After setting the Green Bay Packers’ net punting record in each of his first four seasons with the team, 2014 looked like another banner campaign for Tim Masthay.
After eight games, Masthay ranked 12th in the league with a net average of 40.8 yards. That was 1.8 yards better than in 2013, when he had a career-high 39.0-yard net.
Then came a stunning slump. Masthay wound up ranked 30th with a net of 37.0. In the final seven games (five regular season, two postseason), he had net averages of 35.0 vs. New England, 31.0 vs. Atlanta, 30.3 at Buffalo, 34.5 at Tampa Bay, 27.7 vs. Detroit, 34.0 vs. Dallas and 35.2 at Seattle.
“I’m disappointed about the second half of last year,” Masthay said on Thursday. “The second half was not good enough. I feel terrible about that. Performing well is always something I want really, really badly. I feel like I owe the organization. I was very disappointed about the second half of last season. That said, I feel really good moving forward. I feel really good right now. I’m excited about the opportunity I have in front of myself in OTAs and then training camp and the preseason. Hopefully, I’ll do the job like I expect to do it and go from there.”
What made the second half of last season particularly frustrating for Masthay is that he had been impervious to slumps. While he had a disappointing game here and there, Masthay hadn’t put together a bad stretch until last season.
“It was really frustrating. Really frustrating,” Masthay said. “Kind of like this offseason felt super-long, the second half of the season felt like an eternity to me. I think I learned some things. I think I experimented a little too much during the season. I think I also had too many negative thoughts in my head. Moving forward, those were a couple of lessons that I took from it. Outside of that, I think I’ve figured out a couple things technically that will help me moving forward.”
While Masthay isn’t one to make excuses, new special teams coordinator Ron Zook thought inactivity might have had an impact. He didn’t punt in Week 5 at Chicago and Week 8 at New Orleans, plus had a Week 9 bye. He also punted just once in home games against Philadelphia (Week 11), New England (Week 13) and Atlanta (Week 14). Having punts blocked at Miami (Week 6) and vs. Philadelphia probably didn’t help, either.
“He did, he got in a little rut last year,” Zook said. “I think part of it was we went through two games where we didn’t punt the football. I don’t know that that’s ever happened. You say, well, you warm up during the game and you do all of that stuff, but actually going out there and punting the football in the game, you can get out of your synch a little bit there and your rhythm. I tell the cover team sometimes, ‘Tiger Woods puts it in the woods once in a while.’ You’ve got a 13-inch object that falls funny and the wind and all of those kinds of things, it doesn’t always go where you want it to go.”
The early returns have been encouraging. Zook said Masthay is “kicking the snot out of the ball right now.” The question is, when the preseason arrives, will Masthay take care of business like Mason Crosby did in 2013? After a dismal 2012, Crosby emerged from a battle with Giorgio Tavecchio to turn in two outstanding seasons. After his poor year, Masthay must hold off challenger Cody Mandell.
“My main focus, and I can tell Tim’s doing the same thing, is just really focus in on your details, the things that you can control, the things you do well,” Crosby said. “If anything, it makes you dive in and look at some things a little closer. It can be extremely positive. If you take the right approach — and I know Tim will because he’s such a detailed guy. He works hard and he’s extremely good at what he does (and) he’s going to hone those skills even more.”
After the season, Masthay took a step back to clear his head before redoubling his focus on fundamentals. Several times, he emphasized that he couldn’t wait for the start of training camp to put 2014 behind him.
“I’ve been waiting for training camp to start since the day after the Seattle game, pretty much. So, yeah, I’m antsy,” Masthay firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.