There's nowhere to go but up after last year's debacle. Jeremy Kapinos won a tepid training camp battle against Durant Brooks to win the job. If you didn't watch a game all year and you only knew that Kapinos averaged 43.1 yards per punt for the season, you might think he did a good job. Punting average, however, is a hollow number. It's all the ancillary figures that matter. Kapinos' net average of 34.1 yards ranked 31st in the league. His 15 inside-the-20 punts ranked last, his 10 touchbacks ranked next-to-last and his ratio of inside-the-20s to touchbacks was the worst by a huge margin. Not that Kapinos was the only one to blame, but the two long returns allowed against Cincinnati probably cost the Packers the game. Judging by the offseason practices, the Packers will have a better punter, regardless of who wins the battle. Masthay, who was signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent last year but was released before the first preseason game, showed the consistently stronger leg. His get-off times, however, were perilously close to being slower than the preferred hand-to-foot time of 1.25 seconds. Bryan, the import from Australia, lacked Masthay's consistency but showed he could be a weapon because of his pooch-punting skills and his ability to kick the ball right to the sideline to limit returns. His quick get-off time is a plus, too.
Coach Mike McCarthy, on his timeline to pick a punter: "I'm not in a hurry. The last two years, it's been a negative, there's no doubt about that, and I think it's important to give both Chris and Tim the opportunity to punt in games. If things go right, they won't be punting a whole lot, so that will make it even tougher. I say that sarcastically. But it's important for us to evaluate those players in games. We have to make sure that we give them a fair opportunity to show themselves. I think their offseason work has been very good. The competition to this point has been very good. I think they both definitely have the potential and talent to punt in the National Football League. I don't question that at all. But we need to see them in gameday activity. Because obviously the penalties, the fundamentals of our special teams last year, and the punting performance, is something that we definitely need to improve on."
Could be better
The easy answer is the Packers could have simply stuck with Jon Ryan rather than cutting him loose at the end of the 2008 training camp once Derrick Frost became available. The swap made sense at the time, considering Frost's track record for boasting strong net averages and keeping the ball out of the end zone. Of course, Frost bombed. Last season, Ryan ranked a respectable 13th in net punting (38.7-yard average) with a 3-to-1 ratio of inside-the-20 punts vs. touchbacks. He also out-touchbacked Kapinos by a count of 17-7.
Could be worse
Hmmmm. Could it be worse? Anyone got B.J. Sander's number?
On a scale of 1 to 10 ...
The Packers' roster is strong from top to bottom but punting is a gigantic question mark. It's almost unfathomable that a Super Bowl contender feels comfortable going into training camp with two punters who have never even kicked in a preseason game, much less faced big-game pressure while lined up in the back of the end zone. In theory, they could always grab a veteran in September, but they could have done that last year instead of sticking with Kapinos for all 17 games.
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
At some point, the Packers' faith in Crosby has to pay off. After beating out Dave Rayner and winning the NFL scoring title as a rookie in 2007, Crosby enters his third consecutive camp without a challenger. Unfortunately, instead of getting better, Crosby has gotten worse — at least statistically. After making 79.5 percent of his field goals in 2007, Crosby made 79.4 in 2008 and slipped to 75.0 last season. For context, the NFL's middle of the road kicker last season was New England's Stephen Gostkowski, who ranked 16th in the NFL with 83.9 percent accuracy. On the bright side, when he wasn't asked to kick it short to help the beleaguered coverage unit, Crosby consistently boomed the ball inside the 5-yard line. His onside kick in the wild-card game at Arizona couldn't have been kicked any better, and he also had an onside kick recovered in the Cincinnati game.
Crosby, on his 2009: "I didn't feel like I hit the ball that bad last year. It was one that I was just off a little bit on some. I'm just really focused on dialing it in. My motto this year is, ‘Just make kicks.' However it has to be, just put the ball through the uprights. That's where I am right now."
Could be better
Kicking is a fickle business. While Crosby won the scoring title, it was fellow rookie Nick Folk of Dallas who went to the Pro Bowl. By the end of last season, the Cowboys had given up on Folk. The best kicker drafted in the last three years was 2009's Mr. Irrelevant, Ryan Succop of the Chiefs, who hit 25-of-29 with a long of 53 yards last year.
Could be worse
You think you're perplexed about Crosby not having a challenger. Josh Scobee finished 37th out of 38 kickers last year after making merely 64.3 percent of his kicks for Jacksonville. Kicking in Jacksonville isn't exactly as difficult as it is in Green Bay in December. He's back ... and has no competition.
On a scale of 1 to 10 ...
With a 10 being Charles Woodson against anybody, a 5 being Mason Crosby from 45 yards and the ball on the right hash and a 1 being Allen Barbre against anybody, this position group rates a 4.0.
It's obvious that Crosby has a ton of talent. Maybe it's going from Ryan to Matt Flynn to Kapinos as his holder over the last three years. Maybe it's a mental block or a flaw in his mechanics. Whatever it is, Crosby needs to make kicks, plain and simple.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.