Punter takes the podium
|02.25.10 at 4:06 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The first day of the NFL Combine is reserved for special teamers, and with the Patriots having finished the season tied for last in punting (34.1 net average), one shouldn’t overlook the talent on display.
Chris Hanson, on whom the responsibility for the aforementioned statistic falls, finished his third season in New England and is currently a free agent. While his return is uncertain at this point, it is fairly obvious that for a team that has had outstanding kickers recently in Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski, the franchise has struggled to secure a punter of the same caliber.
From Ken Walter to Todd Sauerbrun to the unhatched careers of Tom Malone and Danny Baugher, the Patriots have been unable to lock down a solid option at punter for one reason or another. Should the Patriots decide to part ways with Hanson, the draft features an interesting option in Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko, whom the Patriots met with Thursday.
“I’ve developed a little bit of both [directional and straightaway punting],” Mesko, who had a net average of 44.5 yards as a senior, told reporters. “Whatever the coach needs me to do, I’ll definitely do.”
The Wolverine, whose life — which began in Romania — and career has quite the interesting back-story, is rated by Scott Wright as the top punter in the draft. The 2009 Ray Guy award (nation’s top punter) finalist was a second-team All-American in his final season at Michigan. The 23 year-old spoke with members of the media Thursday and discussed growing up in communism, being the first specialist to be voted captain in his school’s history, speaking four languages (“Maybe [Sebastian Vollmer and I] can communicate”) and a discouraging experience at the Senior Bowl.
Though Mesko had a net average in the game of just 32.3 yards, two of his shorter punts (25 and 32 yards each) pinned the South within the 20 yard line. Still, Mesko touched on the difficulty he encountered punting outdoors in Mobile, Ala.
“I had not been used to the outdoor conditions,” Mesko explained to those on hand. “My last outdoor punting session [had been] November 21 against Ohio State. I had been at Michigan completing my Masters and that was indoors.”
Mesko also spoke highly of teammate Brandon Graham (“He’s quite the athlete”). The defensive end has frequently been projected to the Patriots at pick No. 22 in many mock drafts of late.
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