Aggies receivers among nation's best

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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COLLEGE STATION -- Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope holds a share of the school record for most catches in a season. But he envisions shattering the 72-catch barrier this season.

"It would be nice, definitely, to hit triple figures," Swope said after a recent practice.

Such a lofty goal would be more achievable if Swope wasn't regularly running routes at the same time as teammate Jeff Fuller, who also grabbed a school-record 72 passes last season but finished with more yards (1,066) and touchdowns (12). Those two returning record-holders are the focal points of a deep, experienced A&M receiver corps that many rank among the nation's best.

A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill called it a luxury to throw to a collection of receivers that ESPN college football analyst Bob Davie described as second to none among Division I teams.

A&M's projected starters at the position (Fuller, Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu) head into this season with 76 or more career catches and a fourth, Kenric McNeal, grabbed 23 passes last season in a reserve role.

During fall drills, teammates and coach Mike Sherman have cited encouraging efforts from young receivers Nate Askew and Malcolme Kennedy, as well as cornerback Dustin Harris, who has worked at both positions. Sherman said Harris, the Aggies' fastest receiver, "has a tremendous burst off the ball" and will be used in some offensive packages as well as on defense.

A&M safety Trent Hunter acknowledged daily headaches in trying to keep the Aggies' collection of receivers in check during practices.

"I'd put them up against anybody as far as talent goes," Hunter said.

But talent does not always translate to productivity. That is where Swope said a regular diet of daily competition -- with "friendly" bragging rights on the line during drills -- helps hone players' focus.

"We all have high expectations for one another and hold each other accountable," Swope said. "We're all out there competing, seeing who can go the longest without dropping a pass and doing the right things on the field with blocking and assignments. We battle out there. But I feel like that carries over to the field."

Heading into the team's Sept. 4 opener against SMU, Fuller (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) owns bragging rights as primary playmaker. The senior from McKinney is the only player in school history with more than 1,000 receiving yards in a single season and has grabbed at least one pass in all 33 games he has played, with 28 career touchdowns.

Nwachukwu, who battled foot and ankle injuries last season, received the most improved offensive player award from coaches at the end of spring drills. Swope, like Fuller, is on the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football's top receiver.

Yet there is a feeling in Aggieland that some fresh weapons will surface this fall to deepen the rotation. Askew (6-4, 223), a sophomore listed as Fuller's backup on the A&M depth chart, has no career catches but has drawn praise from Sherman and Tannehill during fall drills.

But the primary weapons remain Fuller, who stretches the field, and Swope, a speedy possession receiver who works the underneath routes.

Tannehill cited a high trust factor with Fuller that allows him to "put the ball in an area... and know that either he'll come down with it or no one will come down with it." Fuller said that trust factor grew during the summer during multiple one-on-one throwing sessions with Tannehill.

"Ryan and I have been getting our timing right, doing one-on-ones and competing, pretty much, the whole summer," Fuller said. "Competition brings out the best in everybody."

A&M is counting on that to be the case with its veteran receivers, regardless of who holds the school record for single-season catches at the end of the 2011 season.

Spreading the wealth

Texas A&M's top four receivers return from 2010, including two starters who shared the school record for most catches in a season (72). Many consider this A&M receiver corps the best in school history and one of the nation's best in 2011. Some key members, with last year's statistics:

Player

Catches

Yards

TDs

Career

catches

Career

TDs

Jeff Fuller

72

1,066

12

163

28

Ryan Swope

72

825

4

91

5

Uzoma Nwachukwu

36

407

4

76

10

Kenric McNeal

23

202

2

29

3

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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