GREEN BAY – The fireworks and pageantry of the Packers’ annual Family Night event often serves as a reminder to all of how football is just around the corner.
For Tim Masthay, however, it goes further than that.
The Packers’ veteran punter uses the annual practice to shift his mindset back to gamedays.
No, it’s not a true replication. For example, the abundance of pre-practice festivities alter his usual routine, but the energy and atmosphere of more than 66,000 in attendance has value.
The first action inside Lambeau Field presents challenges, beginning with warmups. Routines are altered. Communication is disrupted.
“Family Night is a good environment and good test to get ready for the first preseason game,” Masthay said. “It’s a more difficult practice to get ready for because of the time restrictions and all the pregame stuff. We can’t really do our normal warmup routine so it presents a little challenge that way. But that’s good, too, because it’s like, ‘Hey, can you still perform when things aren’t exactly perfect?’”
For the second consecutive year, Masthay is facing a challenge for the Packers’ punting job this summer in the form of Green Bay native Peter Mortell.
Still, Masthay doesn’t look at it like him vs. Mortell – it’s him vs. the NFL. Just like it wasn’t a direction competition when he won the job over Chris Bryan in 2010 or when he fended off a challenge from Cody Mandell to keep it last summer.
Regardless of whether there’s another punter in camp, the seventh-year veteran always has maintained that he’s competing against every punter in the league.
Punters don’t have to learn a playbook. If they don’t get the job done, NFL teams will find somebody who will. That’s why in-camp competition doesn’t faze him.
What it does do is reduce his reps, however. He and Mortell alternated during the Packers’ two punting periods on Sunday.
“The NFL is obviously extremely competitive environment filled with extremely competitive men. I’m an extremely competitive guy,” Masthay said. “I love competition. I love a challenge. I love pressure to perform. This is my seventh training camp here, I’m embracing those challenges, competition and pressure.”
Masthay set a new franchise record for net punting average in 2015 (40.2 yards per punt), but still had a few mis-hits last season that caused Green Bay to again bring in competition.
Masthay had a good showing on Sunday night, booming a few punts more than 50 yards. Mortell started slow, but rallied late with his last unofficially going 54 yards.
“It was definitely something I had to get used to here,” said Mortell, who previously attended Family Night as a fan. “It’s a different experience than just being in practice or even a college game. This is the NFL and things move a little bit different. I felt like I did some good things out there and some other things I can improve upon. I’ll watch the film … and come back and be better.”
Both punters know there’s a lot of time between now and the start of the regular season on Sept. 11 in Jacksonville. For Masthay, Family Night was another chance to get better.
“I’m hitting the ball well,” Masthay said. “I’m trying to get to where I’m peaking at the end of camp going into the season. I feel like I’m doing what I want to do at this point and we’ll keep trying to improve.”
Like previous years, Family Night was eye-opening for the Packers’ incoming rookie class.
Fourth-round pick Blake Martinez never practiced in front of more than a few dozen fans during his time at Stanford, let alone 66,000 fans cheering every play on the field.
Linebacker Kyler Fackrell, a third-round pick, was blown away by the whole night, beginning with the opportunity to take photos with his family on the field before practice started.
“It was awesome,” said Fackrell, whose parents, wife and daughter attended Family Night. “I don’t know if other teams do something like that, but this is a special place. They realize that family is a big deal to everybody. To give them this opportunity to see what it’s like here at Lambeau is pretty great.”
It wasn’t just the rookies who were awe-struck, though. Newly signed linebacker Lerentee McCray, who spent the past four seasons in Denver, couldn’t believe the crowd when he stepped onto the field Sunday.
McCray came away impressed with the Lambeau Field experience. He also showed a strong bull rush during the team periods.
“It was insane,” McCray said. “I just had to absorb everything. It’s a practice, but to have (all those) people out there was awesome.”
Conducting a practice inside Lambeau Field also is beneficial for rookies and first-year players to get a taste of what an NFL crowd is like. Long-snapper Rick Lovato appreciated the crowd’s contribution during the final field-goal period.
“It’s the same game-type crowd,” Lovato said. “Putting pressure on us there at the end with the field goal is really important because I need to practice that and we don’t get that out on Ray Nitschke Field. It’s nice to be able to go out at Lambeau in front of that crowd and get that game-situation style of a feel.”
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