Countdown 2007: Special Teams

In 2006, the Aggies went from one of the worst kickoff return teams in the nation to one of the best. What does this year's special teams unit look like? Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp takes a look in this first installment of Websider's position by position break down of the 2007 Aggie football team.

In 2005, the Aggies ranked No. 109 in the nation with a 17.5 yard kickoff return average—out of 117 teams. But Kerry Franks and Pierre Brown led the Aggies to a 26.1 average in 2006, good enough for No. 3 in the country.

Franks, who emerged as one of the most explosive players in the Big 12 in 2006, led the Big 12 in kickoff return average with 27.7 yards per return.

With kickoffs moving back five yards to the 30-yard-line in 2007, there will be less touchbacks on kickoffs, which means the duo should have even more return opportunities, giving the Aggies better starting field position and opportunities for big plays.

The Aggies are just as solid at punter, with Ray Guy Award nominee Justin Brantly.

Brantly was the No. 10 punter in the country in 2006, averaging 43.2 yards per kick as a sophomore. He had 14 punts downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line and 21 kicks of at least 50 yards or more. His career average of 43.8 ranks second on the A&M career list behind All-Pro punter Shane Lechler of the Oakland Raiders, who left A&M with a booming 44.7 average.

The place kicker position is a little less certain though.

Sophomore kicker Matt Szymanski was labeled the top kicker in the nation coming out of high school, and he showed his leg strength on kickoffs last season, booting 25 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs. His impressive hang time allowed opponents an average of just 18 yards per return. But he struggled on field goals in 2006, going 1-for-4 in the regular season before losing the starting job to Layne Neumann. He added a season-long 35-yard field goal against California in the Holiday Bowl, which was a good way to end the season for the freshman.

But without Neumann on the roster this year, the Aggies desperately need Szymanski to find his groove again, especially if they need a big kick late in games on the road this year.

The punt return situation is even less certain after the departure of Chad Schroeder, who returned 19 of the last year's 22 punts, averaging 7.4 yards per return. He wasn't the most explosive returner in the Big 12, but he did hold onto the ball.

Without Schroeder, A&M head coach Dennis Franchione had to find a replacement this spring, and for now at least, it will be sophomore defensive back Jordan Peterson.

Peterson is an unknown when it comes to returning punts at the college level, but he returned three punts for touchdowns in his senior year at Lexington High School.

Special Teams grade: B-

Franks and Brown have the kickoff returns covered and Brantly is as solid as they get at punter, which lays a solid foundation for the A&M special teams unit, and along, would probably deserve an A. But Peterson is just too big of an unknown at punt returner and Szymanski needs to return to his high school form of nailing 50-plus yard field goals for the special teams unit to earn a higher grade.





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