Texas A&M Aggies: Ryan Epperson

Texas A&M Aggies spring wrap

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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.

Position breakdown: Special teams 

February, 28, 2013
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While there was one area where inconsistency reigned, special teams overall were solid for Texas A&M in 2012.

The kick and punt coverage units were good, and the Aggies were solid in the return game, particularly on punt returns. Punting was an area where the Aggies were solid as well.

Texas A&M Aggies Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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The 2012 season was one to remember for Texas A&M.

The Aggies' first season in the Southeastern Conference was better than almost anyone could expect. And while much of the focus centered around a redshirt freshman -- Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel -- first-year A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin repeatedly praised his seniors for their leadership and buying in when they didn't have to.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireRunning back Christine Michael was Texas A&M's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2009.
As Sumlin often said this year, "They didn't sign up to play for us."

Sumlin was referring to the upperclassmen -- and, really, anybody who wasn't a true freshman or transfer who joined the squad this season -- who signed up to play for previous head coach Mike Sherman.

Many of the Sherman recruits (Manziel included) played critical roles in the Aggies' ability to go 11-2, finish tied for second in the SEC West and conclude the season ranked in the top five. When looking back four years ago at the 2009 recruiting class, roughly a dozen of them wound up being key players in the memorable 2012 season.

There were several diamonds in the rough. Among them were Ryan Swope, who was ranked the No. 116 athlete in the country in 2009. The running back from Austin (Texas) Westlake became a receiver at Texas A&M and eventually set the school's career receiving yardage record, among other marks, such as single-season catches, single-season receiving yards and career 100-yard games.

Another lightly heralded player was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. Ranked 105th nationally at his position, the San Antonio Reagan product always brought high energy and effort and this season became a catalyst in the Aggies' transition to a 4-3 from a 3-4 the last two years. Nealy, a defensive end the previous two seasons, moved inside to defensive tackle and took on double teams week after week. The job he did inside helped facilitate the terrific season outside by defensive end Damontre Moore.

The other starting defensive tackle in 2012, who had a solid season of his own -- Kirby Ennis -- was also a member of the 2009 class.

One of the most important offensive players in 2012 not named Manziel was center Patrick Lewis, another class of 2009 recruit. As one of the "Louisianimals" as Lewis referred to himself and his fellow Louisiana natives, Lewis was the man who made the offense go, literally. The Aggies installed a high-tempo attack upon Sumlin's arrival, and dictating tempo was one of Lewis' primary jobs. He had to get to the ball before the ref spotted it and make protection calls as well. As one of the team captains, Lewis was a true leader.

The two senior linebackers who started for the Aggies, who also served as leaders for this year's team, were also part of the class of 2009: Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart. Both started all 13 games this year. Stewart was second on the team in tackles with 81, while Porter was fifth (66) and second on the team in tackles for loss (6.5).


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Grading the positions: Special teams 

December, 27, 2012
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we conclude the series with a look at the special teams:

[+] EnlargeBen Malena
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesTexas A&M utilized players such as starting running back Ben Malena to find success on special teams.
Highlights: The first thought that might come to the mind of many Aggies when thinking about special teams is the inconsistency in the field goal department. But special teams is more than field goals, and there was a lot of good about Texas A&M in the third phase in the game. As a team, the Aggies ranked ninth in the nation in net punting (40.3 yard net average per punt). Punter Ryan Epperson didn't have enough punts to make the FBS leaders, but if he did, he would have ranked in the top 30 in gross average per punt (42.8 yards). The Aggies also were good covering kicks and punts. They ranked 17th in the nation in kickoff return yardage defense and 27th in punt return yardage defense. And senior Dustin Harris finished 11th in the country in punt return average (13.1 yards per return) and the Aggies ranked 12th as a team in the category.

Lowlights: The biggest lowlight was the aforementioned field goal struggles. Redshirt freshman Taylor Bertolet hit just 13-of-22 attempts, making field goals at a 59.1 percent clip. He was good inside the 30 (8-of-9 attempts) and from 50 or longer (3-of-4). It was from 30-49 yards that he was at his worst. He hit 2-of-9 attempts from that distance (1-of-6 from 30-39 yards; 1-of-3 from 40-49 yards). The inconsistency was frustrating for Aggies observers, especially considering his ability to hit from long range (he had a long of 54). On the bright side, he was good on kickoffs, recording 61 touchbacks on 96 kickoffs.

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3 Up, 3 Down: A&M 47, Sam Houston 28 

November, 18, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M took care of business against FCS opponent Sam Houston State with an easy 47-28 win. Let's look at the good and the bad from the No. 8 Aggies' victory:

THREE UP

[+] EnlargeUzoma Nwachukwu
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesUzoma Nwachukwu caught four passes for 160 yards and an 89-yard touchdown against Sam Houston State.
1. Uzoma Nwachukwu and Mike Evans: Nwachuwkwu, a senior receiver, hasn't always been a go-to guy this season. But on Saturday he had a big day, catching four passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. His 89-yard touchdown reception on the Aggies' first offensive play of the second half showed his hands and his speed and why he is still a good weapon in this offense. Evans looked as healthy as he has in weeks, showing the explosion that has made him a go-to target for quarterback Johnny Manziel all season. The redshirt freshman receiver caught six passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns and caught passes of 33 and 20 yards.

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Epperson, A&M special teams have excelled

September, 27, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Every season that he has been on campus, Texas A&M punter Ryan Epperson has found a way to be the last man standing in the punting battle.

As a freshman, he took over punting duties seven games into the year. As a sophomore, he appeared in nine games before an injury interrupted his season. As a junior he won a battle in fall camp to earn the job and did so again this year as a senior.

[+] EnlargeRyan Epperson
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireStatistically, Texas A&M's Ryan Epperson is one of the best punters in the nation.
And while his punting average has gone up each season since his arrival, this season he's punting with the best in the country through three games. Epperson ranks third in the FBS in punting average, yielding 47.6 yards a kick on 14 attempts so far.

He sits behind only Houston's Richie Leone (48.7) and Utah's Sean Sellwood (47.8) through the early portion of the season.

But not all of his punts have been boomers. He has had a few that weren't hit as well as he wanted, but he has been fortunate enough to get some favorable bounces. He's trying to eliminate those not-so-great punts and become more consistent.

"The stats are definitely great," Epperson said. "Whenever I am connecting with the ball it’s traveling pretty well and that’s a great confidence booster. I obviously don’t want to go out there and hit those rollers, so I’m just trying to work on turning over every single ball in the game and eliminating those rolls of the side of my foot. Like I said, whenever I do make good contact I’m getting some pretty good hang time. I’m just trying to force those catches so the recovering team doesn’t have to do much."

So far, when it comes to defending punt returns, the Aggies are doing well in that department. They've only had three punts returned against them so far for a total of six yards, an average of two yards per return. The Aggies are tied for 14th nationally in that statistic.

"I think the net punting average is excellent," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "One of the tops in the country and our coverage has been very, very good."

This fall, Epperson competed with sophomore Drew Kaser during fall camp before eventually winning the job. Epperson said he focused on what Sumlin and special teams coordinator Brian Polian wanted from him -- consistency.

"I just try to stay as consistent as I can throughout camp after I’ve been able do most of these camps," Epperson said. "A big thing Coach Sumlin and Coach Polian were wanting is coverage punts. They wanted four-second hangs and 30+ yards. In the SEC, you don’t want to give the punt returner a chance to return the ball at all. Really, our goal every game is having that average of 39 yards. Every game they are asking for a net of 39 and I was able to give a consistent 40, 45 yard ball with great hang time, which definitely helps out the coverage units and that’s what they like most about my punting."

Texas A&M is second in the country in net punting with a 47.2 yard net average. Only Texas (49.4) ranks higher.

As the Aggies continue their SEC schedule this Saturday against Arkansas, Epperson is aware of how critical his role will be.

"In the SEC, I think field position is definitely a key factor in winning the game," he said. "Some of the best punters reside in the SEC. I’m just trying to help A&M get good field position whenever the offense can’t get a first down. It will definitely help us win some games this season."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M will host its second open-to-the-public scrimmage of fall training camp and third overall scrimmage at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Kyle Field. Here are some things to watch for in the scrimmage:

Johnny Manziel: Now that the redshirt freshman has officially been named the starting quarterback, it'll be worth closely watching how he performs in a public setting. The Aggies are fewer than two weeks away from their season opener, so his continued progress will be key to Texas A&M's success. It will be also worth watching to see how the other quarterbacks perform in the wake of the decision.

• The return game: Finding a kick returner is something that still needs to be crossed off the to-do list for coach Kevin Sumlin and special teams coordinator Brian Polian. Polian mentioned that he's not afraid to look at freshmen as candidates and that includes running back Trey Williams and freshman receivers Sabian Holmes and Thomas Johnson.

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Practice notes: QB battle continues 

August, 14, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No matter who wins the ongoing quarterback battle at Texas A&M, it's worth noting that there won't be any rotation of sorts or time-share between two or three of the candidates. Coach Kevin Sumlin indicated on Monday after the Aggies' evening practice that whoever it is, it will be one quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Sam Khan Jr./ESPN.comRedshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel took the majority of first-team snaps during Texas A&M's scrimmage over the weekend.
"I have traditionally not been a two or three-quarterback system guy," Sumlin said. "I think a guy's got to feel like he's got the team and I feel like a guy's got to feel like he's the backup and when his opportunity comes, if it comes, then he needs to be ready to play instead of shoveling guys in and out."

The battle between the trio of sophomores Matt Joeckel and Jameill Showers and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel continues. Manziel and Joeckel shined during Saturday's scrimmage at Kyle Field and on Monday during a brief team session during the open portion of practice, Manziel lined up with the first team and Showers went with the second team, perhaps indicating that Manziel has taken the lead.

With a smile, Sumlin reminded reporters that despite the thought that Showers might have had the job all but wrapped up heading into fall training camp, that it was still and is still very much open.

"You know they were all good," Sumlin said of their performances in Saturday's scrimmage. "They all did some good things. I thought that Johnny operated very very well. Like I said Saturday, just by his numbers, you can tell that he had an excellent day. I thought his progressions were good. He took care of the football and I thought all of them did a pretty good job of doing that. It wasn't that Jameill was bad, it's just that the other two guys were playing pretty good, too.

"I'm not surprised by the development of all three of them. Like I said in the spring, you guys are the ones that said we had a quarterback picked. I never said that. I'll keep reminding you guys of that all of the time."

Other notables from Monday's practice:

• Defensive tackles Kirby Ennis and Jonathan Mathis, who sat out a few workouts last week including Saturday's scrimmage with minor injuries, returned to the lineup and worked with the first-team defense.

• One true freshman that saw significant field time on Saturday and continues to push for playing time is defensive end Julien Obioha. Sumlin specifically cited him for what he has shown during camp. Like fellow true freshman De'Vante Harris, who worked with the first team at cornerback during Saturday's scrimmage, Obioha is pushing for a spot in the starting lineup. Obioha got some work with the first-team defense also at defensive end on Saturday and on Monday.


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Fall practice is nearing for the Texas A&M Aggies as they prepare for the 2012 season. The Aggies begin workouts on Friday, so let's take a glance at some of the key position battles on defense and special teams to keep an eye on in the coming weeks:

Cornerback: Deshazor Everett, Floyd Raven, Dustin Harris, Tremaine Jacobs

Everett and Raven are listed as the two starting corners going into camp. Both have good size (Raven is 6-foot-2, 190; Everett is six feet, 176) but both are light on experience. Each played a dozen games last season as true freshmen but neither has recorded a start in their career yet. For Harris, experience is a strength -- the senior has appeared in 38 games, including 17 starts and has been a significant contributor on special teams in the return game. Jacobs, a junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College was able to enroll in January and go through spring football with the team. Also keep an eye on junior Toney Hurd. Though he's listed on the depth chart as a safety, he could fit in as a corner in nickel packages, a spot where Hurd saw some time in the spring. There's also the possibility that Everett could slide to safety if needed.

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