Let’s face it. There’s only one way to go when it comes to the Green Bay Packers’ punting game — and that’s up.
The Packers dumped Jeremy Kapinos, the worst punter in the league, after he finished the 2009-10 season 18th in gross average (43.1), tied for 32nd in net average (34.1 ) and last in punts inside the 20 (15). In short, he was atrocious.
Kapinos replaced Derrick Frost, who was signed shortly before the start of the 2008 season but was cut 12 games in. He replaced another no-name, former Canadian Football League punter Jon Ryan, who is now with the Seattle Seahawks.
The Packers are desperate for a decent punter, and it looks like they have two good prospects in free agent Tim Masthay and Australian punter Chris Bryan — even though neither has kicked in an NFL game of any kind.
Bryan, 28, excelled as an Australian Rules Football player, but gave up his career to compete in Pro Kick Australia, a program designed to teach natives to kick and punt American style. He did so well, the Packers signed him in March on the recommendation of Nathan Chapman, who spent the 2004 offseason with the Packers.
Masthay, meanwhile, has a little more NFL experience at age 23. He spent last offseason with the Indianapolis Colts only to be cut a few days before the team’s first preseason game, and also worked out for the Packers, Buccaneers and Patriots last season.
“I like the talent level,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think we definitely have crossed that hurdle, is the way I view the punting position. There’s definitely more talent with these two guys than there has been in the past, and that’s definitely a big step in the right direction.”
That’s saying a lot coming from someone as stubborn as Master Mike. And it’s refreshing to hear him admit to a weakness/problem, let alone take steps to address it.
Masthay and Ryan have been competing for the last six weeks and got their first taste of live team drills during this weekend’s rookie orientation camp.
Masthay may not have the booming leg that Ryan does, but he believes his consistency is important.
“I’m not really a guy who goes out and hits 60-yard punts,” Masthay said. “I very seldom do that, but I can go out and hit 5.0 hang times. That’s what I’m better at. It’s all about net, and I can hit 40- to 50-yard punts with good hang times.”
Sorry, give me a minute. I nearly cried at the words “40- to 50-yard punts” and “good hang times.” What are those again?
For Bryan, the hardest part of camp may be learning the rules of NFL football. Some skills from Australian Rules Football will translate, but he’s used to a bigger, softer and more forgiving ball and didn’t know the term “touchback” before he started working with Chapman eight months ago.
However, Bryan is used to performing under pressure and the kicking style in Australian Rules Football could help him with directional kicking and pinning teams deep.
“I use the end-under-end kick to pin them deep,” he said. “I’ve been kicking the ball like that since I was 6 years old, so that’s a real asset that I have the ability to use that kick. It’s been a bit more different to learn kicking a spiral consistently every time, where as the drop punt, as we call it, I can kick like that 10 out of 10 times. Basically, if I want the ball to go out of bounds at the 5, I’m confident I can do that.”
So far, competition between the two has been pretty even. And though training camp is still a few months away, it’s encouraging to see two good punting options already on the Packers’ plate.