Derrick Frost is long gone but he's linked to the two punters who have been battling kick for kick since offseason workouts began in March.
Frost became available to the Packers when he lost his job in Washington to Durant Brooks. The erratic Frost was replaced in Green Bay by Jeremy Kapinos. When training camp begins on Aug. 1, they'll be vying to be the Packers' punter, a position the team has tried and failed (and failed again) to fill since letting Craig Hentrich sign with Tennessee a decade ago.
Both punters are 24 and neither has much of a track record to give him the upper hand.
Kapinos punted in the final four games last season, with mixed results. His average of 39.2 yards per punt isn't up to an NFL level, but he played in games with kickoff temperatures of 2, 3 and 22 degrees. On the plus side, seven of his 17 punts were downed inside the 20-yard line with only one touchback.
All in all, it wasn't too bad for a punter who didn't have the benefit of competing in a training camp last summer — he was released by the New York Jets in June after punting in one game in 2007 — and kept in shape for the next six months by kicking at a local high school.
"This time last year, I was sitting home. I was cut. So, that's different," Kapinos said Tuesday. "I think it's a lot different than it was coming in. You can kind of ease into it rather than sort of when you have to punt in front of a team, every punt has to be perfect. When I came here for my workout, I hit 20 balls and I turned over every single one of them. That's the kind of intensity you've got to have when you come in. But it's different now because you want to be peaking toward the end of training camp. So, the intensity's up but you're getting your body ready for the long haul."
Brooks comes with the more impressive resume as the Ray Guy Award winner at Georgia Tech and being a sixth-round draft pick by Washington last year. He beat out Frost but lasted only six games. He averaged just 39.6 yards per punt with a net of 32.1, and had punts returned for touchdowns by Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson and New Orleans' Reggie Bush.
An injured hip flexor was a problem — but not the only problem.
"I didn't start out that well, either," Brooks said on Tuesday, refusing to use the injury as an excuse. "I played two games on it hurt, torn — it was an old college injury that I had, and it came up again. Going through that competition last year, I was out there kicking and kicking when I didn't really have to. I was just trying to show them that I can kick, and I wore my leg out and it eventually caught up to me. That was part of it, but I wasn't consistent enough. Having a couple touchdowns run back on me, that didn't help, either."
Brooks was signed to the Packers' practice squad in December. After the season, he said took about three months off, and his leg feels fresh and pain-free.
While Brooks has the stronger leg, Kapinos figures to enter training camp as the leader of the competition. On Tuesday, Kapinos was the only one given an opportunity for a pooch punt and he couldn't have done any better. With the ball at the 35-yard line, his punt landed inside the 1-yard line and was downed at the 2.
"What I saw (Wednesday), I feel pretty good walking off the field," new special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said after the final minicamp practice. "There have been days when I didn't feel well about it. But at this point, I think part of this is a growth process for both guys. They're both very young and I've seen improvement, and that's the key thing."
Kapinos said he'd take a few days off before going back to work. Some of that time will be working on explosion, and some will be spent with his mentor, Bill Renner, who punted for the Packers in six games in 1986 and 1987.
Adding a bit of distance would help Kapinos' cause. Adding consistency and improving his directional skills would help Brooks' cause. Consistency is what Slocum is looking for, because there's no guarantee either of them will be on the roster when the season kicks off.
"That's probably the most important aspect for a punter, because field position is so important," Slocum said. "The two guys that we have here are battling right now. It's good competition. We had a good body of work and I was pleased with the production from both of them. The standard that we have to meet is the NFL standard. It's not just one guy competing against the other. That's what we have to achieve during the training camp and preseason."
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