If competition brings out the best in an athlete, the one thing you can absolutely be sure of this season is the local pro football team is going to have one hell of a punter.
With only 12 days to go before the vets dust off the pads and take to the pristine field at I.G.F., the Blue and Gold have an unprecedented four punters sitting on the roster.
While under normal conditions, I abhor writing about the kicking game, this is something exceptional and unusual. I have never seen or heard of so many candidates all vying for a punting job at once, so on my scope, it is worthy of contemplation.
It is always easy to tell which position is a primary concern for a football team because they invite everybody and their sister out to compete for it. While many think the club would be better served bringing in an extra QB or offensive linemen to compete instead of four punters, special teams do make up roughly a third of the game, and an ability to flip the field on a consistent basis can be advantageous for any football team.
When you take a serious look at the collection of candidates, however, it seems the club will be auditioning kickers to succeed Mike Renaud -- just like the situation at QB with Buck Pierce -- as none of the camp bodies they brought in have a snap of experience punting the ball at the pro level. We know Renaud's numbers.
That leaves draft pick Billy Paulopoulos, Brett Cameron, the son of punter icon Bob Cameron, and Tim Hutchison, who is a former Aussie rules player whom I have more punting experience than. While nothing would make me happier than a rugby-esque type player handling the punting chores for the Bombers and the physicality he would bring to the position, it would be naive to think that any of these candidates will be primed to come in and do a better job right out of the gate.
As easy as punting looks to the average viewer, incorporating all of the components of a quick hand to toe, hang time, direction, and distance, is simpler said than done, and if one of these rookies was to start in week one, no matter how good he ends up being, there would certainly be some rough waters to navigate. When former head coach Dave Ritchie used to lament that for every rookie that started on the roster, you were sure to lose at least one game, he wasn't blowing smoke.
While incumbent punter Mike Renaud had an average last year that placed him seventh out of eight teams, the difference between the third best punting average in the CFL and the worst was only a total of two yards, which isn't exactly game changing field position. Additionally, when it comes to "touchbacks," which are the punting equivalent of a defensive lineman being pancaked, Renaud is consistently in contention for the fewest in the league, which is what you want from your guy.
Lastly, a factor not to be overlooked, with four punters in camp and hopefully a new and improved offence, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that Renaud may return to the divisional all-star form he had three seasons ago, for no reason other than the fact that this guy and his leg need a rest.
For not only did Winnipeg punt 130 times last year, more than any other team in the CFL, but they also punted more than anybody else in 2011, and 2010, to boot (ahem). Before I would pass final judgment on this punter, I would want to see what he could do if he only had to punt five times a game instead of ten. Which begs the question: Is the punter really the problem in Winnipeg, and is having four guys compete for the spot the solution? Or is it the fact that this player is on the field a heck of a lot more than he ever should be on this team?
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.