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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Watts back from hamstring injury, Kirk discusses receivers and quarterbacks

Christian+Kirk+had+83+receptions+for+928+yards+and+nine+touchdowns+last+season.
Photo by By Lawrence Smelser

Christian Kirk had 83 receptions for 928 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

After suffering a torn hamstring against Ole Miss last season, which caused him to miss the final three games, senior safety Armani Watts knew returning for his senior year was the right move.

Nearly four months later after hobbling off Kyle Field, Watts is back to practice and at full strength.

“I feel perfect, haven’t missed any practices yet, been back for the past six weeks now with the team, full reps and everything,” Watts said after Tuesday’s practice. “It was probably the first time I had actually been injured, so it was pretty frustrating not being able to compete and do everything everyone [else] could.”

Redshirt sophomore Larry Pryor was given the role of being Watts’ replacement, and the Aggies’ prime head-hunter had high praise for Pryor’s play in his absence.

“I think he did great stepping in,” Watts said of Pryor’s performance last season. “You never know who’s going to go down and he was just ready to fill in, did a perfect job.”

Back from injury, Watts has a new coach to work with since strapping up the pads last with the addition of Ron Cooper after former secondary coach Terry Joseph accepted a position at North Carolina in January.

The coaching change has also brought new schematic shifts, ones that Watts has favored.

“[We are] more aggressive, probably more man-to-man right now – just really being aggressive on the line,” Watts added. “I love it, really not backpedaling that much, just getting hands on the receiver and dictating where he has to go.”

Entering his final year in Aggieland, Watts has seen three straight 8-5 seasons in the maroon and white. In order to change old ways, however, Watts believes the daily mentality amongst the players is the key component of what it will take to achieve a shift forward in the win column.

“You could say it’s going to be different, but it’s going to be how we put in our work and how bought in we are to the process. We got to love coming over here every day – film, practice, whatever it is, love what we do.”

A new leader

It’s no secret that junior Christian Kirk will be a vital part of A&M’s success at receiver as the only returning starter at the position.

The former freshman phenom is no longer the young buck in a room of experienced veterans and is ready to embrace his role as the leader of a large group of guys who are in the same shoes he was in not long ago.

“It’s weird [being the leader], not even going to lie. It’s different, but I like it at the same time. It’s good to be looked at as a leader of that room, it’s a responsibility that I’ve always wanted to have,” Kirk said. “To be able to lead that room, cause there’s been so many great guys to come through that room, be a part of the ‘g-unit’. Now I’m the head guy, and I’m ready to take this room by the reigns and just help these guys develop and grow as receivers.”

Kirk added that the relationships built with his new teammates will be key in growing their game in a learning-based environment this spring before the Aggies hit the ground running in the fall.

“The biggest thing is just them getting comfortable, learning the concepts, getting the game speed down,” Kirk said. “They’re in the same position I was, so I like to relate to those guys – especially with the other receivers Hez [Jones] and Roshauud [Paul]. Just kind of get in their ear and just tell them to be comfortable and go out there and just play football.”

It will be critical that Kirk and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead prepare the youth-laden position soon, as A&M will be forced to play them next season and Kirk hopes a large rotation can be created to help everyone stay healthy.

“Without a doubt we know we’re going to have to have those guys play and not just having one guy go out there and play, we need multiple guys, we need depth at this receiver position,” Kirk added. “What we ultimately want to get is a rotation going where not four guys have to go out there and play 15 series a game and just beat our bodies down. We want multiple guys to go out there and play and be interchangeable.”

The good news for A&M is that by having several early-enrollees participate in spring drills, it allows the Aggies to give them several extra months of workouts and practices to adjust to the college level.

“What’s good is they came in during the spring,” Kirk said. “Now we’re going to be able to work with them this spring through the summer and then go into fall camp and be able to know what they’re able to do and who we’re going to be able to play.”

Question at quarterback

For the fourth year in a row, A&M has entered spring practice with a quarterback competition. With three candidates leading the charge, the Aggies have diverse options at the position.

Redshirt freshman Nick Starkel has drawn high praise for his passing abilities and also continues to impress others with his competitiveness and desire to be the Aggies’ QB1.

“He’s very talented with his arm, really strong arm and can put the ball wherever it needs to be on the field. He can throw it across the field, he can throw it into the boundary,” Kirk said of Starkel’s throwing skills. “He’s very smart, always willing to learn. He’s just a guy who brings energy and comes to work every day. You can see every day he wants that starting job and it’s exciting to see how bad he wants it and wants to make the guys around him better.”

Early-enrollee Kellen Mond comes in vying for the starting spot as well as one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks in the class of 2017. Kirk stated that he admires Mond’s poise, and looks forward to seeing how he develops in the coming months.

“Number one is his demeanor,” Kirk said. “He has a real calm demeanor, doesn’t look like anything really phases him. He’s really calm and puts the ball where it’s needed to be. It’s all about him getting the concepts down and just learning the game speed, see what the defense is giving him.”

Although Starkel and Mond have been the center of the A&M quarterback conversation, senior Jake Hubenak is one to not be left out of the picture yet.

As the only quarterback on the roster with collegiate playing experience, Hubenak has the upper-hand of going through the competition as the veteran, which has been recognized throughout the offseason.

“Jake’s a veteran guy, he comes to work every day,” Kirk said of Hubenak. “That’s what you can say about them all. They all want that job and they’re all working their butts off for it.”

Even on the defensive side, Watts has recognized the change in Hubenak’s leadership role.

“Jake’s more consistent, he’s a vocal leader and he shows it during workouts and he’s just carried it onto the field,” Watts added. “He’s a natural-born leader and he’s just been more consistent this year.”

A&M returns to the practice field Thursday afternoon before taking the week off for spring break.
 

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  • Armani Watts tosses a ball after participating in a catching drill.

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