With Baltz, punting no longer a question mark

Maryland long snapper Andrew Schmitt released free off the line and locked his eyes on Georgia Tech punt returner Tyler Evans. He had snapped the ball from Maryland's 35 yard line, so at the very least a fair catch was probable.

Schmitt saw Evans start to run backwards, then slow and watch as the ball sailed over his head into the end zone. Travis Baltz's punt went 65 yards for a touchback. Schmitt had to take a breather on the sideline after sprinting to the goal line.

"If Travis gets off a good one," Schmitt said, "I know I'm going to be running for a long time."

That would be expected if this was last year, when he snapped to Adam Podlesh, now punting for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But with Baltz, a freshman who won the job only midway through training camp?

Well, if the first six games are any indication, Schmitt will have to amp up his conditioning. Baltz is averaging 40.9 yards per punt and of his 31 punts, nine have been pinned inside the opposing 20 yard line. He was nominated for specialist and rookie of the week for his performance against Georgia Tech, when he punted five times for a 49.6 yard average.

It made him a popular request with the media during the bye week. Last Tuesday, as special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski walked out of the offensive line meeting room—the makeshift media room—a reporter was interviewing Baltz.

"Remember, he's not hall of fame yet," Rychleski interjected.

There's no denying, though, that Baltz has exceeded expectations.

Well, unless you're Travis Baltz.

"I still feel like I have a long way to go," he said. "Really, I know it sounds dumb, but Saturday was only five punts. Those very easily could have gone the other direction and been very bad. We could be sitting here and saying, "well, you know, what's going on?'"

That's one way to look at it. The other is that Baltz has punted at such a high level, there's been little drop off from Podlesh. In 2006, Podlesh averaged 42.9 yards per punt and kicked 23 inside the 20 yard line.

The main difference between the two, Rychleski said, is consistency.

"Adam was like a damn JUGS machine, he was so consistent," Rychleski said. "[With Travis], there haven't been bad punts. There haven't been great punts, but they're not bad. The season's not over yet and he's still a freshman. I'm waiting for those shanks."

If a punter can consistently kick the ball 45 yards with 4.5 seconds of hang time, he will have a shot at the NFL, Rychleski said. Baltz averages about 3.8-3.9 seconds of hang time when Rychelski times it in practice to go along with his 40.9 yard average.

Rychleski said he's still a work in progress, and that's fine with Baltz. He prides himself in working hard, so much so he almost wore out his leg from punting so much in the beginning of the season.

"In a lot of ways those guys are a lot alike in the way they work and how they take their punting to heart," Schmitt said of Podlesh and Baltz.

"What he's trying to is taking pride in his work. It's his craft," Rychleski said. "He knows how important it is. He doesn't want to let the team down. That's all I can ask from the kid. He's got talent and he can even get better. That's the scary thing. I'm very pleased with his attitude and how he approaches what he's got to do."

Rychleski watches on with stop watch in hand.

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