A cool Canadian

CFL punter's ability to kick in cold gives him edge over Sander

While it is way too early to project a winner in the battle for punter this season in Green Bay, here's an early forecast – look no further than Canadian-born-to-be a punter Jon Ryan to beat out incumbent B.J. Sander.

Why Ryan over Sander? It's all ‘aboot' kickin' in nasty conditions, eh? In Green Bay, where the Packers have never sent a punter to the Pro Bowl, the conditions can get ugly. In Canada, the weather can be ridiculous.

"From what I've heard it gets pretty bad here, but it gets real nasty on the prairies in Canada as well," said Ryan. "The wind howls."

Sander, who's coming off a shaky first season that ended prematurely because of a broken left (kicking) leg, was average at best early in the season. His punting average gradually deteriorated as the mercury fell. After Sander was injured while attempting to make a tackle in a blowout loss at Baltimore last December, he finished 15th among NFC punters with a gross average of 39.2 yards per punt. More telling of his ability to handle the elements came during his final two games of the season in Lambeau Field, both cold-weather games, when he had a net average of 29.3 yards on six punts.

Meanwhile, Ryan led the CFL last season in both gross punting average (50.6) and net average (42.3), playing for the Winnepeg Blue Bombers. A CFL third-round selection in 2004, Ryan averaged 43.2 yards per punt and had one punt of 92 yards as a rookie.

In the meantime, Ryan, a 6-foot-0 red-head, gained valuable experience punting in cold weather and adjusting to life as a professional football player during the last two years.

"Just the whole experience from being a student athlete to being a professional and making a living at playing football … It was a big transition," Ryan said. "You learn a lot about not only on-field stuff, but you learn how to handle yourself in the community, how to handle your money and stuff like that. It was a good experience for me."

It certainly seems like Ryan's ability and experience in the CFL will help him land the job in Green Bay. If only tryouts for punter where held in January instead of August. Most punters and kickers can deal with the heat of training camp, but that changes drastically when wind, snow, sleet, sub-zero temperatures, or poor field conditions enter the picture.

Sander, inexplicably selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL draft by then-GM Mike Sherman, has had a free pass in each of his first two seasons. Sander was tutored by veteran Bryan Barker after performing miserably in training camp in 2004. Sherman gave Sander the job, eliminating any competition early in training camp last year, in an effort to alleviate some pressure. Sander did enough to make the team, but he is anything but a lock to keep his job this season.

While at the University of Regina, Ryan led Canadian college punters with a 45.9-yard average. He never caught the attention of NFL scouts, but few kickers do in Canada.

"There was no interest from the NFL whatsoever," Ryan said. "Playing at a Canadian College, you don't get a lot of looks up there. It was a great stepping stone for me. Finally to get a chance here, I hope to take advantage of it and get the most out of it."

Chances are, he will.

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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