Punt or be Punted

Tom Rouen and Jason Baker appear to be neck-and-neck in the fight to win the Panthers punting job, which was left vacant following the team's trade of the troubled Todd Sauerbrun to the Denver Broncos. Steve Cheek, a third punter, is also in minicamp, but has done little because of the leg injury and could be released before the team ever gets to training camp.

Neither Rouen nor Baker seem particularly close with Sauerbrun, even in the tight knit world of NFL punters and kickers.

And maybe that's a good thing given the Panthers would like to distance themselves as much as possible from Sauerbrun, who, according to 60 Minutes report, purchased syringes from a Columbia, S.C.-based doctor for the purpose of injecting steroids, was nabbed for DUI last year and fell out of favor with the coaching staff when took shots at the team for fining him for being overweight.

"I know he's a good punter," Rouen said of Sauerbrun.

Added Baker: "I wish the good Lord had blessed me with some of his talent."

The fact that neither lambasted Sauerbrun in the media should give you a good indication that both are a little more professional than the three-time Pro Bowler who once declared himself the best punter ever to kick a ball in the NFL. And neither seems to have diarrhea of the mouth, something that plagued Sauerbrun during his four-year run in Carolina.

Nonetheless, the truth is Rouen and Baker don't have Sauerbrun's leg strength.

But new special teams coach Danny Crossman claims he's looking for more than a guy who can just boom the ball 65 yards on occasion.

"Really we're looking for more consistency," Crossman said. "And I loved Todd. He had a great leg. But Todd had consistency problems. One may go 65 yards and the next one 30.

"We just want to get the ball down the field. We feel like we have enough guys on this team that can make plays in coverage if we get the ball down the field consistently. Now if we can get the ball in the air and we're getting 42 yards and they're fair-catching it, then hey, we'll be happy with that. If we can one 45 or 50, we'll be happy with that, too."

Crossman wouldn't say if any of the three punters in camp have an edge over the others.

Rouen has the most experience. Baker can punt and handle kickoffs. And Cheek, when healthy, may have the strongest leg.

But Crossman said all of that will play out in training camp.

"Between the three of them we think we have a good mix of punters," Crossman said. "Now the most important thing is who can consistently deliver the ball down the field."

Rouen is a 13-year NFL veteran, who was cut last season by the Seattle Seahawks after going down with a hamstring injury. Baker has spent four seasons in the league, but the journeyman has never really been able to hold down a job. Cheek is the real youngster of the group, having punted in only 12 games.

At least right now, it would seem Rouen is the odds-on favorite to win the job, if only because of his experience.

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