Print and Go Back New England Patriots [Print without images]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Kicking around emergency punters

By Chris Forsberg

AP Photo/Winslow TownsonReplacing punter Zoltan Mesko isn't as simple as signing another punter.
If the knee injury that Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko suffered in Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers is enough to keep him off the field this week in Buffalo, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said replacing him is not as simple as signing a free agent with a strong foot.

"There are plenty of things that go into the punting position," said Belichick. "It’s not like standing out on the driving range, teeing it up, and hitting it as far as you can. Situation punting is probably over half the game in punting, whether it’s directional punting, rushes, plus-50, end-of-the-game or end-of-half-type situations. One deep, two deep, overload rushes, I mean you can just keep going.

"There are a million things that the punter has to deal with -- the punter, the whole punt team, personal protector, snapper, [things] that everyone has to deal with. There’s certainly a lot more to it than just catching the ball and kicking it as far as you can, so that’s something we work on every week and it changes every week. Every team we play is different and then you always have to deal with the conditions and the situation within the game so there’s plenty of stuff going on there."

Asked if the Patriots were bracing for the potential to have to add a temporary punter after Mesko injured his left kicking knee when safety James Ihedigbo was blocked into him following a boot in the second half of Sunday's game, Belichick was noncommittal.

"We’re still working our way through those questions today, it may take longer than that," said Belichick. "I don’t know, [but] it’s possible."

Patriots personnel director Nick Caserio suggested that everything from ball-handling to ball placement, especially in relation to the next opponent, would be weighed by the team when considering a temporary punter.

"There’s elements -- whether it’s ball handling, ball placement, wind conditions, plus-50 punting, backed up -- so there’s things that we face on a week-to-week basis. We just have to figure out whoever that player may be, who gives us the best chance and who is able to handle those elements."

Remember, too, that Mesko is the team's holder. Making him inactive and bringing in another punter would also have a trickle down effect on field goal and PAT situations. While Belichick wouldn't divulge whether Mesko could have punted after sustaining the injury this past Sunday, he did return to the field as a holder in the fourth quarter against San Diego.

The available punters that held NFL jobs last season include Matt Dodge, drafted last year by the Giants but cut earlier this month (he drew headlines for all the wrong reasons last December for giving up a punt return to Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson as time expired); Nick Harris, a 33-year-old with 11 years of NFL experience, including the last eight seasons with the Detroit Lions; and Ben Graham, the 38-year-old left-footed Australian who has spent the last eight years in the NFL, most recently with Arizona Cardinals.

Chris Hanson was the last player to handle punting duties before the team drafted Mesko in the fifth round (150th overall) in 2010.