Familiarity could help new Packers punter


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For Cody Mandell, there probably wasn't a better team than the Green Bay Packers.

The free-agent punter the Packers signed on Monday is plenty familiar with his new situation.

Three of his college teammates from the University of Alabama -- running back Eddie Lacy, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and linebacker Adrian Hubbard -- are on the Packers' roster. He knows the man he's going to be competing with for a job, Packers punter Tim Masthay, quite well. And his personal kicking coach, Jamie Kohl, is based in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha.

"Having familiarity is going to make it a comforting process," Mandell said Thursday in a telephone interview from his home in Houston. "But I'm going to go up there and work every day and give it my all."

Mandell has attended kicking camps with Masthay several times. In fact, the two worked out together last summer (along with Saints punter Thomas Morstead and Raiders punter Marquette King) at one of Kohl's camps in Whitewater, Wisconsin, shortly before Mandell went to training camp with the Dallas Cowboys.

This is Mandell's second shot with an NFL team. An undrafted rookie last year, he played in one preseason game for the Cowboys last summer, averaging 43.7 yards on three punts, before he was released.

His route back to the NFL was a long one. Out of football for all of 2014, Mandell worked as a sales representative for a medical device company called Smith & Nephew while still trying to stay in shape and hone his kicking skills.

Earlier this month, his agent, Brooks Henderson, encouraged him to attend a kicking combine organized by former NFL kicker Michael Husted in Mobile, Alabama, during the week of the Senior Bowl. The Packers liked what they saw there and invited Mandell to a tryout in Green Bay on Monday. Mandell outperformed two other punters -- Brock Miller and Kasey Redfern, who was with Jacksonville in camp last year and re-signed with the Jaguars on Thursday -- and was signed to a futures deal that would pay him minimum salaries of $435,000 in 2015 and $525,000 in 2016 if he makes the team.

It's the first time since 2010, when Masthay beat out Australian Chris Bryan, that the Packers have multiple punters on their roster. Masthay, who has two years remaining on a four-year, $5.465 million contract, is coming off a shaky second half of the season that helped contribute to the lowest net punt average (37.0 yards) of his career. In 2013, Masthay set the Packers’ record for net punting in a season with a 39.0-yard average.

Masthay did not finish the 2014 season well. In the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks, he hit two poor punts in the fourth quarter -- a 37-yarder that was returned 2 yards and a 30-yarder that went out of bounds at the 31-yard line.

Still, there's no reason to think the Packers are giving up on Masthay. The Packers told Mandell they signed him to provide competition for Masthay.

"Tim is a great punter; I've known Tim for going on five years now," said Mandell, who averaged 42.6 yards (gross) per punt in 52 career games in college and was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as a senior. "He's a great guy. He's a competitor. Like the Packers said, they had nothing bad to say about him. He just had a down year, I guess. But the guy's great. Every time I've kicked with him he’s been nothing but helpful to me."