Green Bay — Location, location, location.
Punter Justin Vogel will be the first to admit he didn't pick the ideal landing spot when choosing a college five years ago. Vogel might have scoped out the perfect professional home, though.
Vogel signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent just hours after the draft ended in April. The Packers released incumbent Jacob Schum on June 1 and Vogel has been the only punter on the roster since.
Vogel has made the most of the opportunity, shining throughout the Packers’ first eight practices — including last Saturday’s ‘Family Night’ practice held inside Lambeau Field. Now, barring a collapse in the preseason games, Vogel appears likely to hold the job when the season begins Sept. 10.
“Who knows how this situation could go?,” Vogel said. “If I start punting bad, I’ll probably get released and somebody else will come in. I’m just trying to work hard every day and prove to them that they don’t need to bring in another guy.”
Vogel learned earlier in his career the importance of finding the right home.
Vogel began his collegiate career at Florida, where he was in a dogfight for playing time with standouts Kyle Christy and Johnny Townsend. Christy was a finalist for the 2012 Ray Guy Award and was in the Detroit Lions camp in 2016. Townsend, now a senior at Florida, is considered one of the top two punters in the 2018 draft.
With Vogel’s path to the field blocked in Gainesville, he headed five hours south to the University of Miami, where he enjoyed a stellar career.
The 6-foot-4½, 218-pound Vogel averaged 43.0 yards on 183 career punts. Vogel landed 40.0% of his punts inside the 20-yard line. And Vogel earned points for his directional punting and ability to force fair catches.
“I left Florida because the opportunity to play wasn’t there,” Vogel said. “I thought I performed well, the coaches said I performed well, but didn’t really get a good shot.
“When I transferred to Miami, my first year I was a Ray Guy semifinalist, so I was a top-10 punter in the nation coming off the bench at Florida. Obviously, I deserved a chance to get out there. That’s all I’ve been fighting for my whole life is a chance to get on the field. Usually once I’m out there, I prove myself and keep my job.”
Vogel is doing that in Green Bay.
The 2017 draft marked the first time in 19 years that a punter wasn’t selected. Afterward, Vogel did his homework, saw the Packers could be in need of a punter, and chose Green Bay.
The move paid off when Schum was released just more than a month later. And to date, Vogel hasn’t given the Packers a reason to add another punter to the mix.
During Saturday’s practice inside Lambeau, Vogel averaged 44.8 yards per punt and 4.37 seconds of hang time. That’s been the norm throughout training camp, in which Vogel has excelled on a daily basis.
“I think he’s doing good,” Packers special teams coach Ron Zook said. “Once again, everything’s new. It’s like all the rookies. He gets a little added interest because he does handle the football. But I think so far he’s done a nice job.”
The Packers released veteran Tim Masthay last summer and rolled the dice on Schum. For the most part, the move backfired.
Schum finished 27th in the NFL in gross average (43.2) and 24th in net (39.1). Schum also ranked 19th in percentage of punts landed inside the 20-yard line (33.9%) and 18th in touchback percentage (7.1).
Vogel is also a terrific athlete who had the fastest 40-yard dash time among punters at the NFL combine (4.70). Vogel also possesses a 34-inch vertical jump.
“I wasn’t recruited out of high school,” Vogel said. “I played at (Florida) and had to transfer. Once I got on the field, I was a top-10 punter in the nation.
“Once I got a shot to prove myself in a game situation, then the coaches never looked back. It starts all over again now. I have to find a way to get out there and prove that I’m the guy they need to keep.”
As solid as Vogel has been each day on the Ray Nitschke Field, those are nothing more than quizzes. The preseason games are equivalent to final exams.
Vogel knows if he flops when the lights are brightest, he’ll be on the street in no time.
“I could go all the way through the preseason and they could bring in a guy at the very end,” Vogel said. “I’m just taking it like how it is and keep moving on. Right now, it means I get more reps at practice, which is always a good thing, so the coaches get more familiar with me. Hopefully, they’ll see one day that this is the guy they want and they won’t bring anyone else.”
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