The spring began with 3 quarterbacks vying for the open quarterback position left by none other than Johnny Manziel. We have Matt Joeckel (the veteran), Kyle Allen (the #1 pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class), and Kenny Hill (the dual threat).
Although the media continues to say the drop off between Johnny and his successor will be exponential, one first needs to look at the mastermind behind it all, KDS. Sumlin has found himself coaching up quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, and Johnny Manziel. Between them they boast Superbowl championships, NCAA championships, Heisman trophies, and NCAA passing records. Either Sumlin keeps getting lucky, or he is simply that good. And who is tasked with coaching them up and calling the plays this season? That would be the young, up and coming Jake Spavital who has also coached Case Keenum along with Brandon Weedon, Geno Smith, and Johnny Manziel. Under his tutelage Manziel passed for more yards, more touchdowns, and a higher completion percentage than his 2012 Heisman trophy winning season.
Expect the offensive production A&M put up in 2012 and 2013 under Manziel to continue in 2014. Remember that only 18 months ago, hardly anyone knew who Johnny Manziel was. Crazy to think but he was just a kid trying to replace Ryan Tannehill and get a shot at leading the Aggies into the SEC. Except the media had tabbed Jameill Showers as the presumed starter following spring ball. Sumlin allowed the QB race to play out through the summer and fall camp, tabbed Manziel as the starter, and the rest is history.
Sidenote: The recruiting junky in me always likes to point out that Johnny Manziel was a 3 star recruit overlooked by most programs. Kenny Hill is a consensus 4 star prospect and Kyle Allen is a 5 star.
Like the quarterback race 2 years ago, expect Sumlin to follow a similar pattern this year. All three quarterbacks should get equal opportunities to run with the first team offense and prove themselves throughout spring and fall camp. And if history is any indication, expect whichever quarterback Sumlin picks to be very successful in his inaugural year.
First we look at Matt Joeckel. Matt redshirted his freshman year and enters his 5th year with the program. In the midst of quarterbacks transferring for playing time, Matt has proven to be the reliable constant in the ever changing depth chart of Aggie quarterbacks. He also brings experience to the group that neither quarterback has. In the season opener against Rice, he started while Johnny Manziel served his half game suspension. He was more than efficient, completing 73.7% of his passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. He also received playing time against SMU, Auburn, and Vanderbilt bringing his 2013 season stats to 293 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 59.5. The biggest knock against his opportunity to start next season is his eligibility. With only 1 season remaining before graduation, the coaches have to give a good long look at Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen as the future of the program.
Kyle Allen enrolled in January and is the prize of the 2014 recruiting class. He was the consensus #1 pocket passer and figures to be very much in the mix to start. He brings an elite arm that has brought comparisons to Aaron Murray and has already received praise from Sumlin and Spavital. “He’s doing well. I’m always impressed with how quarterbacks in this day and age are so used to running spread and no huddle offenses and how they communicate and operate the whole deal. I’m pleased with what Kyle Allen is doing out there,” Spavital said. “He’s making some big time throws as well. His head is spinning just a little bit. But I’m very pleased with what I’m seeing out there.” Although he doesn’t have a year under his belt like Kenny Hill, he has seemed to pick up the playbook quickly and now just needs it to translate into game speed. However, this is why the coaches will let the competition to start play out through fall camp. It allows Kyle Allen to catch up to Kenny Hill, should he put in the necessary time over the summer.
Kenny Hill roles into spring camp as a true sophomore. The coaches bypassed redshirting him in 2013 to give him valuable game experience. Due to the lackluster 2013 season and A&M playing in too many close games, he did not receive the amount of playing time a coach would hope for. Despite this, he did make appearances in the Sam Houston State, SMU, Vanderbilt, and UTEP game. And with limited time, he threw for 183 yards and a touchdown on only 22 attempts. Even more impressive was his 72.7 completion percentage. Hill also worked with the first team in December while Johnny Manziel attended award ceremonies. This extra practice time has proven the most valuable as he enters spring camp as the presumed frontrunner. “Going on to Kenny Hill, Year 2 of the system, you’re going to keep getting naturally better at it. He’s more and more comfortable each day, and that just started last year when he entered fall camp,” Spavital said. Practice reports indicate that he has impressed both coaches and teammates with his confidence and composure leading the offense. He has the youth and eligibility that Joeckel lacks, but the experience and confidence of being in the system for a year that Allen has not yet gained. At this point, the starting position is his to lose.
The final piece to this quarterback competition involves scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. Right now A&M only has three with Joeckel, Allen, and Hill. Should Allen get the start, many people expect Hill to transfer to gain playing time somewhere else. But if Hill wins the job, Allen can redshirt. This would provide two years of separation between him and Hill with also a chance to learn the playbook and get comfortable in the system. It will be a heated competition throughout spring and fall camp. But if Hill continues to improve and perform at a high level, expect the coaches to name him the starter for 2014.
Prediction: Kenny Hill
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