While former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was busy undergoing the most important job interview of his life at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week, his former program was busy preparing for life after "Johnny Football."
The Texas A&M Aggies will be the first SEC program to kick off spring practice this year when they open camp on Friday, Feb. 28. Filling the gaping hole left by Manziel will be the top question facing head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies' staff.
Are they prepared for life after Manziel?
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Veteran Matt Joeckel, rising sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen will be the three primary contenders vying for the job, and all three have attributes that are attractive to the Aggies.
Joeckel is the veteran.
The 6'4", 234-pound rising senior started in place of Manziel in last year's season opener versus Rice while Manziel served a half-game suspension, and wasn't bad in completing 14 of 19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. He saw spot duty as a backup for the rest of the season, tossing another touchdown pass in a win over Vanderbilt.
He doesn't have the upside like Hill or Allen, but is a veteran presence that can provide stability to the offense if it needs it. In other words, he's a proven backup that Sumlin can rely on in a pinch, but one of the two others may be a better long-term options either as the starter or as a backup if needed for more than spot duty.
Hill is the dual-threat who can step in and run a similar offense as the one that Sumlin and the Aggies were successful with while Manziel was running the show. Hill, a 6'1", 215-pounder from Southlake, Texas, threw 20 touchdown passes and rushed for 22 more earning Texas Gatorade Player of the Year honors in high school in 2012.
He saw very limited action as a true freshman, but completed 72.7 percent of his passes (16-of-22 passing) for 183 yards and a touchdown, adding 37 rushing yards as well. Sumlin proved that he's willing and able to adapt his offense to the style of play of his best quarterback when he named Manziel the starting quarterback prior to the 2012 season, but if he fell in love with what dual-threat quarterbacks bring to the table, Hill will be his guy in 2014.
But the candidate with the most upside is Allen, who came to College Station as the top pro-style prospect in the class of 2014. He threw for 8,201 yards and 86 touchdowns over the last three seasons at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., and has the arm strength and accuracy to be a star once he becomes accustomed to the speed of the college game.
He's essentially Texas A&M's version of former Houston quarterback and Sumlin disciple Case Keenum. He's not going to win any foot races, but has tremendous pocket presence and the ability to extend plays behind the line of scrimmage.
The three quarterbacks—all of whom have positive attributes that make them attractive—make Texas A&M well-positioned to handle the loss of one of the most dynamic players in college football history.
Sumlin already proved that he can adjust to whichever quarterback emerges, and has a boatload of weapons at running back to ease the transition. Even without Mike Evans, a talented receiving corps will return that includes Class of 2013 super-recruit Ricky Seals-Jones.
Experience? Check. Versatility? Check. Potential? Check.
Sumlin has pretty much every base possible covered in the quest to replace a superstar, which coupled with his own versatility as a coach has set the program up well.
So who will win the job?
Since Allen and Hill have so much upside, it's hard to imagine a scenario where one isn't the starter when toe meets leather in Columbia versus South Carolina on Aug. 28. It's also unlikely that the battle will be settled this spring.
Jameill Showers exited spring 2012 as the unquestioned front-runner for Sumlin, but Manziel pushed him during summer workouts and won the job shortly after Sumlin's first fall camp in College Station started.
Expect the job to be wide open this summer, but don't question the offense. Sumlin has the options, mindset and weapons to hit the ground running this fall no matter who's taking the snaps.
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