Ryan about to boot Sander out of town

With one 60-yard punt after another during Friday's OTA practice, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says record-setting CFL punter Jon Ryan is on track to unseat disappointing B.J. Sander as the Packers' punter.

Hey, B.J., did you notice who went first during punting drills at Friday's practice, err, opportunity session?

OK, so if you didn't notice that, B.J., then you had to have noticed the missiles that were being launched off the foot of Canadian Jon Ryan.

Ryan took, pardon the pun, a leg up in his battle with incumbent B.J. Sander for the Green Bay Packers' punting job on Friday. During a special-teams session at Clarke Hinkle Field, Ryan booted the pigskin, err, leather so hard that you wondered if PETA would show up to protest the rough treatment of a formerly living creature.

Ryan launched one punt that went 57 yards.

And that was his worst.

In his seven punts while pinned at the back of the end zone, the last five went at least 60 yards. In the air. Without a gale-forced wind at his back. With hang time only a bit shorter than Al Harris' hair.

Sander was no slouch, averaging just shy of 48 yards per punt. But compared to Ryan's average of 63 yards, Sander looked like a National Spelling Bee contestant who wandered into a World's Strongest Man contest.

"The balls have been coming off his foot," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who said he missed Ryan's punting exhibition because he was working with the quarterbacks. "You guys can probably hear it over on the sidelines."

Not to mention downtown Ashwaubenon and south to De Pere.

"He's got a very explosive leg," McCarthy added.

For his part, Ryan remained low key about his stunning performance, noting that this was just one day of practice some three months before the season begins.

"He's had some great days. I think today I had a fairly good day, but it's a long haul from here until the season starts," said Ryan, who averaged a CFL-record 50.6 yards per punt last season with Winnipeg, which makes the Frozen Tundra seem like a day at the beach. "We're going to have a lot of days and a lot of punting ahead of us. You're not going to win the job in one day, that's for sure."

It's hardly breaking news that Sander's job is in jeopardy. He ranked 30th in the NFL in punting last season, getting progressively worse as the season grew progressively colder. And Mike Sherman, the man who so foolishly traded up to grab Sander in the third round in 2004, is no longer here to be Sander's protective big brother.

The key for Ryan is to not just have one huge day, but a lot of solid days. He's an NFL novice who hasn't been challenged with an all-out punt-block charge. The world's strongest leg doesn't matter at all if the punt's getting blocked into your face. Hang time, which isn't the vital stat on the bigger fields of the CFL as it is in the NFL, will be a key. So will consistency; a pair of 45-yard punts is infinitely better than a 65-yarder and a 30-yarder, even though the latter's average is greater.

"If I stay focused back there and don't try to kill it, that's when I usually get my good ones," Ryan said. "I can hit them 55, 65 yards. I'll take it. It's just one of those things I've been working on — the hang time — and it's coming more naturally now."

The Packers gave Ryan a paltry $35,000 bonus to challenge Sander. Ryan gladly took the money, no doubt seeing a golden opportunity while taking a quick scan of last year's punting leaders.

"I think B.J.'s a great punter," said Ryan with a surprisingly straight face after telling that whopper of a tall tale. "I'm not going to slight him whatsoever. But they expressed to me that they're going to give me a fair shot and a fair look, and you know, that's all you can ask for. If you can go into camp with another guy and play better than him, then they're going to give you the spot, and I wanted to go into a situation like that."

So far, Ryan's on track to get that spot and boot Sander right out of town.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

Packer Report Top Stories