Take a look at the picture above. You can tell from the gold pants that it’s from last season, and it’s pretty clearly someone punting the ball … but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you couldn’t tell me the guy’s name. Four guys punted the ball last year (although one of them was kicker Graham Gano being pressed into emergency duty) and none of them exactly stood out.
Josh Bidwell punted in three games, with a net average of 37.7 yards and 3 punts inside the 20. Gano, in his one fill-in game, punted four times and saw one of them blocked. Hunter Smith punted in nine games in relief of Bidwell, and finished with a net average of 33.7 yards, one return TD against, and 17 punts pinned inside the 20. And Sam Paulescu — he’s the one pictured above, in case you really were unsure — punted 17 times in the last three games of the season for a net average of 33.1 yards.
Nothing catastrophic, but certainly no punter that serves as field-flipping weapon, either. So when special teams coach Danny Smith appeared on Redskins Nation, Larry Michael asked the obvious question: who would be punting for the Redskins next season?
Smith’s answer certainly seems to indicate that the team is casting a pretty wide net. “If you could punt, Larry, we’ll give you an opportunity,” Smith said. “I mean, we’ll take anybody in this building to go out there. We’ve had seven punters in two years. That’s unbelievable. We had three punters in ’09, we used four punters this year if you count the game with Graham Gano in the St. Louis game. I mean, we had four punters punt in the National Football League for the Washington Redskins this year. That’s unheard of.”
It’s a theme that Smith would return to again later, in a way that doesn’t exactly serve as a ringing endorsement for Paulescu. “We’ll take anybody at this point,” Smith said, “because I think anything would be an improvement, to be quite honest with you. I really do. But you’d like to get a veteran who has some games under his belt.”
Mildly amusing answers aside, Smith is keenly aware of exactly how important this issue is.
“We’ve gotta solidify that position,” Smith said. “We need to get a punter who can do the things that we ask him to do. And again, there’s a lotta young kids out there who, I think, can do it.”
But Smith has some concerns with a young punter that he might not have with a veteran — which would help explain why the 34 year old Bidwell came in to last season as the team’s starter. “A lot of young guys have strong legs and they think that’s all it takes,” Smith told Michael. “You gotta have ‘game.’ That’s what I call it. That’s why you see these older punters. That’s why Jeff Feagles punts still-he’s 43 years old! They try to get guys like that beat out, but these young guys can’t do it because they don’t have the ‘game’ he has, so to speak.”
With all of that said, though, Smith isn’t limiting his options — to veterans OR to rookies. He’s looking everywhere.
“Everybody is viable,” Smith said, “and that’s why we do the combine, and that’s why, right now we’re doing tapes on every punter that’s coming out in this draft, y’know? You’d like not to have to use a draft pick on that particular position when you have other needs. But you can’t out-rule it either — IF there’s a guy there that you think he can do it.”
Still, the more you listen to Smith explain his philosophy to Michael, the more it sounds like he’s leaning toward a veteran again. “Alot of these guys need to get recycled a lot of times before they make it in this league,” Smith said. “I’ll give you an example with David Akers: he was a Washington Redskin, 10 to 15 years ago. But he gets recycled and look what he’s done: he’s had a great career in Philly, and he’s an excellent kicker in our division. You’d like to get a guy like that. Same thing involved with punting. Sometimes these guys need to be recycled because they have strong legs but they don’t have the ‘game’ that goes with it: the touch, the direction. You can’t punt down the middle of the field. You can’t kick down the middle of the field on a regular basis to the returners in this league and be successful.”
So if you’re a veteran punter and you’re reading this, it might be worth sending a resume and cover letter to Redskins Park — just in case, you know?
You can watch Larry Michael’s interview with Danny Smith in video form here.
Tags: Danny Smith, graham gano, hunter smith, redskins punters, sam paulescu
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