The Texas A&M football team is completing their fall camp this week. Next week will be game prep for the season-opening contest against SMU. The players are trying to fight through assorted bumps and bruises while the coaches are trying to form the depth chart.
This week represents the last week for the players to show the coaches that they deserve to see significant action on the field this year, as next week will be all about getting the starters maximum reps to prepare for the Ponies.
Let's take a look at some of the latest news and notes from fall camp.
One of the more interesting developments of fall camp has been the number of defensive players getting a look on offense.
Junior CB Dustin Harris has received some considerable playing time at WR and has impressed the coaches. Mike Sherman commented that Harris would be their fastest WR, which is saying something considering Kenric McNeal and Ryan Swope are high-4.3-to-low-4.4 guys. Harris can make something happen with the ball in his hands as evidenced by his punt return for a TD and pick-six in 2010.
Freshman safety Howard Matthews has evidently earned a spot in the RB rotation. Matthews played RB at League City (TX) Clear Springs High School so it is not a stretch for him. Sherman liked what Matthews has to offer around the goal line. Also, do not be surprised if you see redshirt freshman OG Jarvis Harrison on the DL in some goal-line situations. The coaches love his power.
The battle for the backup QB spot behind senior Ryan Tannehill continues into the last week of two-a-days. Jameill Showers, Matt Joeckel and Johnny Manziel are all fighting it out for the No. 2 spot.
Showers always draws rave reviews in practice, but Joeckel is the one who always seems to step it up when the lights go on in scrimmages and spring games. Manziel is a guy who can really make something happen when the play breaks down and he is forced to create.
If A&M gets a comfortable lead over SMU and the coaches decide to get the backups some experience, my bet would be that Showers is the first guy off the bench. I think Manziel will redshirt and has a very good shot at winning the job next spring after Tannehill has moved on to the NFL.
One of the more pleasant surprises of fall camps has been the development of sophomore WR Nate Askew. When he was in high school, the 6'4", 220 Askew won his district track meet in the 100 with a time of 10.51.
With Jeff Fuller sitting out a couple of practices with a tweaked hamstring, Askew impressed the coaches by consistently getting open and making plays against the first-team defense. Malcome Kennedy has continued his consistently strong play since the spring. Expect him to be in the top six in the WR rotation.
Word is that the coaches believe they have three future NFL first-round draft picks on the OL on campus in sophomores Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and redshirt freshman Jarvis Harrison. Joeckel started all 13 games last year at LT and is arguably already the best LT in the conference.
The OL jelled and the Aggies started their six-game win streak when Brian Thomas moved to LG and Matthews took over the vacated starting spot at RT. Harrison is fighting it out with senior Evan Eike and sophomore Shep Klinke for playing time at OG. Harrison lost about 15 pounds from last year and is athletic enough to stand flat-footed under a basket and dunk a basketball.
In 2010, the Aggies struggled mightily on special teams. The Aggies did not have a consistent punter, and when receiving punts the Aggies struggled at times with holding onto the ball. In 2011, the question is, will the ball ever get back to the punter?
The Ags have had issues in consecutive scrimmages with poor snaps leading to multiple blocked kicks. Considering the momentum swing that a big play on special teams can bring to a game, the Ags need to get this sorted out before they open with SMU. The Mustangs have been the best team in the country over the past two years blocking FGs and extra points.
There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about who will replace Butkus Award winner Von Miller at OLB. It looks like it is going to be the same guy that everyone thought was going to replace him to begin with.
Sophomore OLB Damontre Moore saw extensive playing time in 2010 when Miller was recovering from an ankle injury. Moore responded with a season that earned him Defensive Freshman of the Year awards from various outlets, with 40 tackles and 5.5 sacks. During the spring and offseason, Moore had various off-the-field issues and senior OLB Caleb Russell moved into Miller's vacated starting spot.
Moore has really stepped it up this fall camp and has forced his name back into consideration to replace Miller. Do not be surprised to see Moore start against SMU.
Every season one or two freshmen arrive on campus and impress the coaches enough to earn playing time. This fall is no different, as multiple freshmen have forced the coaches to forgo their redshirt years and put them on the field immediately.
Brandon Alexander, Floyd Raven, Shaun Ward, Donnie Baggs and Tyrell Taylor should all suit up and play against SMU on September 4th. Alexander and Raven were to be expected as they were two of the higher-rated members of the recruiting class. Ward was a highly thought-of recruit but arrived on campus carrying some bad weight and was expected to redshirt. Ward has been unblockable at times this fall even getting the better of Luke Joeckel.
Taylor is the big surprise. He is undersized at barely 200 pounds. The prevailing thought was that he would get a redshirt year to add weight. Tayor had other ideas and his strong play has forced the coaches to seriously consider playing him. Taylor has an elite first step that has drawn comparisons to a young Von Miller.
Baggs participated in spring drills and may end up starting at ILB. The coaches have been impressed with how well he has picked up the defense.
When LaMarc Strahan did not qualify out of Blinn Junior College, it was a decided blow to the Ags' depth at NG. Many felt that Jonathan Mathis was going to have to move from his starting spot at DE back to NG to add some depth at the position. Kirby Ennis has returned from his redshirt year and his play has impressed the coaches so much that he may start at NG.
With Eddie Brown and Ennis at NG, the Ags appear to be set at the position for 2011.
The 2011 Texas A&M football team appears to be unaffected by all the SEC and realignment talk. Mike Sherman has kept the players focused on the task at hand and that is beating SMU on September 4th. The senior leadership on this team is evident by the lack of commentary on the SEC in the various media interviews. This is a mature team that appears to be concentrating on what they can control.