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Thursday, August 11, 2011
Aussie Bryan tries to boot Jets' Conley

By Jane McManus
ESPNNewYork.com

Chris Bryan
Bryan was signed by the Jets on July 29 to compete with T.J. Conley.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- There isn't much stability for some players in the NFL, as Australian punter Chris Bryan learned last season playing from Green Bay to Tampa.

He arrived back in the United States with his family this offseason. Touching down in Las Vegas with his two toddlers wide awake and jet-lagged, Bryan and his wife, Lauren, popped the kids in the stroller and toured the city's restaurants and bright lights at midnight. It was just another taste of Americana in what has become an adventure, coming from Australian rules football with its booming kicks, to honing those skills with the fickle accuracy demanded by the NFL.

"It's a journey, it's an experience," Bryan said. "We're looking forward to being here during the winter because we don't get snow where we live in Australia."

Chris Bryan
Chris Bryan played in the Australian Football League from 2005-09.

Once the lockout ended, the New York Jets brought Bryan to New Jersey for a punting competition with second-year player T.J. Conley.

It's a long way from Bryan's hometown of Moonee Ponds. A long way from Carlton, his first Aussie rules team, where fans would yell an enthusiastic "Woof!" every time he boomed the ball with his left foot.

"Basically we kick the ball everywhere," Bryan said. "So kicking is the major skill of the game and I could kick the ball a long way."

It turned out that his foot was one of the best parts of his game. In 2008 he met with Nathan Chapman of ProKick America to see if he could convert into an NFL punter, like Ben Graham before him. Bryan started working with Chapman, and Green Bay signed him last season.

The minimum for an NFL punter is about twice as much as he could earn playing in Australia, but that's not the only reason Bryan switched sports.

"It's the challenge, it's something new," Bryan said. "I'm the fourth person ever to play Australian rules and then in the NFL in the world. So it's that challenge was driving me to get it done."

Even though the Jets had a serviceable punter in Steve Weatherford last season, when he became a free agent both sides were ready for a clean break. Weatherford surprised special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff when he ran with the ball on a fourth-and-18 last season against Green Bay. This year he will play for the Giants.

The Jets had Conley in house and let him know that they were happy with the way he performed at last year's training camp in Cortland.

"This year is absolutely real competition and it's great to have this opportunity and hopefully winning this job and playing the whole season," Conley said.

Conley and Westhoff get along, and the second-year punter isn't the type to freelance on fourth-and-long.

Nick Folk, who used Weatherford last season, has been working with Conley and Bryan to find a new holder. But he has also been using Mark Brunell, who was the holder for the Saints when the team went to the Super Bowl.

"[Brunell is] experienced at it," Folk said. "He's done it on the biggest stage, I think it's going to be pretty simple for him to pick it up again."

Both punters are still in the mix. Folk said it's just a matter of finding the best fit. He said that it's better for the punters that the team isn't in Cortland because the winds at Florham Park are stronger than those upstate. It's too soon to pick a favorite, but both should get opportunities at New Meadowlands in three preseason games there.

Bryan is aware that he is up against a well-regarded young player, but last season was a lesson. He and his wife brought just five suitcases on the plane from Australia, and are prepared if they need to pull up stakes.

"Whatever the situation is, I've got an opportunity here and if I perform well, hopefully I get the job here," Bryan said. "That's what I'm aiming for. That's why I'm here. But if not and I perform well during games, someone else will see me."