Thursday, August 25, 2011
Dodge not worried about getting booed
By Kieran Darcy
Imagine being booed the very first time you take the field at your home stadium to start a season?
That's what Giants punter Matt Dodge endured on Monday night.
Despite the fact that eight months had passed, Giants fans clearly hadn't forgotten his final punt at New Meadowlands Stadium in 2010 -- the one returned by the Eagles' DeSean Jackson for a game-winning touchdown in Week 15.
Dodge admitted Thursday after practice that his reception Monday night was "pretty brutal." But he also said he wasn't surprised.
"All I can do is try and punt well," Dodge said. "People are gonna think what they wanna think. Obviously that was a huge play last year. That first punt [Monday] was the first time I've kicked on that field since that play. So I can't really control how anyone thinks.
"I'm over it. That's all I can control."
Dodge was a seventh-round draft choice by the Giants last season out of East Carolina. And he faced a big challenge from the moment he joined Big Blue. Not only was he starting as a rookie, but he was replacing Jeff Feagles -- a master directional kicker, and one of the most well-regarded punters in NFL history.
His first NFL season was up and down -- he was ninth in the league in average yards per punt (44.8), but 30th in net average (34.8). And his entire first year was defined by one play.
In their final home game of the season, the Giants had already blown a 31-10 fourth quarter lead, an epic collapse. But then things turned even worse. With 13 seconds left, the Giants were forced to punt, and coach Tom Coughlin ordered Dodge to punt the ball out of bounds -- away from Jackson, the Eagles' ultra-dangerousn return man.
Dodge misfired, punting the ball straight down the middle of the field. Jackson fumbled initially, but then picked the ball up and raced all the way to the end zone for a 65-yard game-winning touchdown.
The Giants finished the season 10-6 -- tied with the Eagles -- but missed out on the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to Philadelphia.
"That’s one play -- like I tell everyone else, I remember all the better punts I had in that game, that was probably the most inside the 20 and we had 'em hemmed up pretty much most of the game," Dodge said. "That was just a crazy play that happened, and it’s unfortunate that I was part of it."
Dodge's teammate, place kicker Lawrence Tynes, came to Dodge's defense on Thursday. "I just think a lot of the heat he took last year -- especially you come out to camp and fans are yelling at him -- you know, get over it, it’s last year," Tynes said. "He lives with that every day ... you don’t think it bothers him? Of course it does. He wasn’t the only one to blame. That’s why I am happy for him that he has overcome all this. I understand people’s anger and whatever they want to boo ... that was last year, let’s move on. He has improved and is doing a great job."
This preseason Dodge is facing some stiff competition for his job from six-year NFL veteran Steve Weatherford, the starting punter for the Jets the past two seasons. Weatherford doesn't have as strong a leg as Dodge, but he is a better directional kicker.
"I like the competition," Coughlin said Thursday. "It’s been very competitive, and each guy’s done quite well."
When asked if there is a frontrunner for the starting job, Coughlin said, "I wouldn’t speculate on that just now."
Dodge said that having Weatherford in camp has helped him. "He punts really well," Dodge said, "so I gotta step my game up, to be on the same field as him.
"He’s a great guy. Really, I’m taking as much as I can from him, he’s been in the league forever. So just seeing how he prepares and his warmup, everything about him -- he’s a good directional punter, and that’s what I want to be. So I’ve learned a lot."
There are surely some Giants fans who would be much happier if Weatherford ends up winning this job. But even Coughlin himself -- who threw his headset in disgust after Dodge's catastrophic miscue last season, and had some harsh words for him afterwards -- came to Dodge's defense Wednesday.
"I would imagine a 63-yarder that pinned them to the goal would help," said Coughlin -- Dodge's first punt of the game Monday night, after he was booed, went for 63 yards. "First of all he has to prove it and I understand that, but it would be good to think that a guy playing in that uniform at home would be well received by these fans."
When asked what he thought about Coughlin's comments, Dodge confessed that he hadn't even heard them.
"That’s awesome. I feel like he’s had my back since I’ve gotten here," Dodge said. "That gives you a lot of confidence, knowing the guy in charge, [that] you probably fear the most on the entire field, is kinda taking up for you."