( David Zalubowski/AP)
Through 14 weeks of the regular season, Jaguars rookie punter Adam Podlesh is the 34th ranked punter in terms of gross average, at just 40.2 yards per punt. Podlesh is tied for 27th in net punting average, at 35.7 yards per punt.
Aside from Podlesh’s huge 76-yard fourth quarter punt that was aided by some swirling winds in an October game in Tampa Bay, the Jaguars punter has been a disappointment, in an otherwise excellent special teams unit.
Podlesh was asked about his season, and he responded-- "It was kind of understood I was going to have ups and downs."
Every NFL rookie goes through some kind of learning curve, but it is expected to be considerably less severe with kickers and punters, being that they really don’t have to adjust to the increased speed of the pro game. Punters must punt the football, basically the same thing that they’ve done in high school, and college. Their leg strength should translate from one level of play to the next. When the Jaguars made Adam Podlesh their first selection of the fourth-round in April’s draft (and the first punter selected overall), they probably expected him to go through some tough times, but I don’t think they expected to have one of the league’s worst statistical punters with just two weeks to go.
Podlesh’s only other duty aside from punting is acting as a holder on Josh Scobee’s extra point and field goal attempts. Podlesh had done a good job on the holds prior to last Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, in which he fumbled the snap on the Jaguars second PAT attempt, and then had problems handling another snap which led to a PAT miss by Scobee.
"It looked really bad because it happened two times in a row," Scobee said. "That's never good and it especially looked bad when they came back and tied it up. You never want to be in a situation where we're up by 15 points and they come back on us and there's a direct correlation with those extra points. That's not going to happen again."
In that game, temperatures dipped below freezing, and there were snow flurries that clearly seemed to affect Podlesh and the special teams unit in general. Of the bad weather, Scobee said, "It was somewhat of a factor, but we have to adapt to the weather. We just need to execute better as a group. We've got it corrected."
Podlesh said it was a "learning experience" and said they will handle it a lot better if they play a cold weather game in the playoffs. When Podlesh was asked if the ball was hard to handle, he said, "I think it just comes down to all three of us as a unit."
It may indeed come down to all three (Podlesh, Scobee, and long snapper Joe Zelenka) as a unit, but only one of the three has been disappointing this year. Aside from Podlesh’s mistakes while holding last Sunday, he nearly dropped a snap on a punt, and had a nightmare of a day punting, as he averaged just 29 yards per punt on five opportunities, including a 13-yarder which led to a Pittsburgh score with the short field. Despite the cold temperatures, Pittsburgh rookie Daniel Sepulveda, who was drafted after Podlesh, averaged nearly 41 yards per punt in the same miserable conditions.
Adam Podlesh needs to have a solid game punting this Sunday to possibly keep his job. The Jaguars protected him in training camp when they released punter/kicker Tony Yelk, who was clearly outplaying him all the way through the scrimmage to his eventual release the following week. Although Podlesh was a fourth-round draft pick, the Jaguars can’t afford to protect him further and thereby risk their season at the hands of a punter who hasn’t been all that good this year. It seems increasingly likely that Jacksonville’s road through the playoffs will involve games in the northeast and thus some expected cold weather. With this Jaguars team looking like a legitimate contender, they can’t let their season fall victim to a special teams error. If Adam Podlesh doesn’t have a solid game this Sunday, it is more than likely that the Jaguars will be forced to bring in some veteran punters who can kick in the cold weather. They owe that to the rest of the team.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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