Mesko adjusting to life in the NFL
|08.03.10 at 1:52 pm ET|
FOXBORO — There was a lot to like about the Patriots’ fifth-round selection of Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko.
One of the more interesting players in the draft, Mesko’s journey to the NFL is far dissimilar the traditional path many take. Despite his intrigue in coming from a dangerous area in Romania and then moving to the states, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Patriots landed themselves a fine young player at a position that has historically plagued them.
Back in February we wrote about how Mesko could be the guy that ends the team’s run of bad punters, and now that he is in the fold and the only punter in training camp, all eyes are on what the rookie can do on the field. Mesko’s main focus is proving that he can simply impress without focusing on the attention that comes with being the starter.
“These coaches, they don’t put it out there that anything’s guaranteed,” Mesko said of not having company on the depth chart. “Not having the complacency develop is key. Just like [Stephen Gostowski] was telling me, he doesn’t become complacent even though he’s been the starter for four years. If you have that complacent mindset, that’s when things start falling apart.”
As for adjusting to a new level of playing, any first impressions and time to soak in the surroundings seem to already be a thing of the past with Mesko.
“It seems like I’ve been here for three weeks instead of five days with the guys,” Mesko said.
Second-year special teams coach Scott O’Brien liked what he saw from the punter in his time at Michigan. Often being forced into scramble punt (punting on the move) scenarios, Mesko has pleased thus far as the team works with him to get into a groove punting conventionally.
“In Zoltan’s case, there was enough — I mean, a lot of film — where it was conventional punting. The scramble punts is just a situation we all have. [There are] certain situations that they’ve never done in college and we have to work on. Obviously, of the things they didn’t do in college that they need to do for us, but we have to do it. In Zoltan’s case, that’s one thing he’s done and has worked hard on ever since he’s been here.”
The 150th pick in the draft, Mesko is already establishing himself as a fan favorite both for his name (“Yeah, I have a weird name,” he said in his introductory conference call after being drafted) and his status as a drafted punter. Mesko seems to understand the confidence the Patriots showed in him with his selection and is ready to prove just how valuable he will be.
“In the past, there’s a lot of punters that have been drafted in the later rounds,” Mesko said. “It’s definitely a position that the fans really don’t notice, but the coaches do value in the way a punter can switch field position.
“For myself, I was [surprised] because I never thought I could get to this level. But with hard work, it can be achieved.”
Based on what O’Brien had to say, the Patriots didn’t seem prepared to let Mesko get away from them in April’s draft. The Romanian-born Mesko’s numbers — his punts averaged 44.5 yards a pop in his senior year at Michigan — were just part of what made him so appetizing to the Pats.
“With us, just evaluating college at a position that is very very hard to find at our level as far as the young techniques you’re looking for, the locomotor skills you develop for that position,” O’Brien said. “There’s so much of that in college, yet you really have to do a good job of just singling out his physical attributes as a punter.”
The appreciation that the coaches seem to have for their rookie punter is seemingly reciprocated by Mesko, who as an NFL special teamer now receives far more attention and instruction as he refines his craft.
“In college there’s not much coaching. There’s not a lot of special teams coordinators,” Mesko said. “Having someone to tell you that you’ve got to do this and this, it’s really a good thing in the long run. Even though you may not like to check off the to-do list, in the end, it’s going to pay off.
Mesko will also hold for Gostkowski in his first season.
“Well, there’s definitely a trust that needs to be built between the holder in the kicker,” Mesko said. “I take great pride in playing a position that’s really not noticed until you mess up. Like punting, it has to be perfected, and there are still things to improve on.”