Punter Tim Masthay has talked all during training camp about getting off to a strong start in 2011.
He took the first major step toward doing that on Saturday night in Cleveland.
Masthay quietly had a big night on a warm summer evening, averaging 52.2 yards on his five punts. If not for a couple of missed tackles on some early punt returns, his net would have been even better than the solid 40.2 he recorded.
“Tonight I felt pretty good,” Masthay said. “I had a little extra pop in my leg, got into a groove and rode that groove the whole game.”
Masthay’s first punt was a booming 60-yarder, but it was returned 22 yards by Jordan Norwood. Two punts later, his 59-yarder was brought back 18 yards.
On his last two efforts, strong punts were rewarded by better work from the coverage unit. A 58-yarder was brought back just 5 yards, and then an Aussie-style pooch punt was downed at the Cleveland 7-yard line.
“It always helps if you really pop that first punt, which I did tonight,” Masthay said. “It really helps you get the groove and the confidence flowing the rest of the game.
“This is the progression. The regular season is what matters, but I’m happy to be off to a good start and I’ll look to continue to improve.”
Working overtime: With Charles Woodson getting the night off, Tramon Williams playing only two series, and Sam Shields, Davon House and Brandian Ross all injured, the Packers asked veteran cornerbacks Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee to carry a heavy load in Cleveland, playing virtually the entire game.
Bush started in Woodson’s place and Lee was in on the first series as the nickel corner. After Williams departed, Bush and Lee were the primary corners the rest of the game, and they held up well.
“I was talking to ‘Wood’ and I said I hadn’t done that in a long time, played a whole game,” Lee said. “It felt pretty good.”
The only big play made against either one came in the first quarter, when Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass over Lee, who was in good position but never turned around to find the ball.
The play bothered Lee, but at the same time it’s imperative for a cornerback to have a short memory, which Lee knows.
“Today I had one play, I didn’t look back for the ball, and it probably could have been mine if I looked back,” Lee said. “But after that I played well, had a couple of tackles. I just have to show the coaches they can trust me.”
Playing a whole game following the lockout and just two weeks of training camp was a physically demanding task, but Bush and Lee prepared themselves given the injury situation.
“We’re low on corners right now,” Lee said. “We felt ready for it. Me and ‘JB’ talked about getting ready. We had to buckle down because we were going to be out there all day.”
Flip-flopping: Rookie first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod began the game at left guard, but after veteran left tackle Chad Clifton exited, Sherrod and T.J. Lang flipped back and forth between left guard and left tackle through the first three quarters.
Sherrod and Lang are competing for the starting job at left guard, but both also could be needed as insurance behind Clifton. The two young linemen have been shifting between left guard and left tackle throughout training camp, so their game work was simply a continuation of that task.
“I’ve grown to become used to it,” said Sherrod, for whom left guard is a new position. “It’s just our practice structure, and I try to work as hard as we can so it will be easy in the game.”
More my way, please: Receiver Greg Jennings had the line of the night when asked to describe the perfect back-shoulder throw Aaron Rodgers delivered to him for a 21-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“Aaron always makes a perfect throw,” Jennings said. “What’s new? That’s the one thing that will not change.”