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August 11, 2013

AggieYell Mailbag

Each week, AggieYell.com's Mark Passwaters takes questions from readers and responds to them in the AggieYell Mailbag. Here's this week's offering:

Q: 1) By the time you write this, who are the players that have come in and surprised you by the work they did over the summer?

2) Do you believe we will utilize our RB's more this year than last?

3) What aspects of the team or who will you be seeking to watch over the next few weeks of practice? (Hustlin' One)

A: These are all really good questions, so let's take a look at all of them.

1) The answer, for me, are two freshman receivers and a quarterback. Laquvionte Gonzalez and Ricky Seals-Jones didn't play wide receiver full-time in high school, so I figured it may take a little time for them to get comfortable playing a new position. Looks like that's not the case; both of them have looked comfortable and very capable to this point. I now think they make an impact week one as opposed to a little later in the year. The quarterback is Matt Davis. Davis worked with Kevin Murray over the summer and looks like a vastly improved quarterback.

2) Probably so. A&M can go five deep and you've got three really outstanding guys -- Ben Malena, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams -- at the top of the rotation. If A&M wants to see Johnny Manziel run less and make sure the freshmen wideouts are able to blend in easily, this may be the best way to do it.

3) I'm going to be watching the defense. Can Nate Askew win a starting job? What role will the freshmen defensive backs play? Who are the backups at defensive end going to be? These are all unanswered questions and could be very important for the Aggies if they're going to make a run at an SEC title.

Q: Like to hear the thoughts on where things stand with Tony Brown and Jamal Adams. (slixey)

A: Like a lot of people, I was very surprised to hear Tony Brown was in College Station Saturday night for A&M's first fall scrimmage. That's a pretty big deal for A&M, who have been trying for some time to get the 5-star corner to visit with no success. In fact, it seemed like he had visited everyone but A&M recently, so his presence was an unquestionable positive. Brown is playing things very close to the vest, but it seems like the same three programs -- A&M, Texas and LSU -- are the favorites to get him. With his sister going to LSU, they probably have the inside track, but that's not insurmountable.

In the case of Adams, on the other hand, it's going to take an awful lot to pry him from Florida. His Godfather, Joker Phillips, is on the staff and he's had the Gators at the top of his list for quite some time. The Aggies are likely fighting with Texas and Ole Miss for second on the list and may have even slipped behind both, but they'll get their shot to change his mind Sept. 14.

Q: Who has been the biggest standout freshman on offense/ defense so far? (Salty Tx AG)

A: On offense, it's either RSJ or Gonzalez; both have been superb. Sebastian Larue has also impressed and Jeremy Tabuyo is well ahead of where I expected him to be as well. On defense, I'm going to go with Isaiah Golden over Noel Ellis, but not by much. Golden is already a beast in the middle of the line and has the strength to hold his own right now; Ellis is a smooth pass defender who is utterly fearless when it comes to making tackles. He's going to be a good one.

Q: What will Robinson and Stansbury bring to the table this year? Do Points or Arnold play? (DriverD)

A: Well, Ivan Robinson was out running sprints and cutting the other day, and we learned later that they're hoping he'll be ready to go for Alabama. If Golden, Justin Manning and Hardreck Walker are performing as well as I think they are, that will mean he'll have time to get back into the swing of things at a relaxed pace. Stansbury is the starter at defensive end right now and it doesn't look like anyone's close to pushing him; he's looked pretty good so far. Both Points and Arnold are going to have to push the Taylor twins significantly here in the next couple of weeks if they're going to see playing time. Otherwise, Brandon Alexander may get used when A&M gets well down into the depth chart as the other two redshirt.

Q: Is it naive, or perhaps even stupid, to think (or even hope) the NCAA is going to wrap up its investigation in three weeks time? Is an NCAA investigation not a long process? (Hurting_10toes)

A: The NCAA does not exactly have a track record of being the swiftest entity in the world when it comes to investigating things. It took nearly four years to conclude the Reggie Bush situation, and both Bush and Pete Carroll were gone by the time they did. The Oregon case, which was as open and shut as it got with Willie Lyles, was kicked around for more than two years before the NCAA did very little to the Ducks. The Miami case, another one where a smoking gun was evident, has been going on for nearly three years and has been bungled to the point where probably nothing will happen to the Hurricanes. It may well be that the NCAA hasn't even started a serious investigation into the Johnny Manziel situation until the 2013 season is over -- and he's on his way to the NFL.

Q: Looking ahead a bit, but where does AJ Hilliard fit in next year with our returners and incoming recruits? (6.William.Bs)

A: That's a real good question. Hilliard was supposed to be a middle linebacker at TCU and that's where he seemed to fit at A&M, but if you look at the depth situation, that may not be the best place. Donnie Baggs, Justin Bass, Shaun Ward, Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Reggie Chevis will all return next year, while Steven Jenkins and Nate Askew will be gone and Tommy Sanders will be a senior at outside linebacker. The Aggies will be very young and inexperienced on the outside next year, and Hilliard's size and speed may make him a better fit as a SAM or WILL. If Hoza Scott fails to qualify, the odds of Hilliard moving to the outside will probably become very good.

Q: Has the rug been pulled from our season because of the allegations against Johnny? Any update on Raven and Everett? (CHUCK70)

A: No and no. As said a little earlier, the NCAA doesn't move quickly in any case -- and they're not going to find very many willing subjects on this matter. They'll have a hard case to make, and frankly, the players are more concerned with other matters. As for Raven and Everett, the investigation into them is still ongoing and no discipline has been announced.

Q: When is the next Rivals grading? Who do you expect to pick up stars? Allen? Ledwik? Koda Martin and JJ should benefit as well but I've noticed if you don't play the Rivals game with summer camps they have a tendency to ignore you. And that might be justified considering a season is about to be played. (TMGLouisiana)

A: The next round of Rivals ratings will be released starting Aug. 19, so it'll be a couple weeks from now. After torching The Opening and the Rivals 5-Star Challenge in Chicago, I would be stunned if Kyle Allen didn't get his fifth star. He's the best quarterback in this class and should be a 5-star. If Ledwik's film is seriously looked at, he should be upgraded to a 3-star at least, and Tarp believes he may be the best tackle prospect in the state. I think a pair of JJ's -- Jarrett Johnson and Jamal Jeffery -- could get a bump, but getting a fourth star for Johnson may prove to be a bit tough.

Q: Just one question: Would the team that was on the field today after having five practices, beat the team that was on the field last year after having five practices? If so, it's gonna be a helluva good football season! (jimsluder)

A: Wow, talk about a loaded question. It's really hard to say, because five practices in last year, A&M didn't have a quarterback. They also didn't have a defensive tackle; Spencer Nealy was still an end. Of course, we know what happened later, but there was a lot of confusion at this point in 2012. This year, things are a lot more settled. You have a quarterback, your defensive line is pretty much set and your secondary is solidified. So I would say yes, this team would beat last year's at the same time. But what I can't answer yet is whether they'd beat them at the same time in October or November, when A&M became the best team in America. And that's the one that really matters.

Q: Who are the new Fr. that we may be overlooking that could end up as quality contributors this season? (glenner09)

A: You mentioned Alex Sezer in your question, and the longer he's out there running with the second team, the more I think he'll be a player this year. He's almost certainly going to play on special teams. I'm not at all convinced that Jeremy Tabuyo won't be a factor this year; he's been better than expected. Brett Wade's going to play and, if Shaan Washington plays like he did the other day in practice, he'll be tough to keep off the field.

Q: Compare JFF (last year this time) to Matt Davis now. How much of a difference? (pblocker12)

A: At this point last year, Manziel wasn't overly impressive in quickgame 11-on-11 play that we saw, but we could see his accuracy had improved in passing drills and we all knew about his ability to make plays with his feet. NOBODY, of course, had any clue what was coming, but we kept hearing reports that, "Hey, this guy is pretty good. He does some crazy stuff."

Davis has a cannon for an arm; always has. The question was his accuracy and decision-making. His accuracy, like Manziel's, has gotten better from the spring. Another area where I see some similarities is in the 11-on-11, where he's still a little hesitant to let it rip and will pull the ball down and run instead. And, like last year, we're hearing the "Hey, this guy's looking pretty good," except this time it's Davis they're talking about. Manziel has a skillset that we may never see again and has looked outstanding all spring and into the summer, so this is not to say Matt's on the same trajectory as his now-legendary teammate. It does, however, give you an idea of why he appears to have become the odds-on favorite to win the backup job and be the man taking first team snaps in spring 2014 (if Manziel leaves, of course).

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