Punters show no leg

After the Family Night scrimmage, the Packers' punting situation was a concern. After the first preseason game, it was a worry. After Saturday's game against New Orleans, it's almost time to post an ad in the classifieds.

If the third time's the charm, then rookie third-round pick B.J. Sander is cursed. Or simply a bust. Either way, his disastrous scrimmage performance and dreadful preseason debut was followed by another poor performance Saturday in Lambeau Field. About the only positive is Sander almost certainly won't lose his job to rookie Australian Nathan Chapman, who was just as bad.

The final numbers aren't for the weak of heart. Sander punted five times for a 35.2-yard average. His net was 28.4, a number lowered dramatically when his only good punt of the night, his first, sailed 54 yards for a touchback. His final four kicks averaged a woeful 30.5 yards.

Sherman remains the sole member of the Sander Fan Club, although even his support is waning for a player he landed in the third round via a trade that cost him the team's fourth- and fifth-rounders.

"I still believe that this punter can be skilled and work though this thing," Sherman said after the game. "He's had some punts that are pretty impressive and some punts that aren't so impressive. (We're only) two weeks into the preseason games. We'll work with him but not have our head in the sand in the process."

Sherman dismissed a notion that Sander is being hurt by a lack of confidence or jitters that get worse with each bad punt.

"He doesn't get flustered by a whole lot," Sherman said. "We had a couple conversations that might have flustered him, but it didn't seem like he's really flustered. So it's not that. It's not a lack of confidence. He's not hitting the ball."

Chapman's numbers were slightly better than Sander's, thanks to some fortunate rolls. After not kicking against Seattle, Chapman punted three times for a 38.0-yard average and a 34.0 net. None of the three punts were blessed with hang time.

"He just didn't hit the ball well," Sherman said of the former Aussie Rules player who has improved daily at practice and was in position to possibly win the job with a big night.

At least nobody got injured in the process of Saturday's punting follies. Their pregame punts coincided with the introduction of the Packers' starting offense. The rest of the players formed a tunnel, located about 30 yards from long snapper Rob Davis. Fortunately, Sander and Chapman were able to clear the mass of Packers players and managed not to end Brett Favre's consecutive games streak by plunking him in the head.

With his seven pregame punts, Sander averaged 37.0 yards. He nailed one 55 yards and another 45 yards, but the best of his other five went just 36 yards. Chapman got six opportunities and averaged 30.8 yards. His fifth punt went all of 17 yards and his best were a pair of 37-yarders.

The million-dollar question is whether either punter is worthy of punting in the season opener at Carolina, even if one of them emerges and starts hitting the ball with consistency. Sherman gave no indication that average will be good enough.

"There would have to be some fair amount of consistency. We haven't had that just yet," Sherman said.

Because it's the preseason, the poor punting isn't a major issue for the defense. If it continues into the regular season, however, frustration could build if the defense is forced to defend a short field time and again.

Asked for his thoughts on the punters, safety Darren Sharper paused for five full seconds before letting out a sigh.

"Man, I think (special-teams assistant) Frank Novak and (special-teams coordinator John Bonamego) are going to have their hands full," Sharper said with blunt honesty. "Our coverage teams are doing well. I think those young guys have a little jitters. And it's not helping that every time he has a bad one that the fans are getting on him. It doesn't help those young guys. But you're a professional and you have to work though that and I know they will."


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