Jets' Graham has Bennett on his side

It was two years ago that Ben Graham began to strongly consider coming stateside to try his foot as a punter in the NFL. The veteran of Aussie rules football, Graham, was hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Australian Darren Bennett – the former Chargers punter who is now with the Vikings and has forged a successful career. According to Bennett, Graham has a good shot at sticking with the New York Jets for a long time.

The 31-year old Melbourne native solicits advice from Darren Bennett, who is still kicking at 40 years old, on a regular basis. It is a relationship that goes back to 1992 when the two met.

And Bennett stays abreast of his comrade as he battles for the punting position with Micah Knorr.

While only one percent of AFL players reach the 200-game milestone, Ben Graham played in 219 games before deciding to embark on his journey to New York. He captained Geelong for three seasons and it is said that his longest kick traveled about 95 yards.

"I think he did very well," Bennett said when he got to see him up close last week. "People tend to forget he has been wearing shoulder pads for all of about three weeks. To go out and punt like he did the other night – I think he is progressing nicely."

"When they first handed me my helmet and pads I jokingly asked ‘do I have to wear these?'" countered Graham.

The lefty punter was first approached by the Jets in 1997 but was under contract and could not pursue the NFL lifestyle any further. But he kept thinking about making the journey when the time came.

When Graham's contract was up at the end of 2004, his Australian agent worked with NFL agent Kristen Kuliga to get him his deal. And the Jets were the first team on his short list.

"It was something I intended on doing down the track," Graham said of his meeting with Jets representative Eric Mangini in 1997. "Then opportunity was presented in October of last year. It was a tough decision and once I made it I haven't looked back."

One of the hardest things to do for Graham has been refining his game to the role of punter in the NFL. He can't pull the ball down and run anytime he likes. His job is to simply punt.

Bennett can sympathize with the transition Graham has been making.

"The main thing is learning the parameters of the game," said Bennett. "What you can do and can't do. In Australia, once you get the ball your destiny is in your own hands. Here you have one thing to do and you have to stay within your protection and you are wearing helmet and shoulder pads which changes everything. A lot of guys punt really well in shorts and a tee-shirt but once you put all the stuff on."

"The ability itself comes naturally," said Graham. "The technique had to be refined a little bit. That's an advantage we've got. Darren Bennett came over originally and had a great career and proved that it can be done. Mat McBriar, with Dallas, he's been there for two years. I'm sure you'll see more Australians come over and give it a shot."

That is, of course, has more weight after the Jets cut Micah Knorr on Saturday.

Graham notched six punts on Friday with an average of 42.8 while dropping three inside the twenty. The return man also had trouble fielding two of his punts.

Knorr, meanwhile, has two punts for an average of 40.0, not dropping any inside the twenty.

The decision came quickly on Saturday and would have been unlikely that Knorr could outkick his counterpart in the final game.

"I am not sure what the Jets are thinking long term but he is definitely a project worth taking on," said Bennett. "He has a professional career already. He would like to professional football knowing the demands it puts on your family and your body. I think he is already over that hurdle.

"Playing 12 years in Australia, he will cope with the crowds."


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