UPDATE: Sander has veteran challenger

With their anointed punter kicking the ball like a third-stringer rather than a third-round draft choice, Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman sent a message Monday by signing veteran punter Bryan Barker.

Barker was one of three veteran punters in camp Monday. He won the right to battle the beleaguered rookie B.J. Sander, who suffered through another abysmal performance Saturday night against New Orleans.

Even with a 54-yarder to open the night, Sander averaged just 35.2 yards on five attempts Saturday. He wasn't much better in warm-ups when he wasn't facing a rush. The 40-year-old Barker, meanwhile, boasts a career average of 42.2 yards with a net of 35.7. Last season in Washington, Barker averaged 40.2 yards per punt with a net of 34.3 on 84 punts, planting 24 inside the 20. He topped the NFC with a season-long effort of 69 yards.

Despite his age, Barker proclaimed himself "as healthy and strong as I've ever been. According to the tape measure and the clock, I'm still kicking as well as I ever have. So, I'm not ready to hang it up. I still think I can contribute to a winning football team."

Barker has punted for five teams in his 15-year career. Besides Washington, Barker served stings with Kansas City (1990-03), Philadelphia (1994) and Jacksonville (1995-2000). He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Denver in 1988 and kicked in Seattle's camp in 1989 before catching on with the Chiefs, where he had an outstanding rookie campaign.

During Barker's final two seasons in Jacksonville, John Bonamego was a special-teams coach. Bonamego now works for the Packers as their special-teams coordinator.

"We have to address a need on our team," Bonamego said Monday. "B.J. has a lot of talent and ability. He just has to be more consistent. He can be a very good punter in this league."

Bonamego said "consistency" is the reason the team went shopping for a punter. Here's consistency: Barker has never averaged less than 40 yards per punt in his long career.

Barker was signed to a one-year contract worth the veterans minimum of $760,000. By league rule, Barker will count only $450,000 against the salary cap. He beat out a pair of 39-year-olds, Mark Royals and Dan Stryzinski, for the gig. The signing gives the Packers three punters, since they hung onto Australian rookie Nathan Chapman.

For his part, Sander wasn't surprised by the move.

"I knew it was going to happen," Sander said. "They had to do what they thought was best for the organization, whether that was bringing in competition for me or just to have an insurance policy for them."

If Sander doesn't get his act together, Barker will be more than an insurance policy. Along with Saturday's poor performance, Sander averaged 36.5 yards against Seattle and just 27.3 in the Family Night scrimmage.

"(The coaches) had said, ‘If we don't see more consistency out of you, we probably will bring somebody in,'" Sander said. "I knew after Saturday's game that probably would happen."

Sander ranks 32nd in the 32-team NFL in punting during the preseason, not exactly what Sherman had in mind when he traded the team's fourth- and fifth-round draft choice to move up to the 87th pick in the third round to grab the former Ohio State standout.

"Obviously, he hasn't had the success here with the consistency that we're looking for," Sherman said.

Making matters worse, Josh Bidwell is averaging 43.2 yards per punt in Tampa Bay and former Packers camp leg Kevin Stemke, who played his high school ball in Green Bay, is averaging 43.8 yards in Washington.

Packer Report Top Stories