A year ago, Texas A&M created the biggest stir at SEC football media days by bringing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to Alabama for morning interviews before he hopped an afternoon flight to Los Angeles for the ESPY Awards.
During Tuesday’s session, A&M’s three-player contingent included the school’s record-setting punter. Understandably, there was waaaaay more elbow room surrounding the dais for punter Drew Kaser than there was last year for Johnny Manziel.
But don’t get the impression that A&M coaches envision a heightened role this year for Kaser because the Manziel media circus has relocated to Cleveland, leaving the Aggies with one of the most unsettled quarterback situations in the SEC. Kaser, who averaged an SEC-best 47.4 yards per punt last season, plans to keep his attempts to a minimum again this season. So does A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
“He’s a real weapon when we have to use him,” Sumlin said of Kaser, a Ray Guy Award candidate. “But I hope you don’t see him a bunch.”
Kaser and Sumlin are counting on sophomore Kenny Hill, a Southlake Carroll graduate, or Kyle Allen, a freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz., to make that happen. The only two scholarship quarterbacks on the A&M roster were listed Tuesday as co-starters on the Aggies’ depth chart, with a final declaration on Johnny Football’s replacement expected in the final two weeks of fall drills.
Until then, mum is the word about who has the upper hand in the race to make his first career start Aug. 28 at South Carolina.
“I didn’t come here to tell you who the quarterback was going to be,” Sumlin said in Tuesday’s opening remarks. “That will play itself out. Both these guys have shown the ability to be resilient. Both have been through it a little bit as high school and younger players.
“If you’re the quarterback at Southlake Carroll, you’ve been through pressure because you’re supposed to win the state every year. Kyle Allen has been through a lot with Elite 11 and recruiting. But neither of them has been through what they’re going to face at South Carolina. Whoever the quarterback is, I’ll be his only friend at that point.”
Between them, Hill and Allen have combined to throw for 183 yards and one touchdown at the college level. All of the yards came from Hill, who completed 16 of 22 passes in reserve duty last season.
Under Manziel, A&M posted the two most prolific yardage seasons in SEC history: 558.5 yards per game in 2012 and 538.4 last year. So there will be a lot of scrutiny, and a lot of expectations, on whoever emerges to keep the offense productive enough to offset a defense that allowed an SEC-worst 32.2 points and 475.8 yards per game last season.
Without question, Allen impressed coaches in spring drills. Without question, Hill’s arrest on March 28 for public intoxication was ill-timed (it happened during spring drills) but does not have to be a deal-breaker in the fall quarterback derby. If the Aggies have identified an internal favorite, no one dropped a hint Tuesday.
Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said he has “a lot of confidence” in either player to keep the Aggies’ offense humming at a winning level.
“Absolutely,” Ogbuehi said. “Both of them are doing a great job. They’re young but they’re still being vocal. It’s impressive to see young guys step up and lead.”
Kaser said each player “brings a different aspect to the table” but did not elaborate. He predicted both “can be very successful in the SEC.”
Defensive back Deshazor Everett praised the competitive nature of each candidate.
“They both challenge you,” Everett said. “That’s what you need as a quarterback. You need somebody that’s going to go out there and compete.”
But a team needs only one quarterback to start. Sumlin will make that call in August, with the winning candidate stepping into Manziel’s old job. That does not mean expectations will be comparable.
“I understand there’s not going to be another Johnny Manziel,” Sumlin said. “The way he played the game, that’s all part of it. Now, does that mean we change offensively? Maybe.”
The one certainty: South Carolina will have little or no videotape to watch of either quarterback running Sumlin’s up-tempo offense before the teams meet in their season opener. Asked if that could be a problem, South Carolina defensive tackle J.T. Surratt shrugged.
“We don’t know what they’ve got,” Surratt said. “We’re getting ourselves in shape. We know it’s going to be a fast-paced game.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said: “We’ll watch a little tape of their games last year, trying to generally get their scheme of things. Then we really worry about ourselves more than the opponent. But hopefully we’re prepared for almost anything.”
In six weeks, this race will be over. Until then, Sumlin and his players are not sharing anything of substance about the next A&M quarterback. Which is quite a change from how everyone treated the A&M quarterback the last time the Aggies attended an SEC media day.