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Thursday, October 3, 2013
Updated: October 11, 5:36 PM ET
The disappearing punter

By David Fleming
ESPN.com

Britton Colquitt
Thanks to the Broncos' high-octane offense, Britton Colquitt has been limited to just 15 punts through the first five games of the season.

Peyton Manning has done the impossible.

I'm not talking about the Broncos' perfect record or what is one of the best starts by a quarterback in NFL history, a 5-0 run that has him ranked first in yards (1,884), completion percentage (75.8) and TDs (20) and with a passer rating (136.4) more than double poor Eli's. No, I'm talking about Manning being so freaky, mile-high good in 2013 that he's made one of the best, highest-paid punters in the game disappear right before our very eyes.

Manning and the Broncos' offense have been so explosive and efficient that poor punter Britton Colquitt, who makes $3.9 million per season, has been called into service three (I'm sorry, let me repeat that: THREE) times in the past three weeks. By contrast, Jacksonville, Denver's Week 6 opponent, punted that many times in the first six minutes of the season and leads the league with 37 punts.

Colquitt did not punt at all last week in Dallas, and based on the Jags' 31st-ranked defense, this Sunday he could probably set up a cardboard likeness of himself on the Broncos bench and sneak away for a few rounds of golf or some bodysurfing.

As the highest-paid punter in the game, Colquitt, 28, who is the Denver career leader in gross (46.0) and net (39.5) punting, makes roughly $244,000 per game. Trust me, he's earned it. In 2011, when field position, special teams and defense was everything for old noodle-arm himself, Tim Tebow, Colquitt crushed 101 punts (just over six per game), including an amazing performance at San Diego that included three kicks inside the 20 and a 61-yarder in OT in a 16-13 win.

Playing behind Peyton "the Punter Destroyer" isn't all that bad, though. Based on Colquitt's grand total of 15 seconds of work in the past month, that comes out to an hourly rate of right around $175 million.

And Steelers fans think I'm overpaid.

Anyway, for this week's FlemFile, we decided to check in with Britton, who is part of the little-known First Family of Fourth Downs in the NFL, for a Q-and-A exploring one of the more odd side effects of Manning's epic start: the disappearing punter.

FlemFile: So here's my great opening question: You punted 101 times in 2011 and are one of the most successful, highest-paid punters in the NFL, but, dude, you've punted only three times in the last three games. What's up?

B.C.: I guess you can just think of me more as an insurance policy this year. They haven't had to use me that much and, well, I'm sure everybody's thrilled about it because the offense is doing so well.

OK, but how do you stay focused or ready in games? You've spent only 15 seconds in the last 27 days actually performing your craft.

It is pretty tough. Mentally I'm there and I'm always prepared. I always believe that, when we're at second-and-6, or second-and-8, or onto to third down, I always feel like we're gonna punt. That's my job. Not because I don't have confidence in the offense. I do think back to 2011 when we were punting like 8, 9, 10 times a game and I had the same punter's mentality: We're always gonna punt. I always feel like, "We're not gonna get out of this hole, and I'm gonna punt."

Not the last three weeks, though, or probably at all this Sunday.

We've just been so good at getting out of that hole this year, especially when we're backed up. We've been in a lot of situations where I would have sworn we would have punted and we didn't. It's not as mentally tough as you would think, never punting, because I'm going through the prep every time. You just gotta be a pro and be ready at all times.

You studied mechanical engineering at Tennessee. Does that help in some way with the biomechanics of …

That's a mistake. Someone put that in, and it just got kept in there. It made me sound smarter, I guess.

What did you study, then?

Political science. Engineering sounds better, though.

I know. I'm gonna switch that in my own bio too. It's genius.

There you go.

I see kickers passing the time on the sideline with all these ball tricks, bouncing it, spinning it. What do you do, especially now that you have so much time on your hands?

I bounce the ball. I throw it, hit the ground and bounce it back up to me. That's kinda my thing. But there really isn't that much time. When there's a possession change, we start off with our long snapper, Aaron Brewer; he snaps like three balls to me. Then I'm at the net with Matt Prater tossing the ball to me. When we're on defense, I'm usually, ya know, sitting on the bench. Standing up can kinda take a toll on you. We'll just kinda sit there. But we're fans too, and we're enjoying the game. It's not like we're bored and we gotta pass the time. We enjoy watching the game and supporting the guys.

Because you're not so busy, do fans try to interact with you more? I mean, it's not a bad thing. A fan helped convince your brother Dustin to punt. Now he punts for the Chiefs and is the second highest-paid punter in the league, behind you.

When he was starting out, my brother didn't like the pants. He said, "Football pants are too tight. I can't do this, can't punt." And then some girl whistled at him and said he had a nice butt in those football pants, and then he was like, "Oh, OK, I'm in."

How about you? Do fans get a sense that you're bored and need to talk?

There's always people wanting to talk because of where the kicking net is, over there at the end, closer to the stands. At home games, people try to get your attention, try to get a wave, try to get a ball or something.

Fans try to get you to throw them a ball, seriously?

People are always trying to get a ball. At away games, they mostly just pick on you a lot. People say anything they can. It can be pretty mean, I guess. We try to ignore it. The key is to not let them know you can hear them. If you let them know you can hear them, they've got you.

You, your brother Dustin, your dad Craig and your cousin Jimmy all punted for Tennessee. Your dad kicked for the Steelers and won two Super Bowl rings. Do they ever give you a hard time about not earning your money?

Dustin hasn't said it like that. He just kind of shakes his head. His body is a little older, and yet I'm over here, ya know, I'm basically the holder-slash-punter this year.

Instead of punter-slash-holder?

Yeah, yeah.

Well, you've kicked only 15 times, but you are still among the top in the league with 60 percent of those kicks landing inside the 20.

It has been mainly the last three games. I punted seven times and then five times, and then it has just totally fallen off. So my goal now is just, when I do get out there, to help the team, instead of being a nonfactor. I want Peyton to be like, "Wow, OK, we had to punt a few times, but he helped us out and put our defense in a good situation." That's always my goal.

Does Peyton know that you watched him play at Tennessee when you were a kid?

I was like 10 or 11 when he was at Tennessee. I grew up watching him.

Because of all the punters in your family, people have started calling you guys the Mannings of punting.

That is pretty cool to hear people refer to us as that. My dad has started a scholarship fund or a foundation at Tennessee called The First Family of Fourth Downs. So the Mannings are the First Family of Football, and we're the First Family of Fourth Downs.

Not bad.

Peyton Manning
Britton Colquitt can blame another former Volunteer, Peyton Manning, for his limited action this season.

It's pretty good, right? That's what my dad has always referred to us as.

It's not like we can talk about the Dallas game, so how about your dad? He has an amazing story about how he started punting, how all this started with you guys.

He was two years out of high school working at a department store in Knoxville, Tenn. He was like 20 or 21 and saw in the newspaper there was an open tryout for the punting position at Tennessee. He was just over the river from campus and the stadium, so he gets on his bike, rides over the bridge and tries out and makes it and eventually they put him on scholarship.

A couple weeks later, against Maryland, wasn't his first punt a safety or something?

It was a bad snap, and he bobbled it and then fell on the ball or kicked it out of the end zone. My dad came to the sideline not knowing what to think and [Vols kicking coach George Cafego] said, "Hey, great job!"

He eventually became an All-American then won two Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh. I'm trying to think how scary it would be to shank a punt and have the guys on the Steel Curtain mad at you.

It would be scary. My dad always talks about how blessed he was, though. He got drafted in third round, and his first two years resulted in Super Bowl championships. I'm sure, playing with Terry Bradshaw, he probably has had some similar games to mine as far as the number of punts. And I'm sure he felt that pressure of being on a team that was the best in the business.

Sounds familiar.

I'm not sure what season it was, if it was in the Super Bowl years or after, but for whatever reason, my dad had to run the ball and he ended up getting hit pretty good and did something to his ankle. Immediately, his foot had become so swollen they had to cut his shoe off. And I guess Bradshaw had to punt the rest of the game.

FlemNote: Bradshaw punted five times in 1980 for a respectable 34.6-yard average.

He went up to my dad after the game and said "CC" -- that's what everyone called him -- he said, "CC, don't ever do that to me again."

Oh man, now I'm imagining Peyton trying to punt the ball. Please don't let that happen.

I don't know the exact extent of the injury, but after that, my dad still had to punt, even with a fractured foot.

OK, so give me the entire rundown on all you crazy, kickin' Colquitts. I got you, Dustin and your dad. Are there more?

Jimmy kicked at Tennessee. He was my dad's older brother's son. We had another cousin, Travis, who punted at Marshall but didn't make it to the NFL and is now a state trooper in West Virginia, I think. Then there was a second cousin playing at Clemson for a year, but he had a hip issue and he couldn't play football anymore. Other than that, Dustin's son is next; he's about to be 7.

Wait, what about your son. He's only 1, I know, but can he kick? First, help me out, his name is Nash but, really, shouldn't it be Knox?

Yeah, I thought about that and it came up at the time. But when we got pregnant [former Vols coach] Lane Kiffin had just named his son Knox.

Oh, say no more.

Yeah, he's kinda left a sour taste in the mouth of everyone in Knoxville, so I just wasn't feeling it as much, and then we just kinda fell in love with the name Nash. I guess he's seen me do it enough that when I put the ball down about waist level he just reaches up with his right foot and punts it out of my hand. He doesn't want to hold it; he just wants to punt it out of my hand. He's a little athlete, though.

Sorry, random punting question: Is punting like pitching, meaning, does the way the ball leaves your foot determine the flight of the punt?

It's similar to that. But instead of your foot doing something different each time, like a pitcher's hand, your foot always does the same thing but the drop is different. If you want to drive the ball more, the angle of the nose goes down a bit. If you want to hit it higher but not as far, you have the nose angled up. That rugby punt? The nose is straight down, and that way it goes end over end. For pitchers, it's all in the hand and fingers. For punters, it's all in the drop.

Can punters get in the zone, like QBs, jump shooters and hitters?

Yeah, definitely. Punters like to punt. When you're in a rhythm and a routine like that, you start to feel like nothing can go wrong. You almost want to get out there as many times as possible and ride that train while you're on it. You don't want to just be standing there on the sidelines. You do want to be able to do your job and get into that rhythm, and it's easier when your first kick isn't in the third or fourth quarter.

Which brings us right back to the odd situation you currently find yourself in.

It's just a weird situation.

Yeah, but one of the benefits of your unique situation has to be, when the game's over you don't need a shower. You can just put your street clothes back on, go home and beat the traffic.

You mean, like take a shower pill? I guess you could do that, but the equipment makes you sweat a little and I wouldn't want to get on the team plane smelling like that. But, yeah, trust me, the guys know when I haven't punted. After the game, everybody's looking at you going, wait, did you even punt today?

So what is the proper etiquette in this situation? Do I say, I hope you get to punt against Jacksonville? Or do I say, I hope you don't get to punt?

I don't know. Uh. It's. Maybe. How about: I hope you get a couple.

OK, yeah, let's go with that.