No Reason For Bad Punting

With proven veteran Hunter Smith available, Packers general manager Ted Thompson apparently has decided to let two neophytes battle it out. Why continue to give away field position just to save a few hundred grand, wonders publisher Bill Huber.

This week at the NFL owners meetings, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he felt "strongly" that the punting situation would be better "from a pure production standpoint" than last year.

Being better from a "pure production standpoint" is akin to being the tallest jockey at Churchill Downs. With Jeremy Kapinos last year, the Packers ranked 31st in the NFL in net punting (34.1-yard average), last in inside-the-20 punts (15), last in fair catches (15) and next-to-last in touchbacks (10).

Unfortunately for the Packers' sorry special teams, "better" and "good" are two entirely different measuring sticks.

What's mystifying is why Ted Thompson continues down this path.

Maybe the current, anonymous cast of Tim Masthay and Aussie Chris Bryan will provide a quality punter. Just like maybe Kapinos will be a quality punter someday — as his 43.8-yard average indicates is quite possible.

But the Packers are a playoff team. With a good draft, a break or two and a decent set of officials in the playoffs, the Packers could make a run to the Super Bowl in 2010.

So why fiddle around with two guys who have never kicked in a preseason game, much less a regular-season game or playoff game?

On Tuesday, the Washington Redskins signed former Packers punter Josh Bidwell, who missed last season with Tampa Bay because of a hip injury. That means Hunter Smith, who the Packers flirted with last offseason before going with Kapinos and Durant Brooks, is available.

Not that there's anything brewing there. A source told Packer Report that the Packers plan on letting Masthay and Bryan — and perhaps a rookie — battle it out through the spring, with five weeks of organized team activities starting on May 17 and the mandatory minicamp starting on June 27.

To be sure, Smith isn't Shane Lechler. After 10 years of kicking indoors in Indianapolis, Smith posted a career-low average of 41.3 yards per punt in Washington. His net average of 36.8 ranked in the bottom quarter of the league, as well.

However, it's the small stuff where Smith, who will turn 33 during training camp, proved his mettle. While 40 of Kapinos' 66 punts were returned (60.6 percent), only 22 of Smith's 57 punts were returned (38.6 percent). While Kapinos' ratio of inside-the-20 punts to touchbacks was merely 15 to 10, Smith boasted a tally of 22 inside-the-20s and just five touchbacks. Incredibly, Smith hasn't had more than five touchbacks since 2002. Plus, he hasn't had a punt blocked in three seasons and is a proven holder — even throwing a touchdown pass last season on a fake field goal.

And the Packers' punters?

Bryan went through former Packers punter Nathan Chapman's intensive kicking school in Australia. He's a veteran of Australian Rules Football so shouldn't be fazed by the pressure, but who knows whether he'll be the next Darren Bennett (the Aussie on the NFL's all-1990s team) or Jy Bond (the Aussie who emerged from Chapman's kicking school but didn't even make it to training camp with Miami last year).

Masthay ranked fifth in the nation in punting as a senior at Kentucky in 2008, bombed 23 kickoffs for touchbacks and was regarded as a superb holder. But, he had a slow get-off time (two blocks in 2008) and was replaced by a true freshman when the Wildcats needed a pooch punt. No doubt, he's improved in those areas since spending part of training camp last year with the Colts and getting a full year to work on his own. Nonetheless, he's about as big a mystery as Bryan.

Meanwhile, Packers fans wax nostalgic about Jon Ryan, though Ryan didn't perform as well as those memories indicate. Discarding Ryan for Derrick Frost at the end of training camp in 2008 made sense in light of Ryan's poor situational numbers (35 inside-the-20s vs. 23 touchbacks in 2006 and 2007, with two blocks and one touchdown allowed). Frost had an amazing 50 inside-the-20s vs. 14 touchbacks, with one block and no touchdowns in 2006 and 2007. Of course, that transaction backfired badly, and Frost lasted just 12 games.

Green Bay's horrendous special teams are still reeling from that decision. With an obvious remedy available — and an inexpensive one at that, considering Smith's $845,000 salary last season — Thompson's unwillingness to sign a veteran punter smacks of being stubborn. Unless bottom-of-the-barrel punting and wasted field position is worth saving $500,000.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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