SEC Country is breaking down each of Texas A&M’s position groups as the entire 2016 roster reports to College Station.
Continuing with the series, we take a look at the special teams unit. The Aggies lose their starting punter (Drew Kaser) and kicker (Taylor Bertolet) to the NFL, but they do have their top three returners back for this season.
Names you need to know: Speedy Noil (junior), Christian Kirk (sophomore), Justin Evans (senior), Daniel LaCamera (sophomore), Shane Tripucka (junior), Braden Mann (freshman)
Analysis: Kaser became the third Texas A&M player taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, hearing his name called in the sixth round by the San Diego Chargers. He joins former Aggies placekicker Josh Lambo on the San Diego special teams unit, but leaves his former coaches looking for a replacement.
Kaser — who set a school-record average of 47.47 yards per punt in 2015 — is expected to be succeeded by Tripucka on fourth down for the Aggies this season. The Allen, Texas, native was an Under Armour All-American in high school before signing in 2013.
Tripucka continued to learn from Kaser and the coaching staff in 2014 before making his debut against Ball State last season. He punted twice in the 56-23 victory, one of which was a 46-yard boot that pinned Ball State inside the 20-yard line.
At kicker, Bertolet leaves after a senior season that included 32 touchbacks and four successful field goals of 50 yards or more. LaCamera has some power in his leg as well, and despite his rough performance in the Texas A&M spring game (0-for-3 on field goals), he has the accuracy to go along with it.
Mann, an early enrollee, averaged just over 38 yards per punt on three attempts in his debut with the Aggies in the scrimmage.
Kirk will try and recreate his success as a freshman returning punts and kicks. He brought two punts back for touchdowns and averaged 19.25 yards on 20 kickoff returns during the season.
Noil should factor in on special teams as well, but not until he serves his suspension in the season opener against UCLA on Sept. 3. If either Kirk or Noil should falter in the kick return game, or if the Aggies just want to mix things up, Evans could see action in that role, as well. He had two returns for 46 yards last season.
Key questions: How much of a role will Noil have in the return game this season? Can Kirk repeat his performance as a sophomore? How smooth of a transition will it be from Kaser and Bertolet to Tripucka and LaCamera?
Bottom line: The good thing about special teams is that the floor is never too terribly low. Experience in the kicking game has dropped, but the expected starting duo for the Aggies is more than ready to take over at its respective positions. Meanwhile, Mann will continue to be groomed by the coaching staff for when he receives the torch in the future.
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