The Green Bay Packers’ punting battle between Tim Masthay and Peter Mortell took an incredibly one-sided turn on Monday.
With Mortell watching, Masthay took all 15 punts.
With neither player having seized control of the battle, the Packers are cranking up the volume. Rather than each punter getting maybe a half-dozen punts every other day, special teams coordinator Ron Zook is giving his punters an extended workout. Tuesday will be Mortell’s day to kick, kick and kick some more.
“Let them just settle into what they’re doing,” Zook said on Monday evening. “They both felt good about it. I didn’t even know who was going to go first. I just said one of you go today and one of you go tomorrow.”
Punting with a slight breeze at his back, Masthay averaged 46.0 yards per punt with 4.45 seconds of hang time. His average was hurt by a shank that landed about two-thirds the way up the Ray Nitschke Field bleachers that we estimated to have traveled 10 yards. However, Masthay — who owns the top five spots in the team record book for net punting average — bounced back like a veteran. His next five punts went 48, 51, 50, 52 and 62 yards with 4.70, 4.91, 4.98, 4.76 and 4.81 seconds of hang time. Fatigue? His final three punts went 51 yards with 4.36 seconds of hang time, 56 yards with 4.66 hang time and 55 yards with 5.05 hang time. That last punt landed right at the sideline.
While Mortell has the better numbers in the preseason (49.0 average and 48.8 net for Mortell compared to 42.7 average and 26.7 net for Masthay), Masthay has outkicked Mortell throughout most of training camp. In their lone punts on the Tuesday before the Oakland game, Masthay hit a 58-yarder while Mortell almost hit the bleachers. The day before, none of Mortell’s six punts topped 3.80 hang time.
“I just go day by day. I’m not going to make that decision,” Zook said of the competition. “We’re trying to give them every opportunity that they possibly can. I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to who’s ahead. We’ve kept stats and all that, but I think as we wind down here, then that will become more (evident). I’ll look at it a little bit closer, but I’m not going to be the guy that makes the decision.”
The new approach comes with the added benefit of being increased work for the punt and punt-return units, with Masthay’s 15 reps split between the punt team and kicking to the punt-return team. Punt return has been a major point of emphasis after the Packers’ return average went from fifth in 2014 to 30th in 2015. Punt protection has been an issue throughout camp, including the Family Night practice and Thursday’s preseason game vs. Oakland. Because of protection issues, Masthay had one punt blocked and had to rush off another against the Raiders.
Zook downplayed the protection problems but there’s no doubt that future opponents, like Jacksonville in Week 1 and Minnesota in Week 2, have taken notice and will put that unit to the test — regardless of who’s punting.
“Obviously, you don’t want that to happen but it could come back to a very, very positive thing for us as you go through the year,” Zook said. “That was more just guys trying to get out of there. We decided we were going to work on (defending) the return game more than anything so those guys, we were trying to get out of there. They were holding us and we just left too soon.”
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.