Scifres Pro Bowl worthy

Debating the wisdom of using a fifth round draft pick on a punter was laid to rest when Mike Scifres delivered a Pro Bowl worthy season. Following in the footsteps of the beloved Darren Bennett was no easy task and Scifres handled it with ease, showing his own "Aussie" pooch.

It was before last year's remarkable season, and Chargers general manager A.J. Smith was talking about the punter who would replace one of the team's most productive and popular players: Darren Bennett.

"We think we have a young guy with the talent to go to the Pro Bowl," Smith said last September of Mike Scifres.

Smith nearly was dead-on.

Scifres had a dream season for the Chargers in 2004, his first as the team's regular punter. And while he didn't quite make the Pro Bowl roster, he did earn Pro Bowl first alternate status to honor his stellar season.

"I got a job and I am happy with it," Scifres said with a smile.

It's easy to say running back LaDainian Tomlinson, quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Antonio Gates or even linebacker Donnie Edwards was the AFC Western Division champs' MVP. But the name which crossed coach Marty Schottenheimer's lips just as often was Scifres.

"He is a weapon," Schottenheimer said on more than one occasion.

Scifres, the Chargers' special teams player of the year, was a boon to Schottenheimer's field-position battles by booming away on numerous efforts.

Scifres finished the year with a 38.4-yard net average, which was third-best in the NFL. Only 23 of his 69 punts were returned, fewest in the league among players punting in all 16 games. Only four punters bettered Scifres' mark of landing 29 of his offerings inside the 20-yard-line.

"I don't think people realize what a big part of the game it is," quarterback Drew Brees said referring to the punting game. "I haven't seen a better one. Mike Scifres – Pro Bowl – punter."

And Scifres did all this in his first year as the regular punter, dusting off the pressures of replacing Bennett.

"It was a learning experience for me to sit behind a guy like Darren and a guy like Steve," said Scifres. "How many rookies coming into the league get a chance to sit behind guys like that – that have been in the league this long. Just sitting back and watching."

That year evidently paid off in a big way and the punter position in San Diego appears to be wrapped up for the next decade.

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