Family Night was missing something for Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay.
While Masthay, wife Amanda and children Emory and Paxton were back home in Kentucky following his participation in the Packers’ offseason program, Amanda unexpectedly went into labor. On June 17, Darcy Rose Masthay was born 10 weeks early. She weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces.
“She’s doing good,” Masthay said, a welcome feeling after “a wild six weeks.”
When Masthay returned to Green Bay for the start of training camp last week, he left the rest of his family behind in Lexington, Ky.
“It’s not as fun as usual,” Masthay said after Sunday’s Family Night. “Normally, I’d be out on the field right now watching the fireworks and the laser show with them. I know they were missing it, too. We text and talk every day, obviously.”
Darcy spent the first month of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit. “That was on the shorter range,” Masthay said of kids born so prematurely. Just before Masthay departed for training camp, Darcy was allowed to leave the hospital. However, as Dad went back to work, the rest of the family stayed in Lexington rather than come back to their home in suburban Green Bay.
“It’s obviously different,” Masthay said. “We haven’t done this before during training camp. We’ve done it for small pieces at a time, like OTAs and that sort of thing, so it is a new thing for me. My wife and I made a decision to do it this way for training camp this year, so we’re resolved to do that. It’s a little different not being able to go home and see them, but during camp we’re at the dorm a lot and working a lot, anyway, so there’s not a whole lot of time that we spent together during camp, anyhow.”
With the toughest times behind them, Masthay has been able to focus solely on football as he tries to fight off a challenge from undrafted rookie Peter Mortell, who handed out stats during Packers home games while a student at Green Bay Notre Dame High School. Compared to the anxious times from June, a training camp battle is a relatively stress-free endeavor.
“I come into every camp trying to work on my fundamentals and trying to get better as a punter, knowing that if I’m competing with a guy right here in camp, I’m splitting reps with him, but if I’m not, I’m still trying to improve as a player and get ready for an NFL season,” Masthay said. “And I also know that I’m always competing with free agents that aren’t on a roster or on other rosters that won’t be at some point. I’m ready to compete, just like I’m always ready to compete.”
This is the second consecutive camp in which Masthay has had to fight off a challenger. After a career-worst net average of 37.0 yards in 2014, Masthay had to beat out Cody Mandell last summer. After a career-high and franchise-record net average of 40.3 yards in 2015 and an excellent playoff game at Washington, Masthay had a miserable night in the loss at Arizona. After the draft, the Packers signed Mortell, who was the Big Ten’s punter of the year as a junior at Minnesota and statistically is the best punter in school history.
“I wasn’t pleased with the last game but, other than that, we had a really good year as a punt team and I punted well for most of the year,” Masthay said. “I think it’s pretty simple: On an individual level, I had a really good directional year but certainly have room to improve. I didn’t have my best hang-time year. I’ll be looking to get my directional dialed in just like it was last year and, as camp progresses, I’ll be trying to get the hang time and distance to come along. And then just working on consistency. That’s the biggest thing in the game. So, big picture, I think we had a really good year as a punt team – our guys covered fantastically – but a little sour taste in my mouth with the way the last game went.”
Masthay’s punts last season didn’t often win style points, but that wasn’t the idea. Special teams coordinator Ron Zook asked Masthay to punt to spots rather than to do the punting equivalent of golfer John Daly’s grip it and rip it. On Masthay’s 81 punts, opponents had only 174 return yards. The 41 returns averaged just 4.2 yards per runback.
“Just like every team, really,” Masthay said of his role, “even if you’re a team that punts down the middle, you’re still a directional team. It’s just that your direction is the middle of the field. I’m trying to put the ball out wide a lot of the time and put it in certain spots. I don’t go out there trying to hit a 4.8-second (hang time); 4.8s just come when I’m executing fundamentals. Just like I don’t go out there trying to hit a line drive and a 4.0 (second hang time); sometimes, that’s how the ball comes off but, as long as your direction is good, that can still work out. I’m just out there trying to execute my fundamentals and I know that if I do that, the ball will go where I want it to go. If I’m executing my fundamentals, the placement of the ball will be good, the hang time and distance will be good, and we’ll have a good operation going.”
The operation was exceptional for most of last season. Masthay owns the five best net-punting seasons in franchise history. If he wins the job this year, he’ll set another franchise record with a seventh consecutive season as the team’s primary punter. David Beverly was the punter for six consecutive season spanning 1975 through 1980.
“I care a lot about being a member of this organization and I’m cognizant of the history here, so it means a lot to me to be a part of that,” he said. “It means a lot to me to be the longest-tenured punter here and the records and stuff like that. Being a part of punt teams that I’ve done that, it’s special to me. It’s special because of the history of the organization, because of the men and women that have worked for this organization, because of the teammates I have, because of how difficult it is. And then guys like Brett (Goode, the former snapper) and Mason (Crosby, the longtime kicker), who I’ve played with throughout my career, that bond and going through all of that with them, that makes it really special, too. The records and winning a Super Bowl and managing to stick around for a while here means a lot to me.”
If the training camp battle continues to progress in its current direction, Masthay will emerge victorious again. He and Mortell have punted three times in the first five days of camp. Masthay is averaging 42.0 yards per punt with 4.37 seconds of hang time. Mortell is averaging 37.6 with 4.17 of hang time. Regardless, Masthay knows he can never rest on his accolades. There are numerous other strong-legged punters, either in camp competitions today or working for an opportunity.
“The NFL is an extremely competitive environment filled with extremely competitive men, and I’m no different,” Masthay said. “I’m an extremely competitive guy. I love competition. I love a challenge. I love the pressure to perform. I’m embracing those challenges and the competition and the pressure.”
And at the end of camp, Masthay there will be another embrace. With his family that wasn’t with him on Family Night.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.