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Texas A&M Football

Elko emphasizes importance of reps as A&M navigates spring football

April 10, 2024
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Playing hurt is a virtue in football.

Players typically don’t have to be virtuous in that regard during the spring, though.

But when a new coach is installing a new system and new schemes, playing hurt can be necessary.

Therefore, Texas A&M quarterback Conner Weigman was active in a 121-play scrimmage on Tuesday. Weigman is still recovering from a broken foot that forced him to miss most of last season.

Weigman is competing to retain the starting quarterback role with junior Jaylen Henderson and sophomore Marcel Reed.

He was out of Kyle Field taking snaps to continue the process of mastering the system of new offensive coordinator Collin Klein.

“He’s not 100 percent,” A&M coach Mike Elko said of Weigman on Wednesday. “He’s not going to be 100 percent coming out of the spring. He’s still recovering from the ankle.

“He’s been able to go. He’s a tough kid. It’s a testament to him that he understands how important it is to get these reps. I think that’s a mindset I’ve been very happy with our kids this spring.”

TexAgs
In two years at Texas A&M, Weigman has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,875 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 160 yards and two scores.

There is little doubt about Weigman’s ability.

Last season, he passed for 979 yards and eight touchdowns before sustaining the season-ending injury in the second quarter of a victory over Auburn.

However, to be at or near his best when the Aggies open the season against Notre Dame on Aug. 31, Weigman must get more comfortable in Klein’s offense.

“It still has to slow down for everybody, him included,” Elko said. I’m a coach, so I don’t know how to sugarcoat this stuff. … but it’s not great right now. They’re not comfortable in it yet.”

Don’t be alarmed.

A&M is just nine practices into the spring. Elko doesn’t expect Weigman or anybody else to have a firm grip on the offense or defense yet.

“That’s part of spring. Just learning how the system works. Taking more and more reps in it,” Elko explained. “The challenge that we’ll have coming out of spring ball is understanding where we are and having a phenomenal summer so that when we get back to fall camp — practice one — we’re 100 days better (and) not taking any steps back. That’s what has to happen.

“I’m not disappointed. It’s just unrealistic to assume nine practices in a brand new offense that it’s going to be humming at the level we need it to be for us to go where we want to go.”

Owens Growin’

Sophomore running back Rueben Owens is making progress toward living up to his vast potential.

A five-star prospect in 2023, Owens rushed for 385 yards and three touchdowns last season while sharing the load with Le’Veon Moss and Amari Daniels.

He demonstrated big-play ability with a 28-yard run against Abilene Christian and a 21-yard run against Louisiana-Monroe. He also caught a pass for 28 yards against Auburn and 24 yards against Miami.

Elko acknowledges Owens as a big-play threat, but he’s looking for Owens to show he can get the tougher yards, too.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Owens eclipsed the 100-yard mark just once as a freshman, rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries vs. ACU.

“I think he needs to just learn how to be a running back in the SEC,” Elko said. “How to get four and five yards sometimes. He does a really good job getting the 30 and 35 yards. That’s his natural athleticism.

“We’ve got to get him to be a little bit cleaner at the four and five yards. That’s what he’s working on. I think he’s getting really, really good at it.”

Corner Stones

Cornerback was a problem area for A&M last season. Issues there were a major factor in the Aggies’ ranking sixth in the SEC in pass defense.

Elko addressed the situation by convincing Tyreek Chappell to return for his senior season, bringing in transfers Will Lee III, BJ Mayes, Jaydon Hill and Donovan Saunders and continuing to develop freshmen who were thrust into action last season.

“I feel good about where we are at corner,” Elko said. “We added a lot of really quality pieces. I think that’s showing right now. (I’m) Happy with that group, how it’s progressing and where the competition is. We’ve got a lot of guys competing for reps. Any time you have that, I think the overall elevates. That’s something that’s really important.”

Elko said Hill and sophomore Bravion Rogers looked good at nickel back. He said Chappell has the flexibility to play nickel and corner.

Strain to Gain

Cohesion is vital for a successful offensive line, but Elko isn’t necessarily looking for a cohesive unit.

Not yet, anyway.

“I think our focus is a lot less on cohesiveness and a lot more on strain,” he said. “Learning how to strain to finish blocks. Learning how to strain through the whistle. Learning how to do things that are really hard and really uncomfortable. I think that’s the nature of playing offensive line well.

“We don’t put a lot of stock right now in cohesion. We want to see kids play harder and block better. That’s the challenge we’ve presented to that group.”

Safety Zone

Kelly Cothern, TexAgs
Entering his junior season, Anderson has accumulated 83 career tackles, 10.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks as well as an interception.

Elko announced junior Bryce Anderson would be a fixture at safety. In previous seasons, Anderson has been used at safety and nickel back.

“We recruited Bryce to play safety,” Elko said. “We always envisioned him being a safety in this defense. He’s not playing nickel. I don’t think he’s a nickel.”

Elko also raved about sophomore Dalton Brooks.

“(Brooks) has taken a huge step forward this spring,” Elko said. “He’s an elite run-and-hit safety. He still has a little bit of a gap to close in terms of processing and understanding everything that we’re doing.

“But I do think he’s got some really elite traits. We’re excited about that one.”

Elko indicated there are many other reasons to be excited about the safety position.

“(Transfer) Marcus Ratcliffe is having a really good spring,” Elko said. “Jarred Kerr is continuing to get better. We haven’t seen (transfer) Trey Jones III yet. He’s still recovering from something that happened during the season. He’s just now starting to get in the mix a little bit.

“That’s not even bringing up the freshmen Myles Davis and Jordan Pride. I think we feel good about where that room is and where that room is going moving forward.”

Touting Transfers

Elko hesitated when asked if any of the 24 transfers brought in had distinguished themselves yet.

He joked that if he praised two, then the unmentioned 22 would be upset.

Not to worry. Elko has been impressed with many more than two transfers.

Kelly Cothern, TexAgs
Nic Scourton led the Big Ten in sacks with 10 as a sophomore for the Purdue Boilermakers in 2023.

“(Defensive end) Nic Scourton is having a really good spring. He’s going to have a big impact on our team,” Elko said. “I think (offensive lineman) Ar’maj Reed-Adams is having a really good spring and will have a strong impact on our team.

“I think there’s an awful lot of kids in competition. I think every secondary kid we brought in, from Marcus Ratcliffe to Will Lee to Donovan Saunders to BJ Mayes — Dezz Ricks, we have to get healthy — … … has flashed at times, and I think they’re going to add a lot of value back there.”

The spring transfer portal opens next Tuesday. Elko indicated he was confident defections would be minimal.

“I don’t think I’m necessarily overly concerned with guys who are clear-cut returning players or difference makers in our program,” he said. “I think there’s a very good vibe around our program right now.”

Elko said the Aggies would be willing to add transfers that could help.

“We’re going to be open in the spring portal,” he said. “If we feel like there is value to be added, we’re going to try to take advantage of it.”

Notes

• Tight end Tre Watson, who Elko said has stood out, sat out the scrimmage with a sore shoulder. Elko indicated Watson wouldn’t be sidelined long.

• Elko opened his press conference by wishing good luck to the women’s golf team in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. He also offered congratulations to former A&M football coach Jackie Sherrill, who’ll be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame this weekend.

“That’s obviously a huge honor for him,” Elko said. “He’s someone who meant a lot to Texas A&M football and still does. He shoots me an e-mail or two every week, kind of helping me guide my way through this thing. I appreciate that.”

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Elko emphasizes importance of reps as A&M navigates spring football

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