Texas A&M Aggies: Drew Kaser

Kevin SumlinAP Photo/Butch DillAggies coach Kevin Sumlin still found himself answering questions about his departed star quarterback Johnny Manziel at Tuesday's SEC media days.


HOOVER, Alabama -- In the back right corner of Ballroom C of the Hyatt Regency Birmingham, the main interview room for SEC media days, Texas A&M punter Drew Kaser sat during his scheduled slot and gladly answered every question that came his way from the handful of reporters surrounding him.

He sat in the same spot that the most popular and polarizing figure in Texas A&M football history did a year ago, when Johnny Manziel sat surrounded by seemingly hundreds of reporters asking about every aspect of his offseason. The crowd around Kaser in Ballroom C on Tuesday could sometimes be counted with two hands.

What a difference a year makes.

Last season the Aggies were the center of attention at SEC media days, thanks in large part to Manziel. He was then the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who made news not only with his play on the field but his life off of it, coined "The Summer of Johnny."

Manziel still had a presence Tuesday -- the first question asked to Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin invoked Manziel's offseason, to which Sumlin replied, "That's a great question ... about the Cleveland Browns." -- but the Aggies weren't under the microscope quite like they were in 2013.

Even senior cornerback Deshazor Everett noticed. Asked what it's like not having Manziel on the team, Everett quipped, "Less media attention," which elicited laughter from the media contingent.

"I love the guy to death but the cameras follow him," Everett said.

In some ways, the Aggies bear a slight resemblance to the group that had so many question marks surrounding it in the summer of 2012, when they were about to begin their life as SEC members.

Two years ago, Sumlin and his players were peppered with questions about how they would survive life in the rugged SEC, who their quarterback was going to be and whether their defense could hold up in a conference built on strong offensive line play. Outsider expectations weren't high then and they aren't terribly high now, either.

On Tuesday, Sumlin proactively addressed the quarterback situation without addressing it, stating flatly that he isn't naming a starter until mid-August. The defense, which was often poor in 2013 and was last in the SEC in numerous statistical categories, was again the subject of numerous questions. And the Aggies have yet to finish higher than third in the SEC West since joining; with three first-round NFL draft picks gone, questions abound about the young players and whether they're ready to meet the challenge.

"I don't believe it's a rebuilding year," Everett said. "We have players that are ready to play."

Maybe it's a good thing for the Aggies. While the publicity was ultimately beneficial for Texas A&M as a football program, the Aggies had marked success in 2012 when they were a largely off-the-radar team coming into the year, one that few thought could be serious contenders in the SEC. Manziel's rare ability and presence was a huge factor in that success, but Sumlin is banking on the talent his two competing quarterbacks (Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill) have as well as the talent the Aggies have hauled in on the recruiting trail, where the Aggies have scored two top-10 national classes in the past two years and are on track for a third this cycle.

One thing that was similar to last season were the questions about off-the-field "distractions." There might not be Manziel to take the headlines, but the Aggies had nine arrests this offseason and three players dismissed from the team (two of whom contributed to that arrest total), so it's not as though the Aggies have been out of the spotlight.

Sumlin seems to be unaffected by it all. He handled his SEC debut in 2012 smoothly and weathered the storm that surrounded Manziel a year ago. This year, he seemed as comfortable as ever. The Aggies hope to show a similar level of comfort in the SEC this fall by answering those lingering questions.

"It's all part of it," Sumlin said. "The first year was a bit of whirlwind ... last year was obviously a lot different situation ... I'm feeling like a veteran for the first time."

Season report card: Texas A&M

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
9:35
AM ET
Final 2013 grades are in for the Texas A&M Aggies:

OFFENSE: A-

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel led the Texas A&M offense to high marks in 2013, but the defense let the Aggies down.
The Aggies have been in the SEC for two seasons now and have led the league in scoring offense and total offense both seasons. It's fair to say Kevin Sumlin and his staff know a little something about offensive football. Johnny Manziel, in his collegiate farewell, was once again brilliant. He did throw 13 interceptions, but he also threw 37 touchdown passes and led the SEC in total offense with an average of 374.8 yards per game. Manziel also showed his toughness and played through some serious pain the latter part of the season. Receiver Mike Evans had 12 touchdown catches and led the league by averaging 20.2 yards per catch. The Aggies didn't have what you would call a bruising running game, but they really didn't need one with Johnny Football running around and slinging it all over the field. The grade is an A- because the Aggies didn't have much pop on offense in their final two regular-season games, a 34-10 loss to LSU and a 28-21 loss to Missouri.

DEFENSE: F

Aggie fans everywhere still shudder in horror when they think about having to watch that defense (or lack of one) in 2013. There's no other way to say it: Texas A&M was awful on defense. The Aggies gave up 30 or more points in eight of their 13 games, and because they were so bad there was tremendous pressure on the offense in every game. The Aggies finished 95th nationally in scoring defense (32.2 points per game) and were 109th in the country in total defense (475.8 yards per game). With those kind of defensive numbers, it's amazing they won nine games. To their credit, they did make a couple of plays on defense late in the bowl game to secure the win over Duke. But it wasn't enough to avoid a resounding "F" for the season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

While there might not have been anything spectacular on special teams, the Aggies were solid across the board. Drew Kaser led the SEC in punting with a 47.4-yard average, which included a long of 76 yards. Texas A&M finished third in the league in net punting with a 39.4-yard average, and one of the big stories of the year in College Station was sophomore Josh Lambo, a former MLS draft pick, coming on and solidifying the place-kicking position. He was 8-of-10 on field goals and booted the game-winner on the road at Ole Miss. The Aggies didn't return any kickoffs or punts for touchdowns, but they also didn't give up any. They were second in the league in kickoff coverage.

OVERALL: B-

Expectations were sky high entering the season after the Aggies won 11 games in their first season in the SEC, so losing four league games was a downer. The comeback 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl was exciting and helps the final grade a little, but Texas A&M didn't play well down the stretch in the regular season. Even on offense, the Aggies were held to a total of 31 points in SEC losses to LSU and Missouri. Nine wins is never anything to sneeze at in the SEC, but the Aggies also started the season in the top 10 nationally. Their only win over a team that finished the season ranked in the Top 25 was against Duke. But their four losses were all to top 15 teams in the final polls. In the end, this was a season that was wasted because the defense couldn't stop anybody.

18 from SEC named AP All-Americans

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
3:00
PM ET
Now that the all-conference teams have rolled out, the Associated Press has unveiled its All-America teams, and they are very SEC-heavy.

Eighteen players from the SEC made the three teams, with six making the first team. The pick that might surprise people was Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt making the first team over Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But Prewitt had a very good season with the Rebels. He tied for first in the SEC with five interceptions in conference play, while totaling six on the season. He also defended 13 passes. Clinton-Dix, who projects as a high draft pick at the safety spot, defended six passes with two interceptions on the season.

Here are all the SEC AP All-Americans:

First team

OFFENSE

OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

Second team

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

DEFENSE

DT: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

Third team

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
OT: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

DEFENSE

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

Our All-SEC second team choices

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
2:00
PM ET
On Monday, we gave you guys our All-SEC first team. Today, we thought we'd unveil our second team for 2013. There are so many guys in this league who deserve recognition that we just wouldn't feel good about not having another team to give props to during the holiday season:

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
AP: Todd Gurley, Georgia

DEFENSE

DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ego Ferguson, LSU
DL: Markus Golden, Missouri
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
PR: Christion Jones, Alabama
KR: Christion Jones, Alabama

Alabama leads coaches All-SEC team

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
5:00
PM ET
The SEC coaches have spoken, and Alabama has once again taken over their end-of-the-year All-SEC team.

The Crimson Tide led the rest of the league with nine representatives on the coaches' teams, including an SEC-leading five first-team selections. LSU followed with eight total representatives. Texas A&M had four first-team members, while Auburn and Georgia both had three each.

Twelve of the league's 14 teams had at least one player on the first team, while every team was represented on at least one team. Coaches weren't allowed to vote for their own players.

Here are the coaches' first- and second-team selections:

First team

OFFENSE
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

DEFENSE
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Christion Jones, Alabama *
RS: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU *

Second team

OFFENSE
QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
TE: Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: Anthony Steen, Alabama
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
WR: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
AP: Marcus Murphy, Missouri

DEFENSE
DL: Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ed Stinson, Alabama
DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
P: Cody Mandell, Alabama
RS: Solomon Patton, Florida

-- (*-ties)

Week 14 helmet stickers

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Texas A&M came up short in its regular-season finale, falling on the road to No. 5 Missouri 28-21 on Saturday at Faurot Field. Despite the loss, here were some good performances so we hand out a few helmet stickers:

Drew Kaser: The punter had another strong day at the office, punting eight times for an average of 44.8 yards. He had a long of 58, placed three punts inside the Missouri 20-yard line and had three kicks of 50 yards or more.

Jay Arnold: The true freshman defensive end got probably his most significant playing time of the season and he delivered, coming up with a game-high two quarterback sacks. Arnold finished with three tackles total for the night.

Darian Claiborne: The true freshman middle linebacker had 10 tackles, marking the fifth game of the season he's reached double digits in that category. He's now tied with senior Steven Jenkins for the team lead with 89 tackles this season.

Helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
9:15
AM ET
Not many bright spots for Texas A&M in its 34-10 loss to LSU on Saturday at Tiger Stadium, but as we do each week, we'll hand out a trio of helmet stickers to players who had nice days:

Derel Walker: He was the best of the receiving bunch for the Aggies on Saturday. Walker scored the Aggies' only touchdown on a 51-yard catch late in the second quarter and finished with six receptions for 130 yards, a nice 21.7 yards per catch average. Even with that, Walker could have had an even better day if he had held on to a pass from Manziel in the end zone on third-and-goal from the LSU 3 in the second quarter. But on a rough day for the A&M offense, Walker was a bright spot.

Drew Kaser: Kaser has been one of the better punters in the league and in the country this year, even though he hasn't had a ton of opportunities. On Saturday he had plenty, punting five times for 224 yards, an average of 44.8 yards per punt. He had only one punt returned, and he placed one inside the 20 and finished with a net punting average of 38 yards.

Josh Lambo: Lambo was called upon for a 41-yard field goal in the second quarter and hit it, and he also made a PAT kick. He continues to be solid in the kicking game and gives the Aggies some stability and consistency at placekicker.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has a saying that is echoed by his players, especially at this time of the season.

"It's about us."

The message is clear and self-explanatory. And if the Aggies are going to do what they hope to -- win out the remainder of the season -- Sumlin wants them to take heed of those three words.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesTexas A&M signal-caller Johnny Manziel threw four more touchdown passes on Saturday night. He now has 26 TD passes on the season, matching his total from 2012.
On Saturday night, in a 57-7 win over UTEP at Kyle Field, it was all about the Aggies, who took care of business by dominating a beaten-up team. What's interesting is that No. 12 A&M (7-2) has the same record as it did at this time a season ago. The feelings are different, but that's partially because last season the Aggies exceeded expectations. Few outside of this town expected them to do much better than 6-6 or 7-5 in their first season in the SEC. This season, the bar was set so high that the same record at the same point seems almost pedestrian.

And while their own preseason goals -- an SEC championship and a run at a BCS national championship -- are out the window, there are still things left for Texas A&M to play for. If the Aggies win the remainder of their games, who knows? They might just sneak their way into their first BCS bowl since 1998.

The final three-game stretch is a challenging one. The Aggies host Mississippi State next weekend, then are off the following week before the difficulty level ramps up with trips to LSU and Missouri to close out the season. Both of those teams are still playing for a chance to go to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game, and in order to knock them off in their respective stadiums, the Aggies will have to put together a complete game, for four quarters -- something they really haven't done yet this season.

But in the past two weeks, in a 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt and on Saturday in the blowout win over UTEP, the Aggies have begun inching closer to playing that type of game. Throughout the first seven games, the defense was mostly poor while the offense carried the load. Special teams had issues, too, as the Aggies battled an inconsistent situation at place-kicker before moving Josh Lambo into the role, one that he has taken and run with.

The past two weeks, the Aggies defense has performed admirably. It had probably its best all-around performance against the Commodores, and on Saturday, against a much weaker opponent, the Aggies really only had one bad drive on defense, the nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that gave the Miners an early 7-2 lead.

UTEP, which came into the game without starting quarterback Jameill Showers (shoulder injury), couldn't move the ball with consistency against A&M when the Aggies began to rack up points. On top of that, A&M's defense was ball-hawking in the second stanza, coming up with three turnovers. The offense turned those into 21 points and blew the game open. UTEP finished with just 198 total yards, and life was understandably difficult with backup Blaire Sullivan running the offense. Still, this is an Aggies defense that had trouble stopping virtually everybody earlier this season.

"We've been having great practices the last few weeks," junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury said. "Also, I think it has to do with confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your team to have a great game."

While the defense has stepped up its efforts the last two weeks, the offense has had its hiccups. Last week it was bitten by the turnover bug, giving the ball away four times. On Saturday against the Miners, the Aggies seemed out of sync in the first quarter. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans couldn't get on the same page, though opportunities were there. The Aggies punted twice in the first quarter -- a rarity for them in any single frame.

What began as a snoozer with Texas A&M's offense sputtering turned into a rout with an explosive second quarter by the Aggies, who outscored UTEP 27-0 in the second quarter to take a commanding 36-7 halftime lead. From there, no doubt remained of the outcome as Manziel led two more scoring drives in the third quarter before calling it a night, after throwing for four touchdowns and running for two, including an impressive 49-yarder that looked like the 2012 version of Manziel.

The A&M special teams started well, meanwhile, blocking a punt that led to a safety and giving the Aggies an early 2-0 lead. But the unit had its issues, too. Punter Drew Kaser, who serves as the holder on point-after-touchdown kicks and field goals, bobbled a snap, which left a point off the board. Freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez also muffed a punt in the second half, though the game was well in hand.

Those are issues that have to be rectified if the Aggies hope to close out the final three-game stretch with three wins. They still haven't put a good performance from all three phases together on one night, though they might be inching closer to doing so.

"It's hard to say, when you win 57-7, to say that you didn't play a complete game," Sumlin said. "As a coach, there's some positives there. Our guys understand that we can be better than we were tonight."

'Ongoing competition' at kicker for A&M

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
3:15
PM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The applause at Kyle Field were loud and boisterous.

After three consecutive point-after-touchdown kick attempts failed in Texas A&M's 42-13 win over SMU on Saturday, the volume level of the exuberant Aggies when Josh Lambo put one through the uprights with 11:34 remaining in the third quarter were nearly as high as it was when running back Ben Malena put six points on the board right before it.

Such is the life of the Texas A&M kicking game right now, where every point is appreciated.

Lambo, a sophomore walk-on, is now in what coach Kevin Sumlin called Tuesday an "ongoing competition," for placekicking duties with former starter Taylor Bertolet.

The transition took place on Saturday when the Aggies struggled on extra points. Bertolet missed consecutive attempts in the first half, reminiscent of his struggles in 2012 when he was 67-of-74 on PATs and 13-of-22 on field goal attempts. He is 23-of-26 this season on PATs and 2-of-3 on field goal attempts, with his lone miss being a 31-yarder against Sam Houston State.

After an inconsistent season in 2012 and some early struggles in the Aggies' first four games, the coaching staff decided to try someone new in Lambo, who competed with Kyle Serres during training camp.

"What we're doing is based on competition," Sumlin said Tuesday. "The ability to play in games and based on how you compete during practice and your success rate during practice, so that's where we are.

"That will continue to be the case. It won't change this week or next week. That's a work in progress. I think there's some things that both guys do that are positive, but in this business, life pays off on results, so that's where it is."

Lambo's first PAT attempt Saturday failed because of a fumbled snap by holder/punter Drew Kaser, but he connected on his next attempt as well as a 40-yard field goal late in the third quarter against SMU. Struggles with the hold is also something seen earlier this season.

"Drew's had a couple of those. ... The whole operation has to work," Sumlin said of the kicking game. "Those are things people take for granted. It's like any other position, where you have dropped balls -- concentration is part of that. We'll get that fixed and get that addressed. Like I said, competition is good for everybody."

Bertolet continued to handle kickoffs, as he has since last season. But at least for now, it looks like he has company in the kicking game in Lambo, a Middleton, Wis., product who transferred to A&M from Collin College.

"We're going to keep the competition up just like we do at every position," Sumlin said after Saturday's game. "The guys who compete earn the spot. Lambo came in and did a good job [Saturday]."

Planning for success: Texas A&M

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
8:00
AM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The most anticipated game of Texas A&M's young season is just two days away as the reigning BCS champion and No. 1 team in the country, Alabama, comes to Kyle Field.


The No. 6 Aggies (2-0), who upset Alabama last season, hope to repeat that feat, this time in front of their home crowd. Here are a few keys for the Aggies:

1. Stop the run: Texas A&M's depleted defense struggled to stop Rice and Sam Houston State from running the ball effectively in the first two games of the season, allowing an average of 273 yards per game. That puts them near the bottom nationally, ranking 115th in the country. Alabama has bigger offensive linemen, better running backs and more overall talent than the Aggies' first two opponents, so the task of shutting down the Crimson Tide on the ground is a tall one. However, there are a few things to keep in mind: Alabama's offensive line struggled in its season-opening win over Virginia Tech. The Crimson Tide are more of a traditional power-running team, while Rice (read-option) and Sam Houston State (traditional option) forced the Aggies to play more assignment football. And Texas A&M has yet to have its full complement of defensive players available due to suspensions. On Saturday, the Aggies will have most of their starters available, with injuries being the only hindering factor.

2. Take care of the football: Last season when the Aggies went into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset the Crimson Tide, they won the turnover battle, big time. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron threw two interceptions and the Aggies stripped the ball away from running back T.J. Yeldon. Meanwhile, the Aggies had no turnovers. The final one they forced, an interception by Deshazor Everett, essentially clinched the win.

3. Control tempo: Alabama coach Nick Saban stressed earlier this week that the pace of Texas A&M's offense is not as much of an issue, but rather how well the Aggies execute. Well, one of the primary factors that makes the Aggies offense successful is that they execute at a high level and they do it in a hurry. When the Aggies were able to push the tempo to a high level in the first quarter of last year's match, they jumped out to a 20-0 lead. But don't forget the defense, which stopped the Crimson Tide on its first three drives to help the Aggies jump out to that lead.

4. Win special teams: One thing that stood out about Alabama's season-opening win over Virginia Tech was the play of its special teams. Alabama receiver/return specialist Christion Jones finished with 209 combined return yards and two touchdowns: a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. So the Aggies' coverage teams must be in top form to keep Jones in check. Also, the Aggies' kicking game must improve. Placekicker Taylor Bertolet missed a 31-yard field goal and punter/holder Drew Kaser bobbled a snap on a point-after-touchdown kick. Bertolet missed a field goal and extra point in last year's Alabama game. Leaving points on the board can't happen if the Aggies expect to repeat victory.

5. Beware Amari Cooper: In last year's meeting, Cooper exploded for six catches, 136 yards and a touchdown. That included receptions of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown, both of which came in the fourth quarter while the Tide were attempting their comeback. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, Cooper is an explosive talent with the ability to make big plays. Aggies cornerback Deshazor Everett matched up with Cooper a lot last season, expect more of the same on Saturday.

6. Let Johnny be Johnny: The Aggies have a lot of talent on offense -- three returning offensive linemen, led by tackles Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi; four talented running backs: Ben Malena, Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams; and Mike Evans is big, physical weapon in the passing game. But Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy for a reason, and his performance against Alabama was the primary reason last year. If he can repeat that type of performance or even improve on it, the Aggies will be in great shape.

Planning for success: Texas A&M

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
7:00
AM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- After a season-opening win against Rice, Texas A&M looks for a 2-0 start as it hosts FCS foe Sam Houston State on Saturday at Kyle Field.

While the Aggies are heavy favorites, players say they're still preparing for the Bearkats as if they were a conference opponent. Here are a few keys to success this weekend for the Aggies:

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave EinselTexas A&M had its way with Sam Houston State last season, but recent upsets by FCS teams have the Aggies on notice.
1. Beware the upset: Head coach Kevin Sumlin said on Tuesday that he had no problem getting his players' attention when it comes to Sam Houston State after the first weekend of college football yielded seven wins for FCS teams over FBS foes, with three of those upsets coming against teams in the "power five" conferences. Sumlin specifically cited North Dakota State's road win over Kansas State for one primary reason: North Dakota State faced Sam Houston State in the FCS national championship game last season (North Dakota State won 39-13). Sam Houston State has been to the FCS national title game two years in a row, so the Bearkats aren't an easily dismissed lower-division team.

2. Watch the video: Another point Sumlin hammered home was the fact that Sam Houston State outscored Texas A&M by more than three touchdowns in the final quarter-and-a-half last season when the Aggies put their backups in the game. "A lot of those guys that were backups, in my opinion, lost the second half 28-6," Sumlin said. "And when you turn on that film of the guys who were in the game in the second half, you saw a lot of those guys playing last Saturday [against Rice]. That gets their attention, that's got our attention."

3. Improvement from youth: The Aggies played 16 true freshman and 21 newcomers total in their win over Rice. There were plenty of struggles -- particularly on defense, where 11 true freshmen saw action at some point -- as the young players adjusted to live action. Now that there's a game under their collective belt, Sumlin expects improvement from that group. The sense of urgency in preparation this week should have gone up a few notches for those players and thus help them play better this week.

4. Regaining personnel: Texas A&M had a host of suspensions in its season-opener, but the Aggies will get a few of those players back this week. Starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis returns and that should be a significant help to the run defense. Safety Floyd Raven is back as well. Cornerback Deshazor Everett, who missed the first half of the Rice game, will miss the first half of the Sam Houston State game because he was ejected in the second half for targeting by the officials and must sit the first two quarters on Saturday by rule. But having him back out there in any capacity will help, particularly since the other starting corner, De'Vante Harris, is serving the second of a two-game suspension, as are three others (defensive end Gavin Stansbury, linebacker Steven Jenkins and receiver Edward Pope).

5. Ground and pound: Those are terms not necessarily synonymous with the Aggies' offense, but it ran the ball with plenty of success in the win over Rice. Texas A&M compiled 202 rushing yards, averaged 5.2 yards per rush and got solid efforts from both starting running back Ben Malena (82 rushing yards, 18 receiving yards, two total touchdowns) and transfer Tra Carson (14 carries, 76 yards, two touchdowns). Another transfer, Brandon Williams, joins the fray this week to help bolster the Aggies' ground attack.

6. Good special teams work: The Aggies were just about perfect on the special teams end of things on Saturday. Punter Drew Kaser averaged a whopping 62.7 yards per punt, which included a long of 76. Placekicker Taylor Bertolet was perfect on all his kicks (seven extra points, one field goal), something that he couldn't always say last season. That will be important for the Aggies to continue all season if they want to reach some of their lofty goals.

7. Let Johnny be Johnny: Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel, played well in his short stint (6-of-8 passing, 94 yards, three touchdowns) against Rice. He showed a desire to stay and throw from the pocket once he got rid of the early nerves of entering the game at halftime and the Aggies simply need to let him continue to do what he does best -- make plays.

Notes from Aggies' open scrimmage

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
8:15
AM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M had its first open scrimmage of training camp on Saturday. About 10,000 fans showed up to watch the workout at Kyle Field, and there was plenty to take away from the practice. Here are five things of note:

1. Clarity in the quarterback situation?

[+] EnlargeMatt Joeckel
Icon SMIJunior Matt Joeckel took more reps with the first team Saturday, but the backup quarterback battle remains undecided.
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin's commentary after the scrimmage didn't provide much real insight when it comes to who is leading the battle for the backup quarterback job. The competition continues between junior Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Matt Davis and true freshman Kenny Hill.

If we're to make a judgment based on how repetitions played out in Saturday's scrimmage, Hill looks to have a real shot at the job. He was the only one of the three to play a series with the first-team offense, something he did twice on Saturday, which is notable. Earlier in the week, quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said that Hill was getting extra reps because he wasn't as experienced in the offense as Joeckel and Davis, thus he needs them. So keep that in mind.

Joeckel led two lengthy scoring drives, while Davis' two series were brief three-and-outs. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel got plenty of time with the first team, but his playing status is still unclear amid an NCAA investigation. When asked if the school was any closer to a decision on whether Manziel will play Aug. 31, Sumlin said it's "probably no different than it was the first time we talked about it."

2. Key injury

Starting cornerback Deshazor Everett was on the sideline in street clothes with a wrap around his right hand. The injury? A broken thumb, according to Sumlin. The head coach wouldn't comment on whether Everett is expected to miss any game time because of the injury. A decision on his status (as well as that of safety Floyd Raven's) is still pending after both had offseason arrests. Sumlin said on Thursday that he still needs to visit with athletic director Eric Hyman regarding a decision on what, if any, further disciplinary action will be taken with Everett and Raven.

3. Defense progressing

With a lot of newcomers or players playing in new, more prominent roles, there are a lot of questions on defense. If Saturday's scrimmage is any indication, there's progress being made on that side of the football. The defense was able to generate pressure on the quarterback and even come up with two turnovers when Manziel was running the show. Steven Jenkins made an interception, newcomer at linebacker Tommy Sanders recovered a fumble and returned it for what would have been a score if not blown dead and defensive end Tyrone Taylor came up with a pair of sacks.

4. Receivers emerging

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNReceiver Malcome Kennedy ''has come light years since last summer," coach Sumlin said.
One player who has gotten positive reviews in both the spring and fall is junior Malcome Kennedy. Best known for the touchdown catch that gave the Aggies their final points in the upset win over No. 1 Alabama last year, Kennedy figures to be the starter at the 'Y' (Ryan Swope's old position), and Sumlin on Saturday called him the "most improved player on the team."

Sumlin said, "He has come light years since last summer. ... He continued to build confidence down the stretch and became a real leader for us this summer. I think you can see the confidence that he has playing and the confidence that the quarterbacks have in him."

Also, true freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez wowed the fans on hand by making some nice moves and showing off some speed on a 40-yard reception.

5. Mixed bag on special teams

Placekicker Taylor Bertolet is still recovering from offseason surgery (special teams coach Jeff Banks said earlier in the week that he has no concerns whether Bertolet will be ready for the season opener on Aug. 31), so Josh Lambo and Kyle Serres have been competing at that spot. Lambo got the lion's share of the work on Saturday, and Sumlin called the kicking game "spotty." Point-after-touchdown kicks were fine, but Lambo was 2-for-5 on field goals.

On the flip side, the punting by Drew Kaser drew rave reviews, as he boomed about four punts. "We're working on coverage, because of how far he's punting the ball," Sumlin said. "I'm not complaining."

In the punt return game, cornerback De'Vante Harris showed off some nice moves. He's one of several competing for that job.

Aggie Snapshot: P Drew Kaser 

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
12:00
PM ET
During the summer, GigEmNation will take a closer look at returning starters and other key players on the two-deep for Texas A&M -- excluding the Aggies' 2013 recruiting class -- that could make notable impact this fall in our Aggie Snapshot series. Starting with No. 1 De'Vante Harris, the series will follow the roster numerically through our final analysis of No. 95 Julien Obioha.

No. 38 Drew Kaser
Sophomore punter


Texas A&M Aggies spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
5/06/13
5:30
AM ET
2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (tied for second, West Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Texas A&MTop returners

QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, OT Jake Matthews, WR Mike Evans, DT Kirby Ennis, OLB Steven Jenkins, CB Deshazor Everett, S Howard Matthews

Key losses

LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, WR Ryan Swope, DE Damontre Moore, OLB Sean Porter, MLB Johnathan Stewart, FS Steven Terrell

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnny Manziel* (1,409 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel* (3,706)
Receiving: Mike Evans* (1,105)
Tackles: Damontre Moore (85)
Sacks: Damontre Moore (12.5)
Interceptions: Deshazor Everett* and Steven Terrell (2)

Spring answers

1. Johnny Football: The Aggies are in the rare position of returning the previous season's Heisman Trophy winner. Heading into his sophomore season, Texas A&M is hoping that quarterback Johnny Manziel can be even better than he was a season ago. This will be his second year in the offense and for quarterbacks who have played in this system, year two is typically a season in which they progress significantly as passers. That's one of Manziel's primary goals, even though he'll still run when the time calls for it. As long as he's healthy and playing well, things bode well for the Aggies.

2. Experienced secondary: Last season, the defensive backfield was young and inexperienced. This fall, there are still young players back there, but it is the most experienced unit on the Aggies' defense. Three of the four starters in the secondary from the AT&T Cotton Bowl are back: Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris and Howard Matthews. Junior Floyd Raven has moved from cornerback to free safety and appears to have the skill set (range and tackling prowess) to fit into the position well.

3. Loaded backfield: The Aggies have four good options in their offensive backfield for Manziel to hand off or throw to. Starting running back Ben Malena returns, as does Trey Williams, who returned kicks and received carries as a true freshman. Add to the mix a pair of transfer backs who sat out last season, Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon) and the Aggies have a quartet that gives them a multitude of options.

Fall questions

1. Front seven: The Aggies are looking for someone to replace the production that third-round NFL draft pick Damontre Moore brought last season. Moore led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks a year ago. Also, with two senior leaders gone from linebacker (Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart) Texas A&M not only has to replace the bodies but also the leadership. Because of injuries, the Aggies were thin up front in the spring but when all their key players return in the fall, it will ease at least some of those concerns. Keep an eye on names like defensive end Julien Obioha (who started opposite Moore last year), defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and linebacker Donnie Baggs as players who have a chance to see their contributions increase significantly this year.

2. New receivers: Only one starting receiver returns from last year's squad: Mike Evans. Four of the top six players in receiving yardage are no longer on the roster, including second-leading receiver Ryan Swope. So who will Johnny Manziel throw to? Keep an eye on guys like Malcome Kennedy, who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown against Alabama last season, Derel Walker, who had a strong spring game, Edward Pope, who was a star on the scout team when he redshirted last year and a host of recruits from the 2013 class like Ja'Quay Williams and ESPN 150 duo Ricky Seals-Jones and Sebastian LaRue. Developing other reliable pass-catching options is critical, so keep an eye on how they use the tight ends with newcomer Cameron Clear (6-7, 270) on campus.

3. Kicking game: One player who fans kept a close eye on this spring was kicker Taylor Bertolet. In his redshirt freshman season, the strong-legged kicker struggled with consistency, hitting just 13-of-22 field goal attempts and missing seven point-after attempts. With a new special teams coordinator (Jeff Banks) who has college punting and kicking experience around to guide him, the Aggies are looking for an improvement from Bertolet this fall. Also the Aggies are working in a new punter, Drew Kaser, who takes the reins after senior Ryan Epperson graduated.
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.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Drive Through: Playoff Predictions
Heather Dinich gives her week 4 playoff predictions.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20