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July 1, 2013

Tarp's Monday Thoughts

Texas A&M currently has 14 commits in the class of 2014 but is a long way from finishing up. The Aggies have plenty of spots available but have a relatively balanced class with multiple commits in the offensive line, linebacker, and defensive back. In addition, they've got significant interest from several top flight defensive ends even though they've only gotten one commit at the position so far. More importantly, with the exception of offensive line (a down year in the state as far as finished prospects go), A&M's taking numbers at positions where there is a lot of depth (particularly defensive end and defensive back).

So, here's a look at the class right now and how A&M looks to finish 2014 on the offensive side of the ball:

Quarterback…the Aggies are already finished here with Rivals 100 and Arizona product Kyle Allen. You can't under estimate the significance of landing a guy like Allen who's the very definition of a national recruit. In addition, the Aggies got a guy who would have been the top passing quarterback in the state of Texas when there were literally none of those guys available. Not only that, A&M picked up the top one in the COUNTRY. Allen was a national recruit who not only turned down the Notre Dames of the world but also programs on the West Coast like UCLA which had a good inaugural season under Jim Mora Jr., also ran the spread, and offered an opportunity for early playing time. Even so, the Aggies were able to sell a depth chart bereft of Johnny Manziel after this season, their own success offensively, and a pedigree that includes a Heisman winner and a coordinator (Jake Spavital) who just had a quarterback drafted in the second round in Geno Smith.

Now, facing a future without Manziel, the Aggies will have two guys on campus in Allen and Kenny Hill who had at least one season where they completed better than 70% of their passes in high school and cranked up better than five to one ratios of touchdowns to turnovers. In a passing offense such as what A&M runs, accuracy and error free football is paramount at the position. Now, Jake Spavital will be able to dial up just about any route combination for any situation.

Running back..we've previously talked about A&M being no worse than four deep at the position with Ben Malena, Trey Williams, Brandon Williams, Tra Carson, and James White. However, the Aggies have showed a propensity with the elevation of Clarence McKinney to co offensive coordinator to use a lot more two back sets. Thus, it's more important than what you would think for A&M to nab two running backs in the class and they may start doing this going forward.

A&M already has a commitment from Lake Travis' Varshaun Nixon who is a versatile back already playing in a spread offense. He is a solid runner but he can also catch and pass pro, both of which are important for an offense such as A&M's. However, the Aggies have offered a number of other backs across the country. A&M's targets include five star rated runners such as Joe Mixon out of California and Leonard Fournette out of Louisiana, both of which are long shots. A much better bet closer to home is Newton's Kevin Shorter. Shorter is down to A&M and Arkansas and he has a cousin who just signed with the Hogs. The Aggies may be competing for a national title; new Arkansas' head coach Bret Bielema simply hopes to show improvement by going to a bowl but that's going to be difficult with their SEC East opponents being South Carolina and Florida. He'll be taking official visits to both schools during the fall and deciding after that but unless he's really close to his cousin, the Aggies should have more to offer.

Shorter is rated as a three star by Rivals.com but quite honestly I feel like he's the best back in the state. He's explosive and runs a sub 11.0 100 meters in track. Even though he plays at a Class 2A program, he's playing against people that can run (although they may not have great size) and had 11 games last year where he had a run of 44 yards or longer. Quite honestly, he reminds you of some of the guys that Oregon has taken like De'Anthony Thomas or LaMichael James that can make a cut, hit a hole, and just keeping going until they get to the end zone. He's a real home run hitter and other than Trey Williams A&M doesn't have anyone else like that at the position.

Receiver….A&M took so many receivers in the 2013 class that it's actually working against them. Prospects can look at a depth chart and understand that the Aggies have a number of talented people that will play right away and make it difficult for them to see the field. Skill position prospects really want to contribute right away because they have the physical abilities to do so more than quarterbacks or offensive linemen and the Aggies are just going to have a hard time in that regard for 2014. As a result, of the 12 prospects that they have offered, most of them are looking elsewhere.

Right now, the Aggies have Lufkin's Jamal Jeffrey as a slot. He's a playmaker who won't impress you with his straight line speed but is elusive with great vision and should be able to work the middle of the field. Outside, out of state prospects like Dominque Booth of Indianapolis and Speedy Noil of New Orleans are giving A&M a longer look because they want to play in passing offenses. Booth was supposed to have made a decision by the end of May because he's an early graduate and the Aggies are in his top six; however, he hasn't made an announcement yet. Noil has A&M in his top two along with USC and likes the fact that A&M throws the ball. With USC perhaps on the downside due to probation and high school teammate Gerald Willis also feely strongly about A&M, Noil would be a huge get. Like Shorter, he's an explosive guy who runs away from people. However, his skill set also includes great elusiveness, hand eye coordination, and leaping ability (41 inches). He's very natural when it comes to adjusting to balls in the air and catching them with his hands. He would be a great supplement to the class that the Aggies just landed.

Offensive linemen…in a down year for offensive linemen in the state of Texas, the Aggies had a two track methodology. Initially, A&M offered a number of out of state prospects who were in the 6 foot 5, 300 pound plus category. Most of them have already committed elsewhere although there are two top guys that still have the Aggies in the mix. Arizona four star Casey Tucker has great technique and moves well laterally but needs to add some weight. Kansas' Braden Smith has visited A&M unofficially but doesn't do many interviews. However, all accounts have the Aggies near the top of his list and he's expected to visit A&M officially at some point. He's a physical specimen who has great feet and could be a anchor type tackle for any program. In addition, A&M is now interested in California product Damien Mama, a 360 pound monster who dominated the Rivals Five Star Challenge on his size alone but has surprisingly good feet.

However, the Aggies needed some numbers for 2014 and didn't put all of their eggs into one basket. In state, they targeted guys with good feet and frames and arguably landed the three top tackle prospects in the state…Lakeview Centennial's Kealvin Davis, Manvel's Koda Martin, and LaGrange's Zach Ledwik. In particular, Ledwik may well grade out as a four star once Rivals is able to examine his film. He's got great flexibility in his hips and knees and moves laterally as well as anyone you can hope to find. He's gained 25 pounds since last season and should play at over 300 pounds in college. If Martin and Davis do the same and the Aggies land one of the out of state monsters that they are chasing, then you are looking at a class that could potentially produce four guys at 6 feet 5 inches or taller with great athleticism that will be playing at over 300 pounds in college. In addition, it is a smart, versatile group with guys that can move inside if need be and play multiple positions.

Overall, it's a down year in state at most offensive positions. Even so, for the most part A&M has managed to exceed expectations by going out of state where they can to add difference makers at some positions and winning head to head battles with neighboring programs for the best talent at others. They've done a great sales job with people like Kyle Allen who they literally beat the world for. However, they also evaluated well at other positions… their tactics on the offensive line left them with a backup plan that garnered talent that fit their evaluations instead of the reaches that we might have seen under past regimes. It's the type of recruiting that produces enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to maintain or improve A&M's talent level at most spots which is the key to producing a consistent top ten program.

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