Drop Punt Makes Bryan Intriguing Prospect

Unlike punting challenger Tim Masthay, Australian Chris Bryan has no American football experience. But Bryan's bag of tricks could prove to the elusive cure to the Packers' longtime punting problems.

Green Bay Packers punters Tim Masthay and Chris Bryan spent Wednesday's organized team activity battling winds that gusted over 25 mph at times and, quite expectedly, the results were ugly. During individual work, Mashtay hit a couple of shanks and at least two of Bryan's punts caught the cross-wind jet stream and went clear over the bleachers and into the parking lot at Ray Nitschke Field.

There was one area, however, where Bryan showed a little more consistency, even with the high winds. He was able to kill the ball inside the 20-yard line — whether by directional punt or pooch punt — more often than Masthay.

"He controls the ball very well," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said shortly after the practice. "He uses the Aussie kick more from long range than I've experienced. He has a couple different kicks. He's a weapon with the different style of kicks that he has."

When McCarthy refers to the "Aussie kick," he is talking about what Bryan calls a drop punt back home in his native Australia. It flies end-over-end in the air more like a kickoff rather than a spiraling punt. Bryan has displayed it during the rookie camp and OTAs, particularly on punts from the 50-yard line in.

"That's a kick I've been doing since I was a little boy, so it comes quite natural to me," said Bryan, a first-year pro in the NFL. "With that, I know I can control it pretty well. That's a kick I'll be coming back to."

Fellow Aussie punters Ben Graham (Cardinals) and Sav Rocca (Eagles) have had success with it over the past couple of years transitioning from the Australian game. Last season, both were in the top 10 for punts inside the 20. Graham was first in the league with 42 such kicks, tying an NFL record. He had only three touchbacks on 86 punts for the year.

So, the technique is different, if not totally foreign to the NFL game.

"The difference is that it's more in-line with your leg rather than that hit outside with the spiral," said Bryan. "You still need to keep your steps short and stay compact. It's just that the ball's vertical rather than parallel to the ground."

Last season, Packers punter Jeremy Kapinos particularly struggled with punt placement. He tied for second in the league for most touchbacks (10) and had the worst percentage (22.7) of punts inside the 20-yard line. In short, those numbers led to the Packers' decision to let him go druing the offseason, even though he was an exclusive rights free agent.

The Packers struggled before Kapinos, too. Derrick Frost, acquired just before the start of the 2008 season for his directional punting ability, landed only 16.7 percent of his punts inside the 20. And Jon Ryan, the player the Packers cut to make room for Frost, was among the league leaders in touchbacks with 11 and 12, respectively, in 2007 and 2006.

So, the problem has been ongoing for the Packers. While Masthay, a standout at Kentucky in 2008, may be more polished and experienced in the American game, Bryan may have an edge with his style, which at least at Wednesday's practice proved to be a little better in the wind.

"You've just got to drop the nose a little bit and just have to make sure to drop it a little closer to your foot," said Bryan of battling the elements. "It was alright. We both had to do it. It wasn't the greatest conditions, but we just had to go out there and do our best."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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