Better/Worse in 2016: Texas A&M special teams

For all its ups and downs, twists and turns during the 2015 season, special teams play was one of the positives for Texas A&M. The Aggies led the SEC in punting with an average of 47.4 yards per punt and also paced the conference in punt returns, averaging 19.9 yards per attempt.

However, both the punter and kicker were seniors, and the Aggies are looking for new faces to replace them for 2016. That won’t be an easy task but a necessary one if they hope to keep pace with last season’s success in the area of special teams.

2015 Stats

FGM-FGA: 22-31
Longest: 55
Punting average: 47.4 (1st in SEC)
Kickoff return avg.: 19.9 (10th)
Kickoff return TDs: 0
Punt return avg.: 19.9 (1st)
Punt return TDs: 2 (tied for 4th)
Kickoff/punt return TDs allowed: 0

The Kicker

Senior Taylor Bertolet had one of the strongest legs in college football. He booted a 54-yard field goal as a freshman and then topped off his Aggies career with a 55-yarder as a senior. He scored 236 points in four seasons, connecting on 37-of-55 field goal attempts, and 185-of-345 career kickoffs went for touchbacks.

But that was last year. And now, it seems as though sophomore Daniel LaCamera could step up and fill those shoes. He certainly has the leg. LaCamera once drilled a 68-yard field goal at practice in East Lake, Fla.

A Semper Fidelis All-American, LaCamera possesses not only a strong leg, but also a polished technique. In his only game last season, LaCamera booted three PAT kicks and drilled four kickoffs for a 63-yard average, including two touchbacks.

He appears to have all the tools necessary to be a good one for the Aggies.

The Punter

Senior punter Drew Kaser was one of the nation’s leaders over his career at Texas A&M. He narrowly missed setting the career record for punting average. It came down to the last game of his career, the Music City Bowl last December. But with a 43.7 average on seven punts in the game, he fell just short. Kaser finished his career with a 46.196 average. The all-time record is 46.31, set by West Virginia’s Todd Sauerbrun (1991-94).

However, Kaser, does hold the Aggies’ single-season school record, averaging 47.5 yards per punt in 2015. He is just the second player in NCAA history to average more than 46.0 yards for his career (minimum 150 punts).

Replacing that kind of talent will be very difficult to say the least. Junior Shane Tripucka appears on the depth chart as the next Aggies punter. In his only game last year, Tripucka punted twice for a 44.0-yard average.

The Returner

Christian Kirk was spectacular as a freshman last season. He was only 17 yards shy of the school’s single-season all-purpose yardage record of 1,806 set by Cyrus Gray in 2010. Kirk helped Texas A&M lead the conference in punt return average. He returned 14 punts for a 24.4-yard average and 2 touchdowns. Kirk also returned 20 kickoffs for a 19.3-yard average.

He will only get better and be even more spectacular in the coming years as not only the team’s top returner but also the Aggies’ top receiver as well.

Cover Teams

The Aggies weren’t bad at covering kickoffs last season. Fifth in the SEC, they held opponents to an average of 19.0 yards per return. Where they need to shore up in 2016 is on punt returns. Texas A&M gave up 10.9 yards per return, ninth in the SEC.

Those aren’t bad numbers but could be cleaned up somewhat while putting the defense in a little bit better field position to start out with.

Special Moment

Kirk displayed his abilities in the season opener against Arizona State. He returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown, the first of its kind since 2012. He began his career with a bang, accounting for more than 200 all-purpose yards, including 118 return yards to go along with his game-high 106 receiving yards.

He was the Aggies’ first freshman with a punt return for a score since 1996 (Dante Hall). He was also the first freshman in school history to log a 100-yard receiving game in his debut.

In a 30-17 victory over Mississippi State at Kyle Field, Bertolet connected on a career-long 55-yard field goal, his fourth career 50-yarder. It was the longest by an Aggie since Terence Kitchens connected on a 62-yarder in 1999.

One Stat That Must Improve in 2016

Although the Aggies made good on some very long field goal attempts, overall they only made 71 percent of their field goal tries (22-for-31), which ranked eighth in the league. A little more accuracy could go a long way in boosting the team to greater heights in 2016.

Better/Worse in 2016?

The Aggies could and should be improved in almost every area of what was already good special teams play last year. With the exception of punting, which could hardly be criticized for not being up to 2015 standards, Texas A&M’s special teams look to be among the league’s best again in 2016.

Source: Saturday Down South

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