No snubbing Lechler this time

There was no short-changing Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler from the Pro Bowl this time.

The Pro Bowl rosters were announced on Wednesday and Lechler was the lone member of the Oakland Raiders (5-9) selected. He leads the league with a 47.6 average per punt, and is fourth in the AFC with a 37.6 net average.

One could not blame Lechler, however, for being hesitant to make reservations for Honolulu. Last year he led the league with a 46.9-yard average per punt and did not make it. Craig Hentrich of Tennessee was the choice. Lechler learned of his selected in a phone call from Raiders chief executive Amy Trask.

Lechler is safe to book flights and hotels now.

"It was one of those phone calls where I didn't know which way it was going to go," Lechler said. "It was good to hear the news. I'm looking forward to going to Hawaii. I was asked earlier if this one meant more than the first one. I think so. I really wanted it this year. I know it's not always a good thing to look at personal accomplishments when this is a team game but this is something that I wanted. After the disappointment of not going last year, I thought I had the numbers to go but it was one of those goals you can't cross off."

Interestingly enough, Oakland defeated Tennessee 40-35 on Sunday. Lechler averaged 50.0 yards on six punts while Hentrich compiled a 41.3 yard average on four punts. Lechler, however, added that he was not caught up in terms of last year's voting.

"I talked to Craig before the game," Lechler said. "Craig is a great guy. He came up and said, ‘Shane, I really had a good time over there but you really deserved to go.' That meant a lot to me. I really didn't know how he was going to approach me and I didn't know how I would react. It was something I didn't want to take personal. It's not Craig's fault. But I didn't approach that game think that I've got to kick outstanding this game."

The Raiders selected Lechler in the fifth round of the 2000 draft from Texas A&M University. Lechler has lived up to his billing since that time. He will be going to his second Pro Bowl. Lechler has since achieved the highest average per punt in NFL history along with the single-season franchise record.

"I've played for two great special teams coaches, Bob Casullo and Joe Avezzano," Lechler said. "I give a lot of credit to those guys. They've never really let me slack. If I hit a bad punt in practice, I hear about it. If I hit a real good one, they don't say anything. They're looking for me to screw up so I try not to keep them out of my ear."

Lechler also attributed his success to losing about 15-20 pounds along with the work of long-snapper Adam Treu. What makes Lechler's Pro Bowl appearances even more impressive is that players at his position are less likely to get selected simply based on their reputation.

"Those guys go pretty much off of numbers alone," Lechler said. "In that respect, you have to go out and put up the numbers every year. It doesn't come on a namesake deal like some of the other positions do."

Avezzano is in his first season as Oakland's special teams coach after spending 13 years in that capacity with the Dallas Cowboys. Avezzano has seen his share of specialists but can't help but marvel at Lechler's ability.

"I think it's a combination of things," Avezzano said. "His physical attributes are very impressive. He's one of the biggest punters in the league, one of the strongest punters in the league. That's not totally just all God-given. He trains very hard. He's in good shape. He takes care of himself."

When Avezzano coached in Dallas, he used to follow Lechler during his days at Texas A&M. One area that both Lechler and perhaps Avezzano would like to see improve is reduce the number of touchbacks. Lechler has 13 touchbacks, which ties his career high set last season.

"It's just a matter of refining what he does," Lechler said. "If you want to kick for distance he can't kick it too much further. You're always working on hangtime. If you look at directional kicking, he does that pretty well and it's something he'll continue to work on. His technique is very sound. He has a marvelous work ethic."

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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