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September 5, 2013During Texas A&M's inaugural season in the SEC, the Aggies had one of the nation's best punt returners in Dustin Harris and All-SEC all-purpose threat Trey Williams returning kickoffs.
Punting? Ryan Epperson was ok.
Placekicking? Um...let's skip that, unless you'd like to talk about Taylor Bertolet routinely kicking the ball out of the endzone on kickoffs.
With Brian Polian off to take over the head coaching job at Nevada, new special teams coach Jeff Banks arrived at A&M with a fiery demeanor and an emphasis on working with kicker Taylor Bertolet and punter Drew Kaser. During the spring, Banks said he had noticed a few mechanical issues with Bertolet that he wanted to address, while working with Kaser on his consistency. Before the opener with Rice, he appeared to be pretty confident in what he had seen from his group over the summer.
"I know we're going to have good special teams this year," Banks said. In the meantime, gunshy Aggie fans held their breath.
After A&M's 52-31 win over the Owls, Banks looks like a visionary. Kaser averaged 62.7 yards per punt Saturday, with all three of his efforts going more than 50 yards and his final boot -- a 77 yarder -- going down in the record books as the sixth-longest in school history. In spite of still recovering from sports hernia surgery, Bertolet hit a 44-yard field goal and all seven of his extra point attempts.
Banks' efforts weren't unnoticed by his boss, who went out of his way to praise the changes he saw in A&M's specialists in the season opener.
"We were concerned moving into this season with an inexperienced punter and a kicker who struggled last year. Coach Banks has really helped them technique wise," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Taylor is going to continue to get better, coming off sports hernia surgery this summer. He's really not at 100% yet. The field goal he made was on a high snap which he one-stepped from 40 yards. We didn't want to strain him to much as he's still getting stronger. We haven't had him kicking the balls deep on kickoff. I think as the season progresses, he'll continue to get better. We've done a good job from a stretching standpoint, but you don't want to push him too much. He's starting to feel confidence right now."
As for Kaser, Sumlin called him "a real weapon" and said the biggest challenge for the Aggies is getting down the field fast enough to cover his booming kicks.
"Drew Kaser had some huge punts. I joked after the game that we worked on coverage and now you see why," he said. "He's kicking it so far and with some of the returners we're going to face, we're going to have to get down there and cover it."
Kaser said working with Banks has been a definite positive for him.
"He's helped tremendously. He gets us right mentally and physically. He's a great asset for us," Kaser said of Banks. "He's been through it. It's helped me out having two different special teams' coaches before, my freshman and sophomore years, and now having Coach Banks. I think it gets me more prepared and helps me out."
Kaser said Banks had helped him fine tune a few things that has allowed him to find the consistency that both Mike Sherman's staff and Polian had been looking for.
"I've worked with Coach Banks a lot. I'm working on flattening my drop and it has really helped me to become more consistent," he said.
While there's a long way still to go in the 2013 season, the Aggies may be able to hold their breath a little bit less after the impressive showing by their kicking specialists in week one.
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