GREEN BAY — Punting is far from the most attractive aspect of football. Especially with the spotty amounts of success the Green Bay Packers have had doing it over the last decade.
But while it may not be the most exciting thing to watch, it remains an important part of the game. The Packers recognized that this April when they took a punter in the fifth — yes, fifth — round of the NFL Draft.
If nothing else, JK Scott had the pedigree to be considered for a draft pick. He played in three national championship games during his time with the Alabama Crimson Tide and won two titles. He also earned multiple All-American acknowledgements during his college career.
The Packers are hoping he can turn around a stretch of average-at-best performances from their punters over the last several years. Green Bay has not had a punter finish outside the bottom 10 in the league in yards per punt since 2011.
Tim Masthay had the 15th-best average in the league back then at 45.6 yards per punt, but since then nobody on the team has finished better than 22nd in the league. Justin Vogel booted it at an average of 44.4 yards per punt last season, only good for 23rd-best in the NFL.
Scott is the only punter on the roster this training camp, but he’s been competing with himself every day.
“There’s always going to be competition, so the mindset that I’ve been having is whether I’m competing against 10 guys or no guys, I’m going to turn over ever stone that I can,” Scott said. “I’m really competing against myself, because I have a certain potential in me as far as punting goes, and I just want to maximize it.”
As the Packers showed in 2016, competition can come from anywhere. Masthay had seemingly won the starting job that year after feel-good story Peter Mortell — a Green Bay native getting his shot with the Packers — was cut. But Green Bay claimed Jacob Schum off waivers near the end of camp and cut Masthay in an unexpected move.
Even if the only competition he has to worry about is in other team’s locker rooms for now, Scott’s making a solid case to be the starting punter early in camp. At Thursday’s practice, he averaged over 50 yards per punt and routinely had good hang time.
“If I can get the ball in the right place and get my steps right, the hang time should take care of itself. That’s what Coach Saban instilled in me at Alabama. He’s so big on the process,” Scott said. “So that’s my mentality on the hang time.”
Having played on a big stage time after time with Alabama should help him get adjusted to the NFL atmosphere too.
“At Alabama, my experience there was … you kind of forget about the crowd and everything else, and just play the game,” Scott said. “I remember my first punt at Alabama, I remember thinking ‘Is this going to affect me?’ But then I went out on the field, and I looked and saw everybody lined up in front of me just like in practice. It just felt so normal.”
The lanky 6-foot-6-inch Scott had his best season as a freshman at Alabama, finishing with a gross average of 48 yards per punt. In 2017, he pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line 27 times.
Green Bay’s recent struggles with its punting unit could use the injection of a fresh leg to get things moving in the right direction. Having spent a draft pick on one suggests they believe that Scott can be the one to bring consistent strong performances to the position for the first time in a while.