August 25, 2010

Freshmen to play big role in A&M's offense

Texas A&M's incoming freshman class wasn't expected to have the same impact as the 2009 class which resulted in multiple starters and 18 members of the class seeing the field. However, some members of the class are already paying dividends and should see extensive playing time even outside of special teams. Here's a look at each member of the class on the offensive side of the ball, what was expected of them coming out of high school, and how they are performing so far this fall.
Quarterback: Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel enrolled early and went through spring practice together. Both got a lot of reps as Jerrod Johnson sat out most of the spring due to shoulder surgery and Ryan Tannehill missed practices due to classes. Showers displayed a great arm, compact mechanics, a beautiful deep ball, and more than adequate mobility in high school. These factors which seemingly put him ahead of Joeckel throughout the spring and the earlier portions of fall camp. However, in recent workouts Showers has struggled with his decision making (he missed his senior season due to a shoulder injury) while Joeckel has been more comfortable in that regard and his mechanics have become more fluid.

Outlook: Both are expected to redshirt and barring injury to one of the veterans, that hasn't changed. After Jerrod Johnson leaves, expect a heated duel to see who will be the backup to Tannehill. If the fall is any indication, that battle will probably go back and forth throughout future camps before a clear cut winner emerges.

back: Mister Jones and Ben Malena, were rated as four star talents coming out of high school by Rivals.com. Malena has showed a great first cut and has handled blocking assignments well with his strength and low center of gravity while Jones is taller and uses his frame to shrug off tacklers.

Outlook: With D.J. Jones leaving the program and Kalvin Guyton being dismissed from the squad, there's an opening for one of the freshmen to potentially step up. However, veterans Bradley Stephens and Jay Tolliver (who sat out fall camp with a hamstring injury) should be able to hold off the youngsters once the season starts due to their knowledge of the offense and what's required from a technique standpoint.

Receiver: Nate Askew has actually provided more help on special teams as he has made a serious bid to be A&M's punt returner with his hands, speed, and surprising ability to make people miss. A leg injury and A&M's depth at receiver has put a dent in his charge for playing time at that position. LeKendrick Williams has been on the field a lot and has a knack for finding space but has had trouble holding onto the ball both as a punt returner and receiver.

Outlook: If Askew is going to play this season, it's going to be as a punt returner. Otherwise, beginning next year, look for him to start making an impact at X receiver. Ditto for Williams except he is more of a natural slot receiver.

Tight End: Prior to arriving on the A&M campus, Nehemiah Hicks was widely considered to be a redshirt candidate and was thought to need a year in a weight program before he bulked up enough to contribute. However, Hicks now probably weighs 250 pounds and has impressed all observers with his blocking and physical play, especially if matched up with an outside linebacker rather than a defensive lineman. The year needed in a weight program was reduced to a matter of a few months and he appears to be ready to go.

Outlook: Veterans Hutson Prioleau and Kenny Brown are better pass catchers right now, but Hicks is improving and creates matchup problems with his size and speed. Once an afterthought, he will now certainly play this year.