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January 29, 2014

Countdown to Signing Day: Ags attack OL problem

With National Signing Day rapidly approaching, AggieYell.com looks at five points of emphasis in Texas A&M's 2014 recruiting class:

Issue No. 1: Address deficiencies on the offensive line.

Even with Cedric Ogbuehi deciding to stay in Aggieland for his senior year -- which may have been as important a recruiting job as Kevin Sumlin had this year -- the offensive line situation was not a good one before the recruiting kicked into high gear for 2014.

Much to their good fortune, Ogbeuhi's return means the Aggies will have four returning starters on the line, with senior Jarvis Harrison, junior Mike Matthews and sophomore Germain Ifedi. There's no certainty who will play right guard, and with the exception of Ben Compton at center, there's not much depth behind the starters. Garrett Gramling proved he's a capable left guard during two starts and in relief during the Chic-fil-a Bowl, but major holes remain for a backup left tackle or right guard.

The options on campus were not promising: Jeremiah Stuckey was undersized and disappointing last offseason, which led to a redshirt, and Kimo Tipoti has struggled in his first two years on campus. Ishmael Wilson and Joas Aguilar both redshirted, and Aguilar is coming back from a back injury. Joseph Cheek has been a respectable backup for two seasons at tackle, but could he handle a full-time job? When the reserves were in last year, Cheek was at left tackle, Gramling at left guard, Compton at center, heavily undersized Caden Smith played right guard and walk-on true freshman Ryan Linblade was the right tackle.

The need for help on the line, both for the present and the future, was pressing. To the credit of the Aggie coaching staff, they addressed it aggressively. Two highly-rated junior college transfers and a carry-over from the 2013 class are already on campus, with three more linemen with plenty of room to develop on the way.

The first addition to the class, J.J. Gustafson of Dallas Jesuit, was actually part of the 2013 class but did not sign last February as he recovered from a knee injury. Now at full strength, Gustafson -- who had offers from the likes of Oklahoma, Clemson, Nebraska and Michigan last year -- is back up to around 280 pounds and has plenty of room to grow on his 6 foot, 6 inch frame. With his solid technique and very long arms, he could become a capable right tackle.

The next addition was a Tank. Kealvin Davis of Garland Lakeview Centennial committed to A&M on Jan. 28, 2013, after the Aggies' Junior Day.

"He was one of the first offers from Texas A&M in the class of 2014 and it's due to his feet," AY's Jeff Tarpley said of Davis. "You won't find a more mobile offensive lineman in the state this year, especially in terms of his ability to move laterally. He's can get to the second level quicker than just about anyone and he can get out quickly when he pulls and traps. His first step is more akin to that of a great defensive tackle's than it is an offensive lineman's."

Davis slimmed down into the 250 pound range last year as he began to rebuild his body, much like Gustafson did. With his athleticism and flexibility, he could play either guard or tackle at the next level.

Athleticism was what drew the Aggies to their next offensive line commit, Manvel's Koda Martin. Martin, who committed on June 9, 2013, chose the Aggies over SEC foes Auburn, Alabama and LSU, as well as Texas. Another big body at 6 feet 6 inches tall, Martin didn't play tackle in high school because he was needed as a tight end and defensive end. Martin and his father, coach Kirk Martin, knew his future was as a lineman, and A&M's success churning out quality tackles was a selling point.

"They've had Luke (Joeckel), and now Jake (Matthews) is moving over there to take over for him. I can see (Cedric) Ogbuehi moving over to replace him next year after Jake goes to the (NFL)," Kirk Martin said. "Koda could move in and play for two or three years and, hopefully, head on to the NFL."

Martin, who is up to around 270 pounds, will likely need a redshirt season to add additional weight and learn the fine points of playing on the offensive line. But with his quickness and lateral movement, he's a tantalizing prospect as a tackle in two years.

The most game-ready freshman is likely Zach Ledwik of La Grange, who exploded onto the scene last summer and committed to the Aggies a week after Martin. After barely registering during his junior season, Ledwik ended up as a member of the Rivals250 and a four-star prospect by the time the final set of rankings were released in mid-January 2014.

"When an offensive coach comes by to see him, they fall in love with him," said La Grange head coach Matt Kates. "Every single offensive line coach this spring except one has offered him on the spot after seeing him in 45 minutes of skill drills in the spring. He's 6 foot 5 and he's grown to 270 pounds. He has hip flexibility and athleticism. He's rare.

"It's one of those deals that as offers started getting thrown out there, more started coming in. He had offers from five BCS conferences and work of mouth spread."

Ledwik could prove to be the prize of the recruiting class, as he has many of the same characteristics as Matthews and Joeckel. While he may redshirt in 2014, he could be a factor in the two-deep at tackle in 2015.

While the Aggies have four talented prospects they can redshirt next season, they knew they would need immediate help as well. They got it in the former of two highly-regarded JUCOs, Jermaine Eluemunor of Lackawanna Community College in Scranton, Pa., and Avery Gennesy of East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Miss. With these two big bodies, the Aggies hope they have their right tackle and depth issues handled.

Eluemunor, who had been committed to UCLA and Arkansas before finally settling on the Aggies in late October, is already massive at 6 feet, 6 inches tall and 300 pounds. He largely played right tackle before arriving at A&M, but has also played guard. Offered by 21 schools, including Alabama, FSU and Ohio State, Eluemunor brings good quickness, strength and a good deal of still-untapped potential (he grew up in the United Kingdom and didn't play football until his sophomore year of high school).

Gennesy, the most recent addition to the class when he committed on Nov. 28, 2013, is even bigger than Eluemunor. The 6 foot, 5 inch, 315-pounder had offers from Ohio State, OU and Georgia before deciding on the Aggies. The best player on a very good EMCC line, Gennesy is a bruiser who likes to get his hands on people and push them around. If he doesn't end up as the starting right tackle this year, he could easily move inside and take over for Harrison in 2015.

There remains one potential piece to the puzzle that would cap of a strong offensive line class in terms of numbers and potential: Braden Smith of Olathe, Kan. Smith, a four-star and member of the Rivals100, is the top-ranked player in the state of Kansas for 2014. Another big body at 6 feet, 6 inches tall and 280 pounds, Smith is likely the strongest offensive linemen in the class and simply devastates opponents. Listed as a guard by Rivals.com, he has the potential to play outside as well. Smith is down to A&M, TCU and Auburn, but is playing is cards close to the vest as he plans to decide on national signing day.

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