New game, new country for Chapman

Can special-teams history repeat itself? Can the 2004 rendition of Brett Conway vs. Ryan Longwell wind up with the same result, only this time at punter?

If there was such a thing as a sure thing, it was the third-round pick, Conway, beating out the camp leg, Longwell, in 1997. Conway, however, started horribly, then got injured, and never played in a regular-season game for the Packers. Longwell only became the leading scorer in the long and storied history of the Green Bay Packers.

Fast forward to 2004, and it's third-round pick B.J. Sander vs. American football novice Nathan Chapman.

Sander was awful in the Family Night Scrimmage and only slightly better on 10 attempts Monday night against Seattle. Sander's woeful performances have opened a punting battle that was thought to be nonexistent. Sherman will give the Australian newcomer a chance Saturday against New Orleans, something in retrospect he wished he had done on Monday.

"I didn't punt him the other day. I probably should have," Sherman said after Thursday's practice. "I was just hoping that Sander would punt better. Ten punts, I know I should have punted the other guy."

Chapman is happy to be getting a chance Saturday. The Australian Rules Football player is happy just getting a chance in the NFL, period. Chapman played 10 years of Aussie Rules, which is as similar to the NFL as tennis is to table tennis. He got hooked on the American game by watching it on television. Chapman turned his love for the sport into a quest to play it.

"I just love the game and I can kick a ball," Chapman said when asked why he came to the United States. "I just practiced and made a video and tried every possible way to get in the door. It took me three years but I'm here.

"Obviously, it's not an easy organization to get into. It's probably hard for them to think they're going to get someone from off the street to play on their team. Usually you have to go through the colleges. I knew it was going to be hard to break in, but now I've got the chance and I just have to make sure I take it."

After watching Sander kick dud after dud on Monday, Chapman's debut will be highly anticipated. While Sander hit three clunkers during the scrimmage, Chapman's only punt soared 53 yards. Consistency is a major issue, as you'd expect from a guy who is so new to the sport. At practice last week, Chapman knocked one ball out of bounds at the 1-yard line and another out around the 10. His next two punts, however, were shanks.

"I'm settling in and adjusting to what it's like beyond the line. Every day I'm doing a little bit better, and I'm working on a few things to make it a little smoother," Chapman said.

Chapman's transition wasn't made any easier by the U.S. government. Chapman signed with the Packers on March 29 after a tremendous workout in the Don Hutson Center but was not given his work visa until shortly after the June minicamp. That meant Chapman spent two minicamps' worth of practices standing, watching and itching for an opportunity.

The wasted time was time well spent, however, from Chapman's perspective.

"It was good to see the pace of things and learn how to get around here and learn where I need to be at what time," Chapman said. "But there's nothing like actually being behind the center and the line and getting the snap. The more I can do that, the better I'll get."

Despite his inconsistencies, Chapman is getting better and appears to be a fast learner. Facing a rush for the first time, he struggled just catching snaps during his first week, but he's eliminated that problem. And for a player who in Aussie Rules kicked with his left and right foot and kicked on the run, the repetitive mechanics of an NFL punter have been difficult to master, he admits.

"There's pretty much nothing in common. Beyond kicking the ball with our feet, that's about it," Chapman said when asked to compare the sports. "We do a similar punt and style on the ball in Aussie Rules, but it's not as mechanical a form as we do here. It all happens in the field of play without a stoppage in Aussie Rules. It's a little bit different but the motion is still the same, but everything is so precise here that if you do mess it up, the ball's not going to go anywhere."

Chapman doesn't want to go anywhere. He is loving every second of his NFL experience, and his wife, Brittany, and 4-year-old daughter, Amber-Lily, have fallen for Green Bay. With each day that passes and with each step of his development, Chapman's belief that he made the right move is growing.

"It's awesome. It's awesome. It's such a wild ride," Chapman said. "I just have to make sure I'm getting better each day and show the coaches that I'm worth them having them here and I can provide something for the team. If I don't show that, they get rid of people. I'm probably a little bit behind the eight ball in terms of experience."

At 28 years old and a 10-year professional in Aussie Rules, Chapman isn't your typical rookie. While he's new to the NFL, he's smart enough to know how things work. The Packers spent a third-round pick on Sander for a reason. Because that pick cost the Packers a fourth- and a fifth-rounder, Sander probably will be given a long leash to work out his problems. If Sander doesn't pan out, Sherman's not just going to hand the job to Chapman if he can find someone else better and more consistent. Regardless of what happens between now and when the final roster is decided, Chapman says his NFL dream won't die.

"Getting released wouldn't stop me," Chapman said. "I've got a taste for it now. I'll do whatever I can to make sure I make this team in Green Bay. Whatever happens, if it's the practice squad, it's the practice squad. Or you go to another team. You just do what you've got to do."


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