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January 29, 2013

Showers' departure starts battle for the backup job

Texas A&M backup quarterback Jameill Showers emerged as the man to beat coming out of spring practice for the starting quarterback position at Texas A&M last season. Showers could throw the sideline routes and made all of the right decisions in spring ball, frequently finding slot Ryan Swope underneath and helping redshirt freshman Mike Evans emerge as a star on deeper routes. He was accurate and protective of the ball and the gap between him and his pursuers may have been greater by the end of the spring than it was at the beginning.

Months later, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel had not just bypassed Showers but had taken the college football world by storm. His vision, quick feet, and decision making set him apart not just from Showers but from all of the other quarterbacks in the college game. Manziel set A&M and SEC records in leading the Aggies to a 11-2 season as well as the Heisman Trophy.

Showers settled in as Manziel's backup, hitting 27 of 44 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. However, short of injury, there was no way that Showers could hope to wrest the job from Manziel. Graduating early so he'll have two years to play (he redshirted during his freshman year), Showers announced yesterday that he was transferring in hopes of finding a school where he could start.

Showers gave A&M fans and coaches some comfort last year in knowing that an experienced player who was rated as the starter at the position coming out of the spring was the backup in case something happened to Manziel. He would have provided that same level of comfort this year, but now he is gone. Now, a question mark looms over the backup quarterback position going into spring drills and although the number two guy may not see the field much, they could use their time to become the heir apparent to Manziel after he leaves A&M (either by declaring for the draft or using up his eligibility).

The number three guy at the position last season was junior-to-be Matt Joeckel. The younger brother of All American tackle Luke Joeckel, Joeckel didn't see much playing time last season, throwing just 11 passes. Joeckel was rated as a three star prospect by Rivals.com coming out of high school. He is big (6 foot 4, 230 pounds) but lacks the mobility of Manziel and even Showers, being more of a pure drop back passer. Joeckel also lacks Showers' arm but his footwork is very good and as a result he was very accurate coming out of high school, hitting 66% of his passes as a senior. He is a guy that is going to work underneath and in the middle of the field, and also stay in the pocket in doing so.

The experience of Showers and Joeckel enabled them to hold off redshirt freshman Matt Davis and, as a result, Davis redshirted during his freshman campaign. Davis was recruited by former head coach Mike Sherman due in large part to his arm strength, as Davis can throw the sideline and come back routes that were such a big part of Sherman's pro style offense. Sherman stuck with Davis after Davis missed all of his junior year in high school with a leg injury and Davis committed to the Aggies at A&M's spring game prior to his senior season.

Davis is easily the most athletic of the candidates seeking to replace Showers. Not only is he an accomplished runner (with 4.4 speed in the forty who ran track) but also played safety in 7 on 7 tournaments in high school and showed incredible range at the position. In fact, some concluded that he should be moved to another position to get him on the field early. His athleticism would make him a worthy heir to Manziel in terms of running zone read and speed option or simply taking off from the pocket if all of his receivers were covered. In addition, Davis is a leader and was a force in helping to keep the 2012 class together after Sherman was let go and kevin Sumlin became the Aggies' new head coach.

Davis graduated early and enrolled at mid term in 2012 to get a head start on the position. However, running a new offense and his relative lack of experience compared to the other candidates meant that he was never a serious threat to them. Davis is working hard to improve his footwork and mechanics, which is the first step to him becoming a more accurate thrower which is a necessity in this offense. In addition, he needs reps to enhance his decision-making skills. Physically, he has everything else needed to compete for the position.

The Aggies are also bringing in a couple of freshmen in Southlake Carroll's Kenny Hill and Houston St. Pius X's Kohl Stewart. Stewart certainly has the physical tools, with an arm that is strong enough to throw a fastball 95 miles per hour and garner him serious looks from Major League Baseball. However, Stewart played at a private school and didn't face the quality of competition that dictates he makes the type of quick, snap decisions that he'll have to at the next level.

In contrast, Hill started for three years at powerhouse Southlake Carroll and led them to the Class 5A Division II state title as a junior. Hill is closer to Davis in size and although he lacks Davis' arm strength, he has enough power to make all of throws required. In addition, Hill probably has the best footwork and delivery of any quarterback on the staff right now (completing about two-thirds of his passes as a senior) and played in a similar offense in high school. He's also tough, also serving as the primary ball carrier for the Dragons although he's not the runner that Davis is. Best of all, he doesn't make mistakes and throwing just three interceptions in 14 games as a senior and only three of them in ten playoff games as a junior and senior.

However, Showers, Davis, Manziel, and Joeckel were all mid-term enrollees at A&M, which gave them a head start at the position but even then they could not adjust to the speed of college football during their freshman years (all of them wound up redshirting). Hill will not be enrolling until the summer, and so will have even less time to learn and make up ground on his competitors than those four players did.

Overall, the battle for number two will begin in the spring and it will be a case of a proven veteran (albeit one who lacks much game experience) versus a talented youngster who's more athletic and eager to prove himself with a couple of freshmen waiting in the wings. Much depends on Davis' ability to improve his passer in game conditions and perhaps any changes A&M makes in terms of adjusting the offense to suit their talents.


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