Playing for the Hamburg Sea Devils, Sander finished tied for fourth out of six punters in the league with a 40.0-yard average on 30 punts. He led the league in net average (36.6) and had 12 punts drop inside the 20 and one touchback. His longest punt of the 10-game season was 65 yards. Minnesota's Travis Dorsch, who was with the Packers during the 2004 off-season, led NFL Europe in punting with a 42.5-yard gross avg. (34.9-yard net avg.). Dorsch also was a high draft pick (fourth round) of Cincinnati in 2002 and struggled to meet expectations early in his career. He likely will be the punter for the Minnesota Vikings this season.
Sander, taken in the third round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Packers, will be competing against Brooks Barnard and Bryce Benekos in training camp for the punting duties. Last year, Sander struggled during the preseason and finished with an average of 36.0 yards per punt. Sherman kept Sander on the roster, but went with veteran Bryan Barker to handle the punting and tutor Sander.
Barker was not re-signed by the Packers, who have their fingers crossed that Sander will meet their expectations.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm not only competing with the two guys that are here, I'm competing with everybody else in the league," Sander said. "I'm going in as if it's an open job and I have to win it."
At this point, Sander is about on the same talent level as Barnard and Benekos. Sander has more potential than the other two, but has yet to flash it on the professional level. All three of the punters have a good chance of winning the job. But the pressure is on Sander because all eyes once again will be on him every time he boots the ball in practice, and in pre-season games.
"It's an open job," said Sander, who returned in time to punt at the end of the Packers' minicamp earlier in the month. "I have to come in and win the job. I have to do what I'm capable of doing, prove to the coaches that I can do this. As far as I'm concerned, I am not only competing with the two guys that are here but against everyone in the league. It's one of those things where the punter of this team might not be here right now, but I am going in as it's an open job and I have to win it."
Like it or not, Sander will be a prime target among the mass of media that cover the Packers until he can produce longer punts on a consistent basis. The expectations placed on him by the Packers were set above any other punter when they moved up to select him in the third round of the draft last year. So, the pressure will always be on him to do well.
To his credit, Sander is very down to earth, humble and fully understands the situation he faces. He has faced the glare of the media, despite performances that would make many players want to avoid the eye of the camera, or persistent questions from reporters. If he can overcome that kind of constant scrutiny later this summer in training camp with a better performance on the field, he definitely will have earned a roster spot.
"It's one of those things I have to deal with," Sander said. "It comes with the territory, so I'm prepared for it. I'll just go in and do what I can do, and go from there."
Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.