Tim Masthay isn’t engaged in a head-to-head punting competition as he was last year, but that doesn’t mean the developing pro is taking training camp any less seriously.
Masthay put on an impressive show on Wednesday night at Ray Nitschke Field during an extended punting period, booming balls from the back of the end zone for a while and then carefully placing pooch punts deep in opposing territory.
If he were a golfer, you might say he used all the clubs in his bag, and Masthay did so successfully.
“Tim is well-prepared,” Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum said. “He really prepared himself in the offseason. Now it’s about the rhythm and tempo and getting that in sync. I thought he had a good night tonight.”
Backed up into his end zone, Masthay started with a couple of so-so punts, but apparently he was just warming up. He proceeded to hit four consecutive high-arcing spirals that, from the line of scrimmage, measured 57, 64, 54 and 60 yards.
Then, punting from midfield, he hit a pair of “Aussie style” reverse end-over-end punts that were fair-caught at the 12- and 13-yard lines, and he drilled a coffin-corner punt that went out of bounds inside the 5.
On two other Aussie pooches, from the opposing 40, one was fielded at the 9 and the other bounced inside the 15 and was downed by the coverage team at the 1.
Masthay rarely looked this good in training camp a year ago competing with Chris Bryan. Maybe he’s at his best when he’s competing with himself.
“My expectations for myself are real high,” Masthay said. “The bar that I’m setting isn’t changing, so what I’m doing isn’t changing, regardless of whether there’s a punt competition going on or whatever.
“I’m more confident this year, more familiar with the organization, the league, the structure here and what it takes to be productive as a punter in this league.”
Masthay developed into one of the league’s better punters in the second half of last season, his first in the NFL. Over the final nine games of the regular season, he placed 20 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line after doing so only five times in the first seven games.
He was also a significant weapon in the two winter games against Chicago and return ace Devin Hester, who had returned a punt for a touchdown in the September matchup at Soldier Field. In January, the Packers used Masthay’s leg and a strong field-position advantage to beat the Bears in the regular-season finale and in the NFC Championship.
The real test now is whether Masthay can perform like that from the start of the season. Both he and Slocum mentioned getting off to a fast start as one of the goals for the punt team this year.
“He’s got a great sense of professionalism,” Slocum said. “He’s a student of the game. He really studies it. He’s real close to being in form.”
As for the rest of Wednesday’s full-pads workout, the defense was getting the better of the offense during much of the team (11-on-11) red-zone work.
Several different individuals in the secondary made standout plays in the red zone. Cornerback Tramon Williams had an interception, safety Nick Collins broke up a corner route to tight end Tom Crabtree, rookie corner Davon House deflected a fade to receiver Greg Jennings, and safety Charlie Peprah nearly had an interception on a short hook route to rookie tight end Ryan Taylor.
Even some of the linebackers got into the act, with Desmond Bishop beating a block and sticking running back Ryan Grant right near the goal line, and A.J. Hawk busting through on a blitz for what would have been a sack in live action.
“My feeling is the defense is practicing faster than the offense,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think that was clear in a couple of drills. I’d say that’s normal early in training camp.
“I really like the tempo of our defense right now. The offense needs to pick that part up, and they will.”
The first-team offense exacted a bit of revenge in the two-minute drill.
Starting from his own 40 with 1:11 left, one timeout and a 24-20 deficit, quarterback Aaron Rodgers used two deep sideline tosses to receiver Jordy Nelson to get inside the 10. Nelson niftily outmaneuvered cornerback Sam Shields to pull down the first one and then beat corner Pat Lee over the top on the second. Donald Driver then caught a 7-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left.
The No. 2 offense didn’t fare as well. Quarterback Matt Flynn got the unit as far as the 20, with the help of a superb one-handed catch along the sideline by rookie Randall Cobb for 17 yards. But a pair of sacks by defensive end Jarius Wynn and outside linebacker Brad Jones thwarted the drive.
“I don’t get caught up in who wins and who loses as far as the offense-defense, but it’s really hitting all the particular situations – the down and distances, how you handle the clock, the (stop-the-)clock plays, when to call timeout, the back-shoulder throws, just all the things that are necessary to be successful in two-minute,” McCarthy said. “I thought we got off to a good start.”
Other notes from Wednesday’s workout:
Tight end Jermichael Finley and safety Morgan Burnett participated in team drills for the first time in camp, another step in their road back from season-ending injuries last season. Both worked with the first-team units. Finley had one of the offense’s few standout plays during the red-zone work, catching a well-thrown ball from Flynn on a corner route for a touchdown.
Defensive end Mike Neal still hasn’t taken any team snaps, but he did work in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill for the first time in camp.
Rookie defensive end Lawrence Guy left practice with what McCarthy called a concussion. McCarthy said Guy wouldn’t practice on Thursday and the medical staff would begin the concussion protocol that was put in place by the league last year.
Outside linebacker Frank Zombo was back with the first-team defense again, continuing the rotation in the competition for the starting spot opposite Clay Matthews.
Chad Clifton returned to team drills but still shared some of his snaps at left tackle with Marshall Newhouse.
Newly re-signed receiver James Jones watched practice from the sidelines again. Speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday for the first time since getting his new contract, Jones talked about how the free-agent period was so short, but he has no regrets about the outcome. “There were definitely a lot of receivers out there,” he said. “Everybody was trying to find a home, and I’m glad I landed back here. I truly believe it’s where I’m supposed to be.”