- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When attempting to diagnose what contributed to the inconsistency of Texas A&M place-kicker Taylor Bertolet in the 2012 season, new special teams coordinator Jeff Banks decided he would go straight to the video for his own, uninfluenced, unbiased opinions.
So he set out to watch Bertolet's performance from every game, from the season opener against Florida to the season finale in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, without asking for opinions from current or previous coaches, including head coach Kevin Sumlin.
One thing stood out to Banks, and it's one thing that few have doubted about Bertolet -- and it's why there's plenty of hope that his redshirt sophomore season is much better than the last one.
"I made my whole opinion based off that," Banks said of his film study. "He's an unbelievable talent and he has a great leg. But there were some fundamental things from the first game of the season against Florida to the last game of the season [that he struggled with]."
In 2012, Bertolet was 13-of-22 on field goal attempts, a 59.1 percent success rate. On extra-point kicks, he was 67-of-74. His talent level has never appeared to be a question. He was an Under Armour All-American in high school and was ranked among the best kickers in the nation coming out of Reading (Pa.) Exeter Township. Despite his struggles, he has a strong enough leg to hit from long distances (his longest field goal last year was 54 yards and he was 3-of-4 on attempts from 50 yards or further).
So this spring for Banks and Bertolet has been about correcting or eliminating those fundamental errors any way possible.
"He really struggled on approaching the football," Banks said of Bertolet. "So what we did was take out all the questions of approaching the football and made it simpler for him and more relaxed."
Bertolet said he's as relaxed as ever. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the chemistry between he and his holder, punter Drew Kaser, is coming naturally. The two are roommates and Bertolet called Kaser his best friend.
"We're just going out there laughing and having fun," Bertolet said. "It's a lot of fun right now and I love playing football right now."
And even though things weren't always positive when it came to place-kicking, Bertolet said he never once lost confidence in himself last season. He also got phone calls from someone who had been in his position before: former Texas A&M kicker and 2011 Lou Groza Award winner Randy Bullock. As a sophomore, Bullock -- now with the NFL's Houston Texans -- had a less-than-stellar year, hitting 12-of-19 attempts, but bounced back with a better junior year and obviously, an award-winning senior season.
"Randy's been out here for the last couple of practices; he's on break right now," Bertolet said. "So we came out here and had a lot of mature conversations. I've kicked a couple times with him and definitely learned from him and his experience, and he's taught me a lot this spring."
"We've had the same technical errors and [he told me] how to handle certain situations. He's called me throughout the season and gave me a lot of really good advice. We're real close friends."
The only way for Bertolet to be able to put his past struggles behind him, Banks said, is to have early success. So far this spring, the kicker has done that, according to Banks.
"He's had three pretty good scrimmages," Banks said. "He's missed two kicks in three scrimmages. So that helps to have success right away. There's nothing I can do to prevent that except maybe not having kick such long field goals and to make sure that we're working with Drew on the holds so that they're good and that everything's set up for him. To be honest, he has to have some success and that's what he's had and we're lucky that the stars are kind of aligning here early."
The consistency of those other aspects are key -- snapping and holding. If those aren't good and the kick is missed, the finger is often still pointed at the kicker. But with offensive tackle Jake Matthews entering his second season as the field-goal snapper and Kaser working hard to be successful as a holder, the rest is up to Bertolet. Right now, he can't wait for the fall to arrive.
"We're just going out there and having fun," Bertolet said. "We're just letting things rip. I have a lot of confidence going into next season. I'm real hungry to go at it."
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