Last year’s big freshman class of receivers now in spotlight for Aggies
Replacing Christian Kirk and Damion Ratley seems a daunting task for Texas A&M’s young receivers.
Kirk, who was drafted in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals this spring, had 71 catches last season despite being double teamed and working with a pair of freshman quarterbacks and a so-so running game. Ratley, taken in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns, was a home-run threat, averaging 23.1 yards on 30 catches, six of them for touchdowns.
It might take several receivers to fill that void, and A&M certainly has candidates.
A&M had eight freshman receivers last year combine for 103 catches for 1,243 yards and six touchdowns. Jhamon Ausbon led the way with 50 catches for 571 yards and started every game. But even Hezekiah Jones, who had only two catches in 12 games, and Quartney Davis, who didn’t have a grab in eight games, have caught the eye of first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher.
At times the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Davis has been running with the first team during the drills the media are allowed to watch in training camp.
“Quartney is really progressing,” Fisher said after Monday’s practice. “Ausbon is doing a great job. Hezekiah has lost some weight; he’s quick and fast and twitchier again. All the young guys I like. [Klyde] Chriss can catch; he can run. There’s nobody I’ve been disappointed in. They’ve got to do a lot better, but they’ve improved a lot since spring.”
Ausbon, who became just the third freshman in program history to catch 50 passes, overshadowed nice starts by Camron Buckley and Roshauud Paul. Buckley had 17 catches for 282 yards with three touchdowns, matching Ausbon’s TD production. Paul, who played in every game, had 16 catches for 187 yards, playing in the slot as Kirk’s understudy.
“I’m definitely going to try [to step into Kirk’s spot] and make some big plays for this team,” said Paul, who along with Buckley talked to the media for the first time since coming to A&M on Tuesday.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Paul made plenty of big plays in high school at Bremond where he was the center of attraction, leading the Tigers to a 47-0 record and three straight state titles as their starting quarterback.
Texas Football’s Mr. Football for 2016 made the transition from Class 2A to major college football by making a 14-yard catch in last season’s opener at UCLA at the Rose Bowl, adding catches in seven other games.
“The pace of the game is different, a lot faster,” Paul said. “But I was able to adapt and learn to play a role and not be the star guy on the team.”
Paul should have more chances to make plays in the passing game this season, and he’s also returning punts. He had a 24-yard return in his lone return last season.
“I think I can play a huge role [in special teams],” Paul said.
Buckley’s role is taking advantage of any pass thrown his way.
“I feel my role is just to make plays, which is everybody’s role,” Buckley said. “Everybody doesn’t have to be a super hero, but when it comes your way, you’ve got to make a play.”
Buckley had some of those moments last year. He had a 39-yard catch against Alabama and two catches for 88 yards and a TD against Mississippi State.
NOTES -- Paul said he draws a crowd when he returns home. “I try to keep myself on the road and don’t try to do too much to draw too much attention,” he said. ... Paul said it’s much easier to focus on learning the nuances of the offense this season with a year’s experience. “I know more of how to get open or how to do plays,” he said. ... Both Paul and Buckley gave credit to Kirk for making them better. “Christian was a great leader and a great role model,” Paul said. “He helped the younger guys be able to [know] how to become a leader and how to lead this team and step up.” ... The Cleveland Browns’ Jarvis Landry, a former LSU player, is the NFL player Buckley models his game after. “He’s a physical receiver. He knows his role. He just makes explosive plays,” Buckley said. ... Former Miami and NFL linebacker Jessie Armstead is Buckley’s uncle. Buckley also is close with Deion Sanders, calling him “family.” Buckley’s father, Cedrick Buckley, played with Armstead at Dallas Carter, winning state in 1988. “I still talk to [Armstead] every day,” Buckley said. “I talk to each of them, because they push me every day. They don’t sugarcoat it --they give it to me straight because they know where I want to be.” ... The SEC Network’s pregame show SEC Nation will originate from Kyle Field for Fisher’s Aggie debut Aug. 30 against Northwestern State. Host Laura Rutledge, analysts Paul Finebaum, Marcus Spears and Tim Tebow and reporter Lauren Sisler will be on hand.