GREEN BAY - There is no such thing as job security in the NFL, but some roles are more precarious than others. Jacob Schum knows this as well as anyone. He’s a punter.
At a position where paychecks quite literally can be week-to-week propositions, Schum wasn’t pleased Sunday night. Neither were his employers. Schum averaged 36.5 yards on four punts. It dropped his season average to 40.4 yards on 15 punts.
For NFL punters, Schum knows, the 40-yard mark is rock bottom.
“We just need to punt it better,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’m not a big fan of changing players in mid-stream. So he’s new here, and we just need to punt the ball better.”
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It doesn’t get plainer than that. McCarthy threw his support behind Schum on Monday, but it was conditional. Over the years, general manager Ted Thompson has shown extraordinary patience with his specialists.
Regardless, Schum has to know his time in Green Bay will be short if his punts don’t travel higher and farther.
Thompson signed Schum two days before September to replace six-year veteran Tim Masthay, who fell out of favor after his average dipped to 43.9 yards per punt last season. It was the second-lowest average of Masthay’s career, his lowest since 2012.
It was also 3.5 yards better than Schum’s current average.
“Just plain and simple,” Schum said, “I’ve got to hit them better.”
Poor punts directly led to two field goals Sunday night, accounting for six of the Giants’ 16 points.
Early in the second quarter, Schum carried a punt 33 yards before it sailed out of bounds at the Giants’ 45. New York needed only 26 yards in four plays to get in field-goal range.
A 32-yard punt early in the third quarter set the Giants up at their 47-yard line. They marched 41 yards in nine plays, the Packers defense bending with a short field but not breaking. Schum said that third-quarter punt was especially frustrating.
“I felt like I hit it pretty cleanly,” Schum said, “and it seemed like it just died up in the air. Kind of like one of those wobbly spirals, and turned over. It just didn’t go as far as I wanted it to. You look up and expect, it’s like, ‘Oh, there it goes.’ And it just doesn’t go. It’s like, ‘OK, awesome.’
“It happens. Sometimes, you feel like you mishit a ball, and you end up connecting right. Just sometimes though, it feels funny off the foot, or good. Sometimes, you just don’t get the results you want.”
Special teams coordinator Ron Zook said Schum has been getting good results in practice.
Whether it’s the Don Hutson Center or Clarke Hinkle Field, Schum’s punts travel the appropriate height and distance. He hasn’t carried it across the street into Lambeau Field. Schum’s gross average ranks 31st in the league, and his 38-yard net average is 22nd. By an average margin of 6.4 yards, Schum has been outpunted by each of the Packers’ four opposing punters this season.
Like other positions, it’s critical for punters to make adjustments. Schum felt like his best punt Sunday night was his last. It traveled only 39 yards, and a 15-yard penalty on gunner Jeff Janis gave the Giants possession near midfield. Regardless, the punt had more hang time, a key reason the Packers signed Schum.
On his final punt, Schum said, he dropped the football farther out in front of his body. He also tweaked his steps. He still needs more distance than 39 yards. Through the first four games, only one punt has exceeded 50 yards.
Schum felt like he at least made progress toward fixing his technical flaws.
“A lot of it has to do with the drop,” Zook said, “and that’s the big thing. It’s just the drop. You talk to most punters, and that’s why you see when you get around the 50-yard line, people coming after the punter and so forth, trying to get him to speed it up and that kind of thing. He just needs to stay in his rhythm, be consistent and do the things that he does.
“Obviously, he’s got to punt — and he’ll be the first to tell you — punt better than he did last night. But he will.”
On the surface, it could be a little surprising that Schum will get a chance to redeem himself. There are 32 teams in the NFL. It’s hard to fathom there aren’t more than 32 individuals capable of consistently punting a football more than 40 yards.
McCarthy indicated it’s premature to swap a starting position on his depth chart — even the punter. While Schum’s lack of distance has been the biggest issue, McCarthy also pointed to poor coverage. The Packers are tied for 15th in the NFL with 9 yards allowed per punt return. A year ago, they led the league with 4.2 yards allowed per punt return.
“We need to cover the ball the way we’re supposed to cover it,” McCarthy said.
The Packers could get reinforcements in their special-teams coverage when cornerback Demetri Goodson returns from his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs. Goodson, a sixth-round pick in 2014, has been a core special teamer each of his first two seasons.
“That’s what I kind of lay my hat on,” Goodson said Monday. “Just being back out there, trying to help the guys, I feel like I can definitely help be the gunner. Just basically anywhere they put me at, I can be a big help.”
It won’t matter if Schum doesn’t hit his mark.
The Packers certainly will monitor their punting situation closely. Without improve, Schum won’t stay employed long. There are only so many sub-40-yard punts an NFL team can stomach.
McCarthy said the “newness” of the Packers’ punting operation could be one reason for the poor start. There are many factors involved, more than simply a foot kicking the ball. Regardless, Schum knows he must punt better.
For now, he’s not focused on job security.
“You don’t let that get to your head,” Schum said. “You just do it every single day. I expect myself to perform. I know the team expects me to perform. So I’ve just got to come out and do better. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed. I plan to come back next week having a good game. Just have a better week.
“It’s just about watching film, and then let it go. Just move on next week. That’s what I’m going to do. I know I can hit the ball better. I’ve done it, and it’s just not going how I want it to right now. But I know I’ll fix it and make it work.”