Sander again will be under the microscope this pre-season, but the second-year punter seems much more at ease this time around. At least that's what he's telling everyone, including special teams coach John Bonamego.
"I was telling ‘Bono' that I feel a lot more comfortable this year than I did last year," Sander said. "I can come in here and I know what to expect, and I know is expected of me, so I'm a lot more comfortable with the way things are going."
Sander finished with a shaky 36.0-yard average during the 2004 preseason, including a five-yard shank in the exhibition finale at Tennessee. That woeful performance prompted then general manager and coach Mike Sherman to sign the 40-year-old Barker. Sherman kept Sander on the roster, though, he was not active for any game, but Barker was not re-signed this off-season.
The Packers are hoping that Sander will regain the form he had while at Ohio State when he won the Ray Guy Award for the nation's top punter in 2003. If he still struggles, free agent Bryce Benekos will get every opportunity to win the job, or the Packers may be forced to sign a veteran.
So far, Sander has been punting well in practice, but it's difficult to judge because he rarely faces a strong rush or, many times, no rush. Green Bay's upcoming scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills later this week and four preseason games will provide a much better testing ground for Sander.
"Every day he makes progress," Packers coach Mike Sherman said on Monday. "Had a good day yesterday. From the first day to yesterday, he has been making strides."
Sander is not an overpowering, kick-the-ball-out-of-the-stadium-type punter. He is good at dropping the ball inside the 20. In NFL Europe this spring, Sander led the six-team league with the highest number of punts inside the 20 (12 of 30). Punting for a high-powered offense, Sander normally will not be asked to boom the ball downfield. More often than not, he'll have to directional kick inside the 20 yard line. That's one of the reasons the Packers allowed Josh Bidwell to get away in free agency. Bidwell has a much stronger leg than Sander and often kicked the ball into the end zone for touchbacks.
So here we are again keeping a close eye on Sander. Will he improve? All indications are that he will. He has worked on his footwork and release during the off-season while punting for the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe. While his mechanics are smoother, so is Sander's mental approach.
"I want to go out and do what I can to improve on what I've been doing and move forward," Sander said.
Chances are, he will.
Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.