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January 13, 2014

Monday Thoughts: Here come the midtermers

The 2014 midtermers are in school and will be available for Texas A&M's spring practice which is anticipated to start in March. It's a group that looks to be far superior to the group that A&M brought in last January even though that group was much larger in numbers.

Due to a lack of depth generated by graduation and a small class in 2012, virtually all of the mid termers got extensive reps throughout the spring. However, none of the 2013 mid term class really contributed many noteworthy moments during the season except for tight end Cameron Clear who came in on short yardage and goal line situations and was an effective blocker. Even linebackers like Brett Wade and Reggie Chevis who saw extensive playing time last March and April weren't heard from in August and wound up redshirting.

For the most part, the class was an example of how hard it is for true freshmen to garner playing time regardless of when they enroll due to a lack of experience, physical maturity, and even quality nutrition. There are always exceptions such as offensive tackle Luke Joeckel who enrolled in January 2010, wound up starting in the spring at the most difficult position to play on the offensive line (left tackle), and exited A&M as the number two pick in the NFL draft. Even so, the Aggies have brought in a number of mid term quarterbacks over the years and all of them wound up redshirting as freshmen including first round draft pick Ryan Tannehill and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Even so, the 2013 mid term enrollees included just one four star rated prospect in their midst and that was Fork Union receiver JaQuay Williams. In contrast, this class is star studded (everyone except juco receiver Joshua Reynolds is rated as a four star prospect or better) and has a chance to be little bit different. Here's a breakdown of each of the signees to show you why.

Quarterback Kyle Allen: He's the first five star rated quarterback that A&M has brought in since 2002 when the Aggies signed Reggie McNeal. However, Allen has a total different skill set than McNeal and he's being brought in to challenge for the starting quarterback job that was vacated by Manziel's decision to turn pro.

Allen has top end footwork and mechanics and as he showed under duress at the Army All American game, he's capable of making good decisions and not turning the ball over. He's capable of making breath taking throws such as the 40 yarder that he dropped right down a barrel on the right sideline to Baylor commit K.D. Cannon between a safety and cornerback. Allen also appears to be single minded and dedicated to his craft. Before watching the Army game, I would have given the advantage in the battle to replace Manziel to Kenny Hill due to his experience and ability under duress. However, Allen appears to be cut from the same cloth. It's going to be interesting to watch these quality prospects battle for the starting spot as Allen attempts to adjust to the speed of the college game.

Offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor: This is a massive football player with a nasty disposition, an SEC sized body who had offers from programs such as Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, and UCLA (he was previously committed to the Bruins and Arkansas before flipping to A&M). The junior college product was lured by the prospect of replacing Jake Matthews at left tackle before the announcement of the return of Cedric Ogbuehi pushed him to right tackle. Eluemunor can play tackle and he also slid inside to guard this past season. The key for Eluemunor will be his footwork to protect against outside rushers. If he can do this, then it will enable A&M to keep starting left guard Jarvis Harrison inside and maintain additional continuity in the line.

Offensive lineman Avery Gennesy: Gennesy played left tackle at East Mississippi Community College and it's going to be interesting to see if he has the foot speed to be able to stay outside. Like Eluemunor, he has a massive body and should start out challenging for playing time at right tackle in the spring. Despite the fact that Gennesy and Eluemunor are already on campus for 2014, they may play an even bigger role in 2015 when the Aggies lose three offensive linemen and ease the transition for a 2014 freshman class that doesn't have to play so early in their careers.

Offensive lineman J.J. Gustafson: A three-star rated prospect who had offers from all over the country in the 2013 class. However, Gustafson had an injured knee that required surgery and an extensive rehabilitation period. As a result, Gustafson did not sign with the 2013 class but waited to enroll this month. He has a good base and feet but needs to be in a college strength/nutrition program in order to build himself up beyond his current 275 pounds. With the return of Ogbuehi and the signing of Eluemenor and Gennesy, there's going to be less pressure for Gustafson to see the field right away which is a good thing for both the team and him long term.

Defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson: Kevin Sumlin's housewarming gift to new Longhorns' coach Charlie Strong, Henderson flipped to A&M just hours after reaffirming his commitment to Texas. He is a natural nosetackle who has the body and relentless for the position. Given A&M's issues at the position last season, he should come in and compete for playing time in the spring immediately with backup Hardreck Walker. If he can push Walker and make him better or push him out of the way, A&M will be on its way to having something that was lacking last season and that's a rotation that will keep its people fresh and more resistant to injury.

Receiver Speedy Noil: The Aggies brought in a number of quality true freshmen last year and none of them really made much of a dent in playing time. They struggled to learn the nuances of the routes in the Air Raid and being able to read defenses and adjust their routes accordingly. However, none of them were fast as Noil save Quiv Gonzalez. Noil also is a threat after the catch due to his great balance and coordination. He can play the slot but also should have enough size to play outside as well. Either way, he's a very versatile performer and he's probably more polished as a receiver than Gonzalez was at the same point in his career.

Receiver Joshua Reynolds: another basketball player who was good enough to earn a scholarship as a football player. Reynolds needs to learn to get separation and stick his routes when doing so. However, all of the other attributes that you would associate with a guy making the transition from hoops are there…the ability to catch the ball with his hands, the ability to adjust to the ball in the air, the ability to catch it at the top of his jump, and the ability to win one on one battles down the field over smaller corners. Reynolds is probably in the same position from a technique standpoint as Derel Walker who came to A&M as a junior college transfer two years ago and didn't do much as a junior. However, he became a much better route runner as a senior and a reliable outside target for Manziel. If Reynolds can pick up on things sooner, he should be contribute more quickly.

Overall, the 2014 group of mid-termers is more talented and has more guys that have bodies who should be able to play right away on either line. It features tremendous ability at the skill positions and again at spots where the competition consists largely of players who haven't been on campus that much themselves. Although most eyes will be on Manziel's potential replacement, the talent infusion should make for a very interesting spring at multiple positions where the Aggies certainly could use help. It's also a testimony to the recruiting prowess of the A&M staff in that they landed one of the better group of midterm enrollees in the country as they continue to improve the overall talent level of the program.

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