Undrafted Punter Has Shot To Unseat Harris

Normally it would be unheard of for an undrafted free agent to beat out a veteran punter but the circumstances are a little different when it comes to Kansas product Curtis Ansel, who was rated one of the top punters in the nation after averaging 41.2 yards per punt and pinning opponents inside their 20 yard line on 40.4% of his kicks.

(ALLEN PARK) - Undrafted free agent Curtis Ansel of Kansas has a shot at unseating incumbent Nick Harris as the Lions punter for 2005.

Normally it would be unheard of for an undrafted free agent to beat out a veteran punter but the circumstances are a little different when it comes to Ansel, who was rated one of the top punters in the nation after averaging 41.2 yards per punt and pinning opponents inside their 20 yard line on 40.4% of his kicks.

Another factor is that Harris was never meant to be a Lion. Veteran John Jett had been entrenched as the Lions punter for the last eight years. However, Jett filled in as a defensive back on the scout team for a few Lions practices and while attempting to back pedal, caught his spikes in the turf and suffered a severely strained thigh muscle that put him out for the 2003 season.

Jett told me at the time, he was taking things "a day at a time." But more foreboding, Jett said while he had suffered strains in the past, he "had never experienced anything like this."

Meanwhile, Detroit scoured the waiver wire and signed Harris, who had been released earlier by the Cincinnati Bengals after posting the lowest average among AFC punters during his tenure in Ohio.

Detroit briefly considered addressing the punting position in last month's draft, but when Green Bay went after Iowa punter B.J. Sander in round three, Detroit decided to go with the status quo. That was until Ansel went undrafted. Originally a guard in high school, the 6-foot, 210-pounder walked on to the Garden City Community College football team after going unrecruited out of high school. He was named all-conference and was invited to try out for the varsity squad at KU.

After a spotty sophomore season, Ansel shined in 2002 averaging 42.2 per punt, he followed that up with a consistent 2003 season for the Jayhawks.

Detroit immediately moved to sign Ansel to provide competition to one of the weaker positions on the roster.

"He had a great minicamp," special teams coach Chuck Priefer told the Kansas Statesman. "He did very well, better even than I expeced. He has a great leg, and he's a great kid. Like most rookies, he's a little inconsistent, but he's got a great leg."

That is no worse than what Detroit experienced last year from the inconsistent Harris who hurt Detroit with poor performances against Dallas and Green Bay.

Ominious in his comments to the Statesman, Priefer added regarding Harris, "he did a good job for us, but he's got to get better. We think we need to upgrade."

If Detroit is willing to roll the dice they may find a player with a bigger upside and a stronger leg. Twice in his collegiate career Ansel uncorked punts of longer than 80 yards.

For his part Ansel has taken a matter of fact approach to the possibility of being an NFL player when the regular season starts on Sept 5th.

"It's a 50-50 deal. I think I have a good shot. I have to work hard, and if it happens it happens."

But then sounding disturbing like former American Idol contestant William Hung, Ansel stated, "As long as I do my part, that's all I can do."

Fifteen minutes of fame? That's not it for Ansel, he wants to be here for the long haul

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