When he arrived for the Green Bay Packers’ rookie minicamp, Peter Mortell was the ultimate feel-good story.
Mortell, an undrafted rookie punter from Minnesota, played at Green Bay Notre Dame High School, which is located just up Ridge Road from Lambeau Field. Moreover, his family has deep ties to the organization. Mortell’s grandfather, Jerry Mortell Jr., operated the game clock at the stadium for more than 30 years until handing those duties off to his son and Mortell’s father, Jerry Mortell III. While in high school, Mortell worked in the Lambeau Field press box. He had handed stats to many of the reporters who were asking him questions.
Stories are great. Production is better. Mortell graduated to the latter after an excellent performance in Friday’s victory over Cleveland.
“That’s what I want. I don’t want to be looked at as a story. I want to be looked at as an NFL punter, whether that’s here or somewhere else,” Mortell said after the game. “There’s no sentiment in the NFL. I don’t think the Packers brought me here because I’m a story. They believe that I can fight for a job. I appreciate that people are starting to take note of that. ‘He’s a punter and not just a local kid.’”
After an up-and-down training camp in which it appeared he’d fallen well behind veteran Tim Masthay, Mortell punted three times vs. Cleveland. His second one was a boomer that traveled 62 yards. The second pinned the Browns at their 4-yard line and led to a safety.
“Oh, my goodness,” Mortell said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest with you, even though I’ve been here so many times, just not as a player. You can’t prepare for that. You can’t prepare to punt in Lambeau Field in front of the best fans in football. It took me a little bit to settle in but I think I made some good adjustments with my technique at halftime and calmed down and finished the game pretty strong.”
Mortell averaged 44.0 yards per punt with a net of 42.7. All three punts stuck the Browns inside their 20-yard line. Masthay, who broke his own franchise record for net punting average last season and owns the top five spots in that critical category, averaged 39.7 with a net of just 25.0. His first punt, from the Browns’ 39, was a touchback. On his third punt, the line of scrimmage was the 1 and Masthay hit a solid 43-yarder, but the coverage was poor and it was returned 24 yards.
The game marked just the second time all summer that Mortell earned a definitive victory over Masthay. The first came during the only practice of camp with the line of scrimmage near midfield and the punters trying to place the ball inside the 10. At that practice, Mortell’s three punts were downed or fielded at an average of the 3.7-yard line while Masthay’s average was the 10.7. On Friday’s Mortell’s lone opportunity went out of bounds at the 4 while Masthay’s only chance was caught just over the goal line by Quinten Rollins.
“That’s me. I’m a directional punter,” Mortell said. “I’m not a guy that’s going to get you 5.5 seconds of hang time down the middle. That’s not who I am. In college, we did a lot of directional punting, and it’s something I consider a strong suit of mine. When we cross the 50, I’ve always been pretty good. I feel like I have good control over the ball and can keep it out of the end zone. That’s huge. Those touchbacks can be killer.”
Mortell’s clutch performance in front of friends and family helped him close the gap, but Masthay remains the favorite. Still, Mortell’s done well enough to confirm in his mind that “I’m an NFL punter.” For that to become reality, Mortell knows it’s about finding consistency and eliminating what happened on Tuesday, when his two punts had an average hang time of about 3.55 seconds.
“It’s always about eliminating that one punt,” Mortell said. “I’ve been having it, whether it’s been at practice or even tonight, the one that got fair caught at the 17, I wish I would have had a little more on it. It’s consistency. I think I’ve shown that I have an NFL leg. Now I have to show that I can be consistent with it.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.