Punting competition takes on new format

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - The punting competition between incumbent Tim Masthay and challenger Peter Mortell added a new dimension Monday when the Green Bay Packers took the field for practice.

Throughout training camp, special teams coordinator Ron Zook had alternated between Masthay and Mortell during the course of each practice. One punter would take a few reps, and then the next punter took his spot in the same drill.

But as the Packers prepared for their third exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers, Zook tweaked the format. Masthay, who has held the starting job since 2010, took all 15 punts during live reps while Mortell stood and watched.

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The script will flip for Tuesday's practice. Mortell will handle every punt while Masthay gets some rest.

“Let them just settle into what they’re doing,” Zook said. “They both felt good about it. Tomorrow, once again, they’re not going to punt two days in a row. … This gives them a chance to settle in. It’s nothing. In fact, I didn’t even know who was going to go first. I just said one of you go today and one of you go tomorrow.”

Masthay responded with arguably his best performance of training camp under sunny skies and with a slight easterly breeze. Of his 15 punts, 10 of them had a hang time greater than 4.35 seconds. Three of them hung longer than 5 seconds.

Masthay’s average hang time of 4.47 seconds Monday would have obliterated the 3.98 seconds he averaged during last year’s exhibition games, when he punted 19 times and fended off former Alabama punter Cody Mandell, another challenger.

But there is a major difference between practice and games, and Masthay still struggles with consistency. Sprinkled among his impressive kicks was a shank that landed about three rows deep in the bleachers.

“I’ve been pleased with my hang time all through camp, my ball striking all through camp,” Masthay said after Monday’s practice. “Everything I’ve been pleased with. I know they want to see really high balls out by the sideline and long.

"I mishit the one because I was trying to put it out there wide and it just caught right off the outside of my foot. Just a bad, bad ball. But other than that I was pleased."

His best punt might have been his last. On the 15th attempt, Masthay hit a booming directional kick to the left. The ball hung in the air for 5.13 seconds, his longest of the day, and landed within a foot of the sideline before bouncing out of bounds.

“That’s an extremely difficult punt to replicate, but I know that’s what they want to see," Masthay said. "So that’s what I’m trying to bottle up.”

Mortell will have his opportunity to match Masthay on Tuesday during the last practice before Friday’s trip to California. And like Masthay, he is pleased with his performance so far in camp.

“I feel good,” Mortell said. “I thought that I’ve kind of put together two pretty solid games. Practice is kind of like my driving range, it kind of gives me time to work on stuff that I think that I need to improve upon. So overall I feel like I’m progressing pretty well and just have to build off last week vs. Oakland.”

If history is any indication, it’s likely Mortell has done enough to catch the attention of the coaches and personnel department. General manager Ted Thompson needed only 12 days before making the decision to cut Mandell early in camp last season.

When Mortell lines up to punt on Tuesday, he will have made it to Day 21.

“I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to who’s ahead,” Zook said. “We’ve kept stats and all that, but I think as we wind down here, then that will become more — I’ll look at it a little bit closer. But I’m not going to be the guy that makes the decision.”

Cashing out: The Packers reached injury settlements with offensive lineman Matt Rotheram and long snapper Jesse Schmitt.

Schmitt signed with Green Bay to give starter Rick Lovato some competition but broke his hand during his first practice and did not return.

Rotheram spent last season on the practice squad after signing with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in May of 2015. He suffered a biceps injury while trying to block a blitzing linebacker in the exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns.

“Matt, he progressed like every other person would and played fairly well in the game that he played,” offensive line coach James Campen said Monday afternoon. “He just needs to get healthy and move on from there. Matt was one of ours and I wish him well. It’s unfortunate. That injury, it’s unfortunate.”

Clubbed up: Tight end Mitchell Henry took the field in a club Monday for the second time in two years.

Henry suffered a broken finger on his right hand after it got caught in an opponent’s facemask during an exhibition game. It was his second broken finger in the span of two training camps with the Packers.

“Obviously it’s unfortunate,” tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said. “Mitch has been working hard just like all our guys who want to play but he’s a tough kid, he’ll grind through it and unfortunately that’s part of the game. I mean, once you get to the point where the medical staff feels you’re ready to play, in this business you’ve got to go out and perform.”

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