Aussie Follows Mentor's Footsteps

Six years after Nathan Chapman's short-lived stay in Green Bay, Chris Bryan will get his shot at winning the Packers' wide-open punting job. Why will Bryan's story end differently? Chapman called us from Australia for the latest Packer Report exclusive.

The NFL is a cruel, cruel world.

Nathan Chapman knows first-hand. After spending more than a decade playing Australian Rules Football, Chapman signed with the Green Bay Packers on March 29, 2004, to be part of a three-man derby to replace Josh Bidwell. About four weeks later, general manager Mike Sherman traded two draft picks to move back into the third round to select punter B.J. Sander.

"I didn't realize that my bloody tap on the shoulder was going to come so soon," Chapman told Packer Report on Tuesday, the day one of his protégés, Australian football veteran Chris Bryan, signed with the Packers to compete for their wide-open punting position.

Chapman lasted in Green Bay through most of the preseason. But with Sander being such an early draft pick, Chapman never had a chance.

"I was what you'd call underprepared," Chapman said. "I didn't know what I was training for. I was just technically kicking the ball. I didn't have anyone to guide me through exactly what I was after. I couldn't get my head around that it was hang time rather than distance. I was just trying to outkick the guy next to me rather than specifically understand what we're doing with the team. I guess that naivety of that whole situation — I didn't understand that when they drafted a guy in the third round, that probably meant the end of me straight then. I didn't know that for a few months. It would have been nice to have that, and that's why I started what I'm doing was so the other guys don't make the same mistakes."

What he's doing is running Pro Kick Australia, which was created in hopes of giving fellow Aussies a legit chance to win jobs in the NFL. He started Pro Kick in late 2006. After several months of looking for the right athletes and 12 months of NFL-style training, all five of Chapman's first pupils wound up in the United States — with three earning college scholarships, one competing in arenafootball2 and the other, Jy Bond, landing for a few months last spring with the Miami Dolphins.

Bryan is part of Chapman's second group of kickers.

"I've been working with him for about 12 months," Chapman said. "He played professional footy over here and finished in August/September last year and he's been in full-time training since then."

The training at Pro Kick includes the prospects taking snaps from a machine and kicking with pads and helmets. Bryan arrived in Green Bay for a tryout on Monday complete with a quick, two-step approach. That means quick get-off times and lessens the chances for a blocked punt.

"The only thing we can't replicate is 350-pound men running at them in game situations," Chapman said.

All of this is what Chapman lacked when he arrived in the United States six years ago, when teams were looking for the next Darren Bennett, the Australian import who wound up on the NFL's all-1990s team.

"Yes, definitely," Chapman said when asked if Bryan has what it takes to be the next Sav Rocca (Eagles), Mat McBriar (Cowboys) or Ben Graham (Cardinals). "This is a story of having someone guide you through and going in with your eyes open rather than them being shut. I run a program over here that we don't allow guys to go unprepared. It's not a deal of let's get as many as we can and hope one of them works out. We select who we're working with. We make sure they've got the ability and we make sure that when they leave here, they're ready. If you are not ready, you do not go. That's all there is to it. It's quite clear cut. Unless they're ready, you don't waste their time."

Bryan, 28, arrives in Green Bay with a golden opportunity. Jon Ryan's big leg notwithstanding, the Packers haven't been satisfied with their punting situation since allowing Bidwell to sign with Tampa Bay six years ago. The only other punter on the roster is Tim Masthay, an undrafted free agent last year who landed with Indianapolis but was released before the Colts' first preseason game because they needed a quarterback to replace the injured Jim Sorgi.

Considering the sacrifice Bryan is making — he's married with a son and another child on the way — he is going to be given every chance to win the job. The free-agent crop is thin, and there are no blue-chip prospects in the draft, either.

But Chapman knows nothing is certain.

"They've got to do what they've got to do," Chapman said. "He's there to help the Packers win a Super Bowl. That's what it is. It's a cut-throat job. He's got to be the best of it, and if you're not the best, they'll get someone else who is. He's got to perform. It's not an adventure. He's got a job to do. Having said that, there could not be a better opportunity to have a spot wide open. The job's there open for him."

While Chapman wasn't really given a fair shake with the drafting of Sander — not that Chapman's 38.0-yard average in the 2004 preseason was good enough — he spoke glowingly about his short time in Titletown.

"I loved it," he said. "Eight months in Green Bay was better than eight years of pro football here in Australia. I loved it. Couldn't get enough of it. It was exciting and stressful and everything. It was just a roller-coaster of getting up and every day and trying to do your job — having three kicks a day and making them all count. It didn't quite work out with me but let's go, let's get someone there and still feel a part of it."


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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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