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September 26, 2013

Aggie receivers know blocking is a key to playing time

Malcome Kennedy's 16-yard touchdown reception against SMU in Texas A&M's 42-13 win was relatively simple. Kennedy caught a pass at around the line of scrimmage, made one move and scored untouched.

The ease of Kennedy's score, however, was made possible by fellow receivers Mike Evans and Sabian Holmes. Holmes wiped out one SMU defender with a textbook cut block, while Evans simply shoved senior corner Kenneth Acker completely out of the play.

The blocks continued a tradition of solid blocking from A&M's receiving corps that started last year, highlighted by Ryan Swope's demolition of a Mississippi State defender on a run by quarterback Johnny Manziel in the Aggies' 38-13 win. Head coach Kevin Sumlin said the willingness of A&M's receivers to block, when many other spread offenses have receivers who won't, is based on a simple fact.

"If you don't block, you don't play," he said. "That's probably the easiest way to motivate people, because they do want to play."

Last year, the Aggie coaching staff started showing highlights of big blocks from the game the previous week and put up a board noting where receivers ranked in terms of quality plays without the football. The message was clear: there's more to playing in the A&M offense than catching the football or watching Manziel run.

"Coach (David) Beaty does an excellent job," Sumlin said. "We chart those (blocks). Our guys take pride in that. You get a lot of outside criticism of spread offenses being soft. I think our guys take that personally."

One of the best blockers on the team is its best-known wideout -- Evans, who has picked up the mantle left by Swope after his senior season.

"You guys only see (Evans' blocking) when we score," Sumlin said. "I see it every day."

While the Aggies are known as a high-scoring, pass-heavy offense, the mantra of no block, no play is one that is drilled into receivers from their first day on campus.

"The biggest transition for a receiver coming into this offense ... is understanding how to play without the ball," Sumlin explained. "That's the difference in a six or seven yard runs to a huge gain ... the ability to block."

If the younger receiving corps has any questions about the need for them to block for the offense to be successful, a trip to the film room is about all that's needed.

"If you're in a program where last year, you watch video of Ryan Swope, and you watch video of Mike Evans, and Malcome (Kennedy) ... They get all the notoriety because of the big plays on ESPN, but if you sit in here and watch, their effort when they're on the backside or you've got big plays or something's going on, it says a lot to the young players on what to do," Sumlin said.

When the Aggies entered the SEC last year, many pundits and some coaches snickered at Sumlin's "gimmick" offense and figured a bruising SEC schedule would shut it down. After one season leading the league in scoring, having a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and a fast start on the scoreboard in 2013, opponents are starting to get the same message Beaty has instilled in his receivers -- soft doesn't play.

"I don't hear a lot of people saying that (the Aggies are soft) about our team," Sumlin said. "There's probably a reason for that."

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