Door closing quickly on punter

B.J. Sander did nothing to embarrass himself, but nothing to distinguish himself last season as the punter for the future in Green Bay. General manager Ted Thompson's recent moves to sign two free agent punters is a sure indication that Sander's days as a Packer are numbered.

Last season was a make it-or-break-it season for Sander. For the most part, the left-footed kicker flopped. After taking notes and watching veteran Bryan Barker in 2004, Sander was pretty much handed the job in training camp last year after a respectable showing in NFL Europe. The Packers brought in punters to compete against Sander, but only Sander kicked in preseason games. Still, he struggled in 2005 as a redshirt rookie, finishing with a 39.2-yard gross average and 33.9 net average. Those numbers ranked him near the bottom of the National Football League among NFL punters. He then missed the final two games with a deep knee bruise to his kicking leg.

It would have been interesting to see Sander punt in Lambeau Field for the final two games of the regular season. Judging by the way he punted in late November and early December when the temperatures dropped in Green Bay, there is no reason to believe that he would have improved his averages.

But, alas, there is hope for one of the sore spots of Green Bay's special teams. The Packers signed strong-legged Jon Ryan, a 6-foot, 202-pound punter, who led the Canadian Football League last season, and Ryan Dutton, an Oshkosh, Wis., native.

Of the two cold-weather-acclimated newcomers, Jon Ryan will push the hardest to take the punting job away from Sander next season in Green Bay. He has spent the last two seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He led the league in both gross punting average (50.6) and net average (42.3) last year. As a rookie, he averaged 43.2 yards per punt and had one punt of 92 yards as a rookie.

The Packers had to fork over a reported $35,000 signing bonus to the 24-year-old Ryan, but that's peanuts compared to the half-million dollar bonus that then-GM Mike Sherman gave to Sander after taking him in the third round of the 2004 NFL draft. Furthermore, if Ryan can beat out Sander, his salary cap number for 2006 will be far less than Sander's scheduled cap number of $530,906.

Thompson deserves credit for beating out other NFL teams, like the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, that were in hot pursuit of Ryan. As a result of signing Ryan, Thompson can focus on obtaining players to fortify other positions instead of seeking another punter in free agency, or a later round in the draft.

As it stands the Packers have four punters on their roster – Sander, Jon Ryan, Ryan Dutton and Ryan Flinn. That's a lot of Ryans, but it sure looks like one Ryan - Jon - has the inside track at this point. The Regina, Saskatchewan native obviously is used to frigid conditions, and has proved that he can boot the ball farther than most north of the U.S/Canadian border. The jury is still out on Dutton, who had tryouts with Cleveland and Seattle the past two training camps before getting released. Flinn, a free agent and part-time bartender who punted the last two games for Green Bay, was no better than Sander.

Sander has had his chances in Green Bay. If he without question tops his competition during this off-season and training camp, then he deserves another shot. But after watching him struggle during the preseason of 2004 and throughout 2005, the Packers are better prepared to move on with a new face (and leg) at this position.

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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