Adam Graessle hasn't punted in a game since the 2006 finale at the University of Pittsburgh. He had never even set foot in an NFL camp, much less competed for a job, until being invited to the Packers' rookie camp on a tryout basis last week.
Graessle finally has his foot in the door.
Graessle was signed to a three-year contract by the Packers on Monday. He joins Jeremy Kapinos, who was the Packers' punter for the final four games last year, and Durant Brooks, a sixth-round draft choice by the Washington Redskins last year, as the three punters on their 80-man roster.
They'll take two to camp; a source said it's likely the team will have all three punters battle it out for the next "couple of weeks" to determine who will compete through the rest of the offseason.
That's for another day, though. For Graessle, this opportunity is more than two years in the making.
"It was awesome. It's been a long time coming for me," he said. "To finally hear those words and to be asked to stay was awesome."
Graessle's path to the NFL isn't unusual, though it is a bit extreme even by a punter's standards.
Kapinos' trek to Green Bay was fairly typical. He was Penn State's punter all four seasons and was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter during his senior season. Kapinos punted in one game for the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie in 2007 but was released the following offseason without getting an opportunity to compete in training camp. He was out of football all year until being signed late in the season by the Packers, who finally gave up on Derrick Frost. Kapinos stayed in shape by kicking at a local high school.
Graessle, on the other hand, was not signed after the draft. As his kicking coach, Paul Assad, put it, Graessle "bombed" during his workout at the Scouting Combine leading up to the 2007 draft. That performance seemingly trumped his potential and production. Graessle averaged 42.6 yards per punt from 2004 through 2006. He uncorked a pair of 70-plus yard punts during his sophomore season and a 67-yarder as a junior. As a senior, he had a long of 61 yards, but more impressively, he had 21 inside-the-20 punts with just one touchback. Plus, he kicked off four years and was the holder for three.
So, Graessle waited. And worked. And waited. And worked. For two years, Graessle's passion for the game burned, even if no one in the NFL was taking notice.
"I love football, first of all," he told Packer Report on Monday. "I made the commitment because I thought I had the ability to play in the NFL. So, I made the commitment to myself that I would go after it for a few years and fully dedicated myself to that. I wanted to play football and be on a team like the Packers, and it just motivated me through working out with no reward for the last couple of years."
Graessle got a job to pay the bills but wouldn't give up on his dream, and he wouldn't succumb to the frustration.
"I think anyone who's been in my shoes or has been in my situation, I think they question it at a certain point,"he said. "You've just got to, if you really love it, stick to it. I never let negative thoughts enter my mind too much because I didn't want to get distracted."
Graessle continued to hone his skills. After not punting at kicking camps attended by NFL scouts last year, he participated in a camp in Las Vegas in early March and Phoenix in early April. At the Phoenix camp, 26 teams had representatives, including the Packers with special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.
Graessle put on a show. He kicked about 25 balls, without a bad one in the bunch. He averaged 58 yards per kick with hang time of 4.9 seconds, said his agent, Mark Mersel.
"He just blew away the competition," Mersel said. "He absolutely dominated."
"I was on fire," Graessle said. "I got a lot of interest from a couple of teams."
One of those teams were the Packers, which led to he and Louisiana Tech's Chris Keagle getting a look at last weekend's rookie orientation camp. After the camp, the Packers liked Graessle's potential enough to give him a contract. But, with three punters on the roster, his spot is anything but secure.
"We all know he has a big leg," Assad, the renowned NFL "kick doctor," said. "I think there's still some things that we see that he can work on to be better. He called here (on Sunday) and Coach Slocum gave him some ideas. I think we're all on the same page with the things we've been trying to work on that will make him better. It's mostly just footwork stuff. There's kind of a fine line. You don't want the guy to lose his power by becoming overly technical. But Coach Slocum is going about it the right way."
One issue for Graessle is his height. At 6-foot-4, that height helps produce his power. However, his long legs take him closer to the line of scrimmage, increasing the chances of him having a kick blocked. He had five blocked as a sophomore, one as a junior and none as a senior.
"There's different ways to make a guy what we call ‘not cover ground,'" Assad said. "If you look back at Jon Ryan, he's a similar kind of punter in the way he's built. The thing is, a big, tall guy like that takes up just a little more ground when he punts. We want to keep them under 3 1/2, 4 yards, and it's harder for him to punt in that small of space. He's working at it. He's got most of it down. It's starting to become more natural and he's doing it faster."
Graessle's potential is intriguing. The Packers have gone through 10 punters since letting Craig Hentrich leave in free agency in 1998. Graessle has the big leg to finally add stability, and performing as he did in front of scouts — not to mention with two years of hard work at stake — hints that he can handle the pressure of kicking in front of 70,000 fans with 10 defenders trying for a block.
"I think he's continuing to get better and better and better," Assad said. "He's really just scratching the surface of how could he can be. He's capable of huge, sailing punts; 60- or 70-yard bombs. I think it's going to be exciting to see what he does. Hopefully, he'll unleash some big ones in the preseason."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.