GREEN BAY – Tim Masthay is the lone punter remaining in the Packers’ training camp, but he’s not breathing easy.
“I guess there’s two parts to it for me,” Masthay said after Monday’s practice, discussing the release of the rookie punter and his head-to-head competition, Peter Mortell.
“One, I don’t feel like I’ve won anything yet. And two, I’m not here to just win a job, I’m not here to survive cut day. I’m here to help the Packers win football games. That’s what I’m interested in doing. That’s what I’m focused on doing.”
It was the expected, and sensible, response from Masthay, who has spoken often in the past about how he’s always competing with anyone else, anywhere in the league, who might take his job.
Masthay is a veteran who understands the big picture, so he’s processing it all in stages. First, he needed to be the best punter in camp. Next, he needs to be on the 53-man roster when final cuts are made Saturday. And last but not least, he needs to be the punter for Week 1 in Jacksonville.
“To me, there’s not even the slightest bit of relief,” he said. “There’s no relief or take a deep breath or anything like that.
“To me, the only change is I got all the reps today, so I got a little extra practice. That’s about it.”
Going strictly by the stat sheet, Mortell put up better numbers than Masthay through three preseason games. His gross average (45.1 to 42.8), net average (42.0 to 31.6) and inside-the-20 kicks (five to three) were all better.
But Masthay’s numbers were skewed by a blocked punt that was a protection miscue, and one long return that resulted from poor coverage, not a poor kick. Masthay also has been better and more consistent with his hang time, and that may have ultimately been the deciding factor to this point.
Mortell had a low 42-yarder last Friday in San Francisco that was returned 17 yards, giving the 49ers the ball near midfield and setting up their only TD drive. Meanwhile, Masthay had probably his best game of the preseason out west, putting two of three punts inside the 20 and matching his net average to his gross average (43.0) with strong hang time.
“You always want to be able to do it all,” Masthay said. “You always want the high hang times with the great distance, with the great direction. It’s hard to bottle that all up on a consistent basis, but that’s what I’m continually working towards.
“I’m very pleased with my hang time, but I’d love for my placement to be a little bit better.”
He’ll stay focused on that in the preseason finale on Thursday night in Kansas City.
On Monday, Masthay said he had a chance to speak briefly to Mortell before he left the locker room, and he wished him well.
A local punter from Green Bay who played his high school football just a few miles from Lambeau Field, Mortell was bidding to be the story of training camp, and he and Masthay talked often about the strange nature of the business.
“It’s just tough to break in,” Masthay said. “There’s a number of guys who have had tremendous NFL careers, and it took three or four years to make it in.
“It takes a little bit of good fortune, getting the right opportunity at the right time, and seizing that chance. He’s got the talent for it, it’s just a matter of that happening. He’s got a great head on his shoulders, too, so I won’t be surprised if he does make it.”
The even-keeled head on Masthay’s shoulders is one reason he’s been in the league for six years, working toward seven. If he indeed remains the guy here, he feels he’s prepared for another full season, but first things first.
“In terms of my ball-striking, my fundamentals, my mindset, all that, I feel ready to go. I’m ready to be an asset for this team, both as a punter and a holder,” he said. “But being ready doesn’t guarantee results.
“Thursday is the last dress rehearsal for Week 1, and it’s also the last chance for every player to make their case for why they should be on the 53, so I view it in both of those ways.”
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