Pressure on Punting Candidates

The heat is on Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks in the two-man battle to be the consistently good punter the Packers haven't had in years. There's no guarantee that either will emerge with the job, though.

Shawn Slocum laughed at the question.

With the Packers trying to figure out whether they have an NFL-caliber punter in their training camp, did Green Bay's special-teams coordinator secretly wish for the offense to stall a few times so he could send his punters onto the field during Saturday's preseason opener?

"I would liked to have seen more punts, but we want our offense to do well. It's all about the team," Slocum said.

First impressions are lasting impressions, so the general consensus in Packers Nation is the Packers don't have a punter.

"Not very good," coach Mike McCarthy said after Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks struggled through the first and second practices of training camp.

Since then, however, Kapinos has showed the type of consistent distance and hang time that have made him the clear favorite to beat out Brooks.

"I think it's going good," Kapinos said on Tuesday. "Obviously, I've been trying to improve every day after the start — the much-publicized start that we had; I don't know if it was as bad as was said. But I felt good. I had a great day on Thursday (when he averaged 46.5 yards per punt). I've had days like that. Overall, I'm striking the ball well and being consistent, and that's what I'm focusing on."

From a numbers standpoint, Brooks and Kapinos are running neck and neck, but hang time and consistency trump sheer distance every time. Kapinos rarely hits a really bad punt while Brooks can be counted on to hit a clunker or two during every session.

Kapinos punted in the final four games last season after replacing Derrick Frost on Dec. 3 and did relatively well despite performing in three cold-weather games, including games with temperatures of 2 and 3 degrees. Brooks, the Ray Guy Award winner at Georgia Tech who beat out Frost in Washington last summer, was signed to the practice squad on Dec. 13. Considering they've been with the team for eight-and-a-half months, it would be nice if one or the other had taken control of the competition.

"What I look at is what we're doing," Slocum said. "Some of the punt drills are unrealistic for the punter because we're really working on protection and we bring pressure after pressure. In a game, you might see one or two in a row and then they back off and the punter's got plenty of time and space. We're in that drill, they're under fire."

Under fire, indeed. General manager Ted Thompson was a keen observer on Tuesday, when both punters kicked into a strong breeze. Kapinos again was consistently solid if not great, while Brooks had the shortest and longest punts. That's good practice for what's in store during the regular season.

"The wind in Lambeau, you see guys come in here all the time and have problems," Kapinos said. "(Cleveland's) Dave Zastudil didn't have his sharpest night the other night (41.3-yard average). It's tricky. You're trying to directional punt, you're trying to do eight different things into the wind or with the wind. It's good to get some balls to turn over."

While Kapinos has moved ahead of Brooks, there's no guarantee that the Packers' Week 1 punter is on the current roster. That point was driven home last week, when the Packers had four punters in for a tryout. The Packers stuck with the status quo. Maybe, with a little, ahem, luck, the offense will cooperate on Saturday against Buffalo.

"We have to stay on top of the situation in looking at it from all aspects," Slocum said. "I think that Jeremy and Durant have improved as we've gone through training camp in the drill work that we've done. I was anxious to see us punt a little more in that game but the game situations didn't work out that way. As we move forward, I think the games are really going to be indicative of what we need to see, because it's hard to simulate the atmosphere, the conditions, the pressure, all of the aspects that come in games."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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