Head Coach Kevin Sumlin
Following last season’s success under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin’s air raid offensive system, Texas A&M — a traditionally run-the-ball first, ask-questions-later program — has transformed, almost overnight, into any young receiver’s dream.
Behind sophomore quarterback and defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, A&M has become a magnet for receiving talent. With the program vaulting from No. 19 to No. 12 in passing yards per game and fifth to first in its own conference last season alone, College Station caught the attention of the pass-happy national audience.
Additionally, the Aggies graduated three key contributors at the position and returned only one consistent starter, basically leaving the unit in a cloud of uncertainly till further notice.
“We’ve got to find a couple more players on the perimeter to help Mike Evans, who had an outstanding season last year,” Sumlin said. “I look for him to continue to get better.”
Texas A&M’s commitment list on National Signing Day reflected such a sentiment as A&M signed five wideouts and one tight end, two of which would enroll a semester early and participate in spring training.
According to Manziel during mid-July’s SEC Media Days, both he and coaching staff are enthusiastic about the influx of receiving talent joining A&M on the field for fall camp, which starts this coming Monday.
“We’re really looking forward to working with the new freshmen that are coming in,” Manziel said. “We can sit here and do things in the summer and they react one way, but really the true test is in the fall. You get around the coaches, you get around the playbook, you get around the schedule of two-a-days, and some people step-up and some people don’t.”
Gigem247 broke down the A&M wide receiving corps and tight end situation with fall camp starting just next week — here are our results.
QB Johnny Manziel and WR Ryan Swope
WR Ryan Swope: Over the course of the past three seasons, Ryan Swope has emerged as a Texas A&M fan favorite, capturing the attention of Kyle Field time and time again from his position in the slot. Swope’s reputation as Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target and Johnny Manziel’s relief valve paid off as well, as he graduated holding school records in season receptions and receiving yards as well as career receptions. After the Arizona Cardinals selected Swope in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, the young receiver retired from the sport due to concussion issues.
WR Uzoma Nwachukwu: Despite puzzling announcers with his catchy name (not to mention national writers trying to spell it), Uzoma Nwachukwu found his place in A&M history as he joined the list of four receivers who caught 120 or more passes for 1,500 or more yards with ten or more touchdowns. Following the NFL Draft, where he went unselected, Nwachukwu signed with Houston and is currently vying for a roster spot with the Texans.
WR Kenric McNeal: While never a dominant contributor within the receiving corps, Kenric McNeal found his stride during his senior season under Sumlin’s air raid offense. Starting in seven games and catching 19 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns, McNeal evolved into a consistent threat for Johnny Manziel.
WR Mike Evans: The young wideout exploded onto the scene last season, snaring five touchdowns on a team-leading 82 receptions for 1,105 yards during his 13 starts. The 6-5, 225-pound athlete developed dramatically over the course of the season, establishing a strong bond with fellow redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. After earning a position on the 2012 Freshman All-SEC team, Evans looks to gain national recognition through another exemplary performance.
Who’s Slotted to Fill the Holes?
WR Malcome Kennedy: As a significant role player last season — earning a start in three games while catching 26 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns — the rising junior set himself up to garner a stronger presence within the air raid offense. Entering fall camp, Malcome Kennedy remains the favorite to replace Nwachukwu as the consistent starter.
WR Mike Evans
TE Cameron Clear: A former Tennessee enrollee, Clear was dismissed from the Volunteer program following a felony theft charge during his freshman season, joining Texas A&M after a semester at Arizona Western Community College. At 6-6 and 270 pounds, Clear obviously has the athletic build to be a solid run-blocking tight end and has shown incredible pass-catching ability over the course of spring training and the summer offseason.
Incoming Prospects: For co-offensive coordinators Clarence McKinney and Jake Spavital, the unfathomable amount of wideout talent pouring into A&M’s receiving corps this offseason must have been mind-blowing. Ranging from big-time athletes such as Ricky Seals-Jones or JaQuay Williams to quick and versatile speedsters like Sebastian LaRue or Laquvionte Gonzalez, the Aggies’ list of possible incoming receiving contributors goes on and on (almost literally), each of which is eager to prove himself during fall camp.
— By far the unit I worried about the least over the offseason. Even with Swope, Nwachukwu and McNeal graduating, A&M remains beyond loaded at wide receiver. At almost every position (and possibly every position) on the receiving corps — from Evans to Clear — there is arguable NFL talent. And with a quarterback like Manziel throwing the passes combined with the threat of dangerous rushing attack (I’ll get to that later), the A&M air raid offense should be clicking from day one.
— One of the more intriguing storylines entering fall camp for the receiving corps is which one(s) of the incredible incoming talents will receive a redshirt almost no other program in the country would be forced to give them? Each and every one yearns to play with a quarterback talent such as Manziel; “Johnny Football” is quite possibly (and very likely) the reason many of them considered A&M in the first place. So the question is, who does Sumlin bench for a season with Manziel possibly halfway out the door already?
— Another strong debate entering fall camp is undoubtedly which incoming freshman will surge into the starting lineup, or at least earn enough recognition by the coaching staff to garner serious playing time? Could multiple rookies find themselves as starters? It’s all up in the air due to the massive influx of talent entering the program at the position.
— My one serious concern lies with the currently vacant hole Ryan Swope leaves in the offense. Last season, the senior may not have been Manziel’s favorite target, but he earned considerable recognition for consistently “bailing” out the young gunslinger from serious trouble on a number of occasions. In my opinion, Swope’s ability to do so linked directly to both his immense experience and his position in the slot, where he ran somewhat shallower routes than those of Evans or Nwachukwu. Someone will have to shoulder that responsibility during fall camp, and whoever that may be will emerge as a key variable in the offense’s capacity to sustain drives. Personally, I believe the leading (and best) candidate may be Cam Clear.
TE Cameron Clear
— Speaking of Cameron Clear — A&M’s top tight end talent since the likes of Martellus Bennett (and even then…) — the juggernaut of a man captured the attention of the coaches like no one else during spring training. Sumlin, in addition to many other staff members, raved (as much as Sumlin can rave) about Clear’s athleticism and versatility. Even then, reporters questioned the head coach on how he had never utilized a tight end in his previous offenses at Houston. Sumlin’s response? He had never been able to recruit such high-caliber talent at Houston. That tells me one thing — Clear is going to play a major role in A&M’s air raid system next season. Guaranteed.