach, and by all accounts he's having an effect on the returning defensive backs. That's one area Texas A&M has to improve big time, and the potential is there with a lot of experience returning. Joseph is demanding and detail-oriented and so far has been impactful.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill? One of the original three quarterbacks competing for the job transferred (Matt Joeckel) leaving only two standing: Hill, a sophomore and Allen, a true freshman. Hill has the experience edge but got into some offseason trouble, Allen made big strides and has a big arm but still has learning to do. Winner will be named in mid-August.

2. Will the defense be significantly better? It can't get much worse than it was a season ago, when the Aggies ranked last or near-last in the SEC and in the bottom 30 nationally in most major defensive categories. They return nine defensive starters and are adding even more depth, but the level of play has to get better.

3. Who's the next big receiver? The Aggies have produced some top-notch receivers recently. Last season, Mike Evans emerged as one of the nation's best, Ryan Swope preceded him with a stellar record-breaking career at Texas A&M, and Jeff Fuller set plenty of school records himself before Swope. Who will follow in their footsteps at receiver?

One way-too-early prediction:

The offense will continue to be one of the country's best and the Aggies' record won't be drastically different from last season. Many might think that without Johnny Manziel, Evans and Jake Matthews that the Aggies will see a drop-off, but the continued influx of talent will keep A&M winning football games. There will be some growing pains, but another 9-4 season is very possible.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With four returning starters, the offensive line is a position group the Texas A&M coaches feel good about.

But the battle to be the right tackle, the lone starting spot up for grabs, is one of the most intriguing storylines of spring practice.

One name that continues to surface is sophomore Germain Ifedi, who worked at right tackle again on Tuesday when the Aggies resumed practice after taking a week off for spring break.

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Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsRising sophomore Germain Ifedi is angling to be Texas A&M's right tackle, moving outside from right guard.
Last season, Ifedi started every game at right guard. With right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi moving to left tackle, Ifedi has made it clear he's interested in the possibility of following in Ogbuehi's footsteps and sliding outside.

"He likes playing tackle," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said of Ifedi. "We'll see. He's competing, and the way he's playing right now, he really doesn't want to give it up."

Sumlin noted Ifedi's efforts to stay in shape. The 6-foot-5 lineman has tipped the scales as high as 340 pounds in the past but trimmed down when he entered the starting lineup last season. He checked in this week at 327 pounds.

"I was on him a little bit about his weight and he pulled his shirt up and his belly wasn't hanging over," Sumlin said with a smile. "He's catching up with his body."

Ifedi's emergence allows the Aggies to shift players around on the offensive line, including the pair of junior-college transfers who began spring competing for the right tackle job: Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy.

"It's given us an opportunity to really take the two new junior-college guys and put them with the twos so they can really hone in and learn," Sumlin said.

With starting left guard Jarvis Harrison sitting out while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Aggies have also inserted Garrett Gramling -- who started two games at left guard last season -- at Harrison's position for the spring and veteran tackle Joseph Cheek at Ifedi's old right guard spot.

Sumlin stressed that with Harrison, "we know what he can do," and he said he fully expects Harrison healthy and ready for preseason training camp in August. But Ifedi's emergence as a competitor to be the right tackle opens up several possibilities for 2014.

"The thing about the offensive line is you want to create what we call a nickel, and not five pennies," Sumlin said. "The five best guys aren't always the best O-line. [It's] the guys who can communicate and the guys who can play. We'll figure that out.

"I think the experience that Germain is getting at tackle gives us some real different combinations without having to put an inexperienced player on the field right away at South Carolina."

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