SEC: Michael Lamothe

GigEmNation links: OL and tight ends

August, 7, 2012
8/07/12
3:04
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GigEmNation has more coverage of the Aggies:

Sam Khan Jr. writes: The quarterback position might be in question at Texas A&M, but whoever gets the job will play behind a solid and experienced offensive line that will lead the offense.

Tight end impact? Tight ends have not been a big part of Kevin Sumlin's offenses. He hasn't always been able to recruit the type of athletes he can get at Texas A&M, either. Where the position goes in the future starts with Nehemiah Hicks and Michael Lamothe.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One development worth watching this fall will be the role of the tight end in Texas A&M's offense.

With two players, junior Nehemiah Hicks and senior Michael Lamothe battling for time on the field, there are a pair of options that bring good size to the table. But how will they fit into an offense that is predicated on getting the ball to playmakers, preferably those with receiver speed?

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is curious to see how that plays out, particularly with the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Hicks who was injured during spring practice.

"We want to see what he can do athletically, whether he's physically able to handle a 250-260 pound (defensive) end ... how fast he is and what kind of target he is inside or outside, we'll see," Sumlin said. "If we can find a guy like that, it makes our jobs a whole lot easier because you never have to take a guy like that off the field.

"That's why those guys are hard to find and hard to recruit and they get paid a lot of money at the next level. So there's not a whole lot of them walking around. So I'm anxious to see what he can and if he can help us, it'll be a real bonus for it."
[+] EnlargeHicks
Matt Ryerson/US PresswireNehemiah Hicks started seven games last season and caught 12 passes.

Players of traditional tight end size weren't often seen when Sumlin was at Houston, though there was one extensively used in Sumlin's first year, when 6-foot-3, 235-pound Mark Hafner led the Cougars in catches (86) and touchdowns (11) while recording a team second-best 907 receiving yards in 2008.

In Sumlin's final three years at Houston, no tight end recorded more than two receptions in a season, though the small handful that were on the roster were used in part-tim situations. In 2011, the Cougars even used an offensive lineman to line up at tight end on short yardage running plays.

At Texas A&M, there are options with the kind of size desired for a tight end. But Sumlin said the Aggies won't simply put a tight end on the field just for the sake of doing it.

"It's no secret we've used two tight end sets in the past, whether they were on the line or in the backfield or whatever they've been to create some problems for the defense,” Sumlin said. “So if we can get two guys that can play, then we'll play them. It doesn't make sense to put him in just to say he's in the game. If he can't block anybody or if he can't get open, it doesn't do us any good. If we have two effective guys, we'll use both of them."

The position took a bit of a hit in terms of depth when junior tight end Hutson Prioleau decided to leave the team, though Lamothe and Hicks are listed at No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart, respectively, entering fall camp. Last season, Lamothe proved versatile by lining up both at fullback and tight end, catching 14 passes for 109 yards. Hicks caught 12 passes for 106 yards and shared starting duties with Lamothe and Prioleau, starting seven games and playing in 12.

"Both are very talented guys that have played a lot here,” offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. “So we're excited how we can fit them into the offense and find ways to use them. But they're doing a great job for us right now."

Kingsbury said he's looking for someone who is versatile in what they do within the offense.

"They've got to be able to do more than just put their hand on the ground or stand up," Kingsbury said. "You want a good mix of both, so we'll see if they can fit in to what we're doing."
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.

Top performer: Tight end

May, 10, 2012
5/10/12
3:30
PM ET
Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with tight ends.

Past producers:
The SEC returns six of the top 10 statistical tight ends this season. Orson Charles led all tight ends in yardage with 574 yards and had five touchdowns on 45 catches. The No. 2 tight end returns this fall, and this race might be the most wide open of all the top returners by position.

Here's the conference's top returning producer at tight end:

Chris Gragg, Arkansas: He was second among tight ends in catches (41) and receiving yards (518) last season, and had two touchdowns. Gragg also averaged 12.6 yards per catch last season. In an offense obsessed with throwing the ball, there was no way Gragg wouldn't get a good amount of passes thrown his way. But it's not like Gragg didn't deserve all the attention. The 6-foot-3, 236-pounder is an ideal target for any quarterback, and while he's a big body, he has good speed and is quite agile for his position. With all the receiving talent leaving Fayetteville, Gragg should get even more looks from quarterback Tyler Wilson, and there probably aren't too many people around that program upset by the thought of that.

The SEC returns five more of the top 10 statistical tight ends from a year ago:

Mychal Rivera, Tennessee: He caught 29 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown, and averaged 11.9 yards per catch.

Jordan Reed, Florida: He caught 28 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, and averaged 11 yards per catch.

Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn: He caught 24 passes for 238 yards, and led all tight ends with seven touchdowns. He averaged 9.9 yards per catch.

Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State: He caught 11 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns, and averaged 18.7 yards per catch.

Michael Williams, Alabama: He caught 16 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and averaged 11.9 yards per catch.

This race really is wide open. While Gragg is probably the most physically gifted of the returning tight ends, it's not a foregone conclusion that he'll take home prize of top SEC tight end. Reed, who is a freak athlete, is someone who the coaches at Florida think will be a major factor in the Gators' offense this fall because young quarterbacks tend to shorten throws, and Reed is a solid underneath target. Williams will get more attention with Brad Smelley gone, and Johnson, who won't share time with Marcus Green this year, drew comparisons to past Mackey Award winner Aaron Hernandez in spring camp.

Keep an eye on South Carolina rising senior Justice Cunningham. He played alongside fellow tight end Rory Anderson, who had more yards and touchdowns, but Cunningham doubled Anderson's catch count last season, and gained 142 yards and one score. With Alshon Jeffery gone, expect Cunningham to get more looks this fall.

If Missouri's Eric Waters comes back 100 percent from his MCL injury this spring, he could have a pretty productive season in that offense. Waters is replacing one of the best in Michael Egnew, but one reason Egnew was so successful was because Mizzou loves using its tight ends.

Texas A&M uses its tight ends a lot as well. Nehemiah Hicks is probably the most gifted tight end for the Aggies and started seven games, but is recovering from shoulder surgery. Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau combined to catch 28 passes for 244 and four touchdowns last season.

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