Packers' Masthay kicking into gear

Stu Courtney
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Tim Masthay enjoys a day off as much as the next guy, particularly when it means things are going well for the Green Bay Packers’ offense. But too much down time can be detrimental to an NFL punter, and Masthay’s numbers seem to bear that out.

In 2014, the productivity of the Packers’ offense resulted in only 49 punts for Masthay, the fewest by any punter in the league who played in at least 10 games. There were five games in which he had one punt or fewer. It likely was no coincidence that Masthay finished with a career-low net average of 37.0, which ranked 31st in the NFL.

This season, with the Packers’ well-documented problems on offense, Masthay has been busier. The 28-year-old Pittsburgh native has punted 29 times in seven games, a 4.14 per-game average that projects to 66.3 punts for the season. And his statistics have improved with the increased work: a 39.2 net average (44.2 gross) and six punts placed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“Yeah, I think it has helped him,” Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “We had a couple of games last year when we didn’t punt at all. That’s not supposed to be a big deal, but it’s like a player who doesn’t practice. If he doesn’t practice for a couple of weeks, he’s not as smooth and up to speed. I think that had a little bit to do with (Masthay’s slump) last year.”

Masthay takes pride in the fact the Packers’ punt-coverage unit is among the NFL’s best in fewest return yards allowed.  Against the Chargers on Oct. 18, Masthay’s season-best net average of 42.3 was higher than his gross average 40.5 for the first time in his career because the Chargers lost seven yards on their return attempts.

Masthay, Green Bay’s career leader in gross punting average (44.2 yards) and net punting average (38.3), spoke with us this week about his performance this season:

You talked before the season about the importance of the mental aspects of punting. Where do you feel you are right now mentally in terms of your overall game?

I feel fantastic. I’m very pleased with how we’ve performed as a punt team. But I’m not really reflecting much, or looking past this week. We’re only seven weeks in. Things have gone well thus far but we have nine more weeks of regular-season ball and then hopefully playoff ball past that, so we have a lot of work ahead of us. Hopefully, good things will continue.

What has it been like having Ron Zook as your special teams coordinator?

I’ve enjoyed Ron. He’s got a lot of energy, a lot of experience coaching, I enjoy talking to him and working with him on a daily basis.

Does Zook stress the positive-attitude outlook, keeping in a good frame of mind?

I think Ron for the most part is just a pretty positive dude. That’s just part of his personality. He’s always moving fast, doing things fast. Of course he wants us to think positively but I’ve never been around any coach who didn’t want their players to think positively.

Do you try to visualize punting the ball well; when you have a good punt do you try to visualize doing it over and over again?

What I try to do for the most part is just focus really intensely. When it comes to the mental side of the game for me, that is the crux of it. When I’m on the field at practice, when I’m on the field on Sunday, that’s the main thing I’m after. There are drills I do to work on my footwork and my drop, and I have to take care of my body and all those sorts of things. But when it comes to the mental side and the main portion of what I’m doing in a live punting situation, I’m just trying to really, really focus intensely on my immediate surroundings and on the football itself.

Against the Chargers, you dropped a couple of punts inside the 20 and limited San Diego to minus-7 yards in returns; you had a lower higher net average (42.3) than gross average (40.5) for the first time in your career. Is that the ultimate goal for you?

Well, I think that’s something that we’ve done a really good job of as a punt team so far this year; in every single game we’ve really limited the return. The only return that really comes to mind is Seattle’s guy (Tyler Lockett) got a few yards on us on one. We’ve done a good job on that, but again, we’re only seven weeks in. It doesn’t mean we’ll be able to do it the next nine weeks. So that’s our challenge going forward.

Talking about inside the 20s … this year I’m really just focused on each punt at a time. For instance, I haven’t even looked at the stat sheet this entire season, so I honestly don’t have a clue what my stats are. That’s what I’m trying to do: just focus.

Do you prepare specifically for the other team’s punt returner, like this week facing Carolina’s Ted Ginn Jr.?

Sure, I always watch film of the other guys and study the other guys. Plays will roll in on how we might schematically approach a game. But punting is punting. So there’s not magic ways to do it, or unusual ways to punt the football, so it’s always going to be about placement, it’s always going to be about appropriate distance, it’s always going to be about hang time, it’s always going to be about protection and coverage. So whether we’re playing Ted Ginn or Lockett of Seattle or whoever, it doesn’t matter. We have to execute at a high level.

Do you feel like your technique is sound now? You’ve talked about how last year you were trying to get more distance and you got out of whack a little bit with the technique, do you feel like you’re back where you want to be?

I feel like I’m in a really good spot right now. I feel very good about the way I’m punting the ball. But I’m really just concerned about practice today and the game coming up this weekend. Because if I look back, or I look past this week, things can turn south quick. and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt.

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