In the next two weeks, I’m going to take a look at the 10 most important players for the Green Bay Packers in the 2009 NFL season. They may not be the best players, but their roles have a distinct impact on how far the team can go.
It seems innocuous enough. They come out a few times a game and kick the pigskin down the field. It seems simple enough.
However, the Packers need punting if they want to go far in 2009. During their run in the 2007 season, Jon Ryan had the job for the whole year and did a serviceable job up until Week 16 against the Chicago Bears, where he had two punts blocked and shanked many others in a 35-7 shellacking. While I called Ryan’s punting “serviceable,” that doesn’t mean he didn’t have his share of shortcomings. Too many times he was unable to get off a good punt, essentially losing the field position game singlehandedly and putting the defense up against the wall. His spotty punting was seen in that NFC Championship Game. If he’d been able to pin the New York Giants 3-5 yards further back, who knows how it would have ended.
In 2008, the Packers punters struggled even more. Ryan was cut the week before the season started and the Pack brought in Derrick Frost, who had previously punted for the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns. Frost lasted through 12 games averaging 42.1 yards/punt (many shanks were in there) before Jeremy Kapinos was brought in for the last four games of the season. He averaged 39.2 yards/punt, which is not good at all. However, none of the coaches had a bad word to say about the Penn State product, so he’s stayed on and is competing for the job. For the record, Frost and Kapinos combined to average 41.4 yards/punt in 2008, while opponents averaged 44.3. Ryan averaged 44.4 in 2007.
Enter Durant Brooks. Brooks was a sixth-round draft choice of the Redskins in 2008 and punted in six games for them before being cut and signed to the Packers practice squad. Management decided to keep him on to compete with Kapinos for the starting job in 2009. In college, Brooks won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter at Georgia Tech and set an ACC record with a 45.4 yards/punt average. However, he only averaged 39.2 yards/punt in his first pro season and had problems with a hip flexor. He seems like he can contend with Kapinos for the job if he remains injury free and adjusts to the game.
But why is the tenth most important player for the Packers in 2009 the punter? Isn’t there a defense that has to prove itself? Don’t some of those guys on offense need to validate their contracts?
Think about it this way: does the defense have an easier job to do if the opposing offense is inside their own five or at their 20? A good punter can be the difference between a momentum shattering punt downed deep in the oppositions territory, or just another 20-yard-line possession. Especially with the new defensive scheme coming into place, the Packers will need their punter, whether it be Kapinos or Brooks, to produce. The punters can help the defense immensely, and in 2009, the defense will need all the assistance it can get.
In the race for the punting job, I’m predicting Brooks will come out with it. I feel that if he is 100%, he can punt at the level that he was at in college, a tremendous plus for the Packers.