Shank could be final nail for Sander

On the sideline, Packers rookie punter <!--Default NodeId For B.J. Sander is 1268072,2004--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:1268072]>B.J. Sander</A> could be seen laughing. It sure beats crying. <p>

Here are the pertinent statistics from the Packers' punters during Friday night's 27-7 loss in the preseason finale at Tennessee:

— Fifteen-year veteran Bryan Barker averaged 43.3 yards per punt with a net of 42.0.

— Rookie third-round pick B.J. Sander averaged 32.5 yards per punt with a net of 27.5.

— Sander's second punt, in the midst of a decent rush, went 5 yards.

After the game, Packers coach Mike Sherman was quick to compliment Sander for rebounding from that embarrassing effort and getting off perhaps his two best punts of the preseason.

But the fact remains, Sander kicked a ball that traveled 5 yards. The Packers have Super Bowl aspirations, but with a sputtering offense and a defense that hasn't been tested by an offense that's had a week to prepare for the onslaught of blitzes, field position will be vital. While releasing Sander would be a stinging blow considering he cost the Packers a fourth- and a fifth-round draft choice, it's hard to imagine Sherman going into the season with a shaky punter.

Especially when the veteran Barker, while not outstanding, certainly has performed well enough.

Barker's punts traveled 52 yards (3-yard return), 41 yards (19-yard return called back by an illegal block), 49 yards (3-yard return) and an ugly 31 yarder that went out of bounds.

Barker's one ugly duckling was as beautiful as a bald eagle compared to Sander's dud. Sander's first punt went about 45 yards, but the end zone was only 38 yards away, so he wound up with a 38-yarder with a net of 18. Next was the shank, followed by a 46-yard punt (fair catch at the 9-yard line) and a 41-yard punt (fair catch at the 12). The latter two punts had huge hang time and displayed the reasons Sherman thought so highly of Sander coming out of Ohio State.

What Sherman must decide before 3 p.m. Sunday is whether to risk Sander's inconsistencies for a player who flashed such potential on his final two kicks.

"I don't think you can minimize it," Sherman said of the 5-yarder. "It was a factor in the game. It gave us poor field position. Fortunately we didn't allow them to score off that shank. But still, it created a tremendous field advantage for the Tennessee Titans so it's definitely part of what happened tonight. We can't look the other way, but at the same time I thought he bounced back and came back on the next punt and punted well. He tried to rush that punt. I saw exactly what happened. He felt a rush and he tried to rush what he was doing and, hence, the shank."

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