Over the first 8 weeks of the NFL season, the Bucs have signed three different kickers to handle the kickoffs and field goal attempts. Sadly, two have failed thus far, Nugent and Andrus, with Connor Barth being the latest to be called on to put an oblong object through two yellow poles. With Matt Bryant handling the kicking duties last year, this makes 4 kickers in our last 9 games, which coincidentally is the same number of quarterbacks we've used.
With the apparent close eye on the kickers, I wonder what is being done about our punting situation. I have nothing personal against Dirk Johnson, but as I've pointed out a few times, he has some issues.
When we've seen Dirk punt from a regular distance (think our 30-40 yard line) he typically hits a low line drive that carries about 38-40 yards in the air. Now, he has been getting a favorable bounce which leads to a much larger distance, but there are several issues. One is the hang time on his punts. The low line drive does not allow the coverage unit a chance to get down and cover their areas or lanes. It also allows the punt returner to field the ball on the run, putting him at full speed.
Secondly, the distance is obviously not a benefit to the Bucs. In watching the Jets/Dolphins game I noticed how both punters were hitting punts that were carrying 48+ yards consistently. I'd chalk it up to the wind, but the punts were going in both directions. I don't need to tell you why punt distance is important.
Lastly, his ability to drop the ball inside the 10 was average at best. Now, he's done better as of late, but I still can't help but think that there is a better option out there.
I looked at Dirk's numbers and looked at all the players currently in the NFL database that are punters and available or on the practice squad. There aren't many options, but here's how they line up. I would like to note that there is no way to determine how far each punt carries other than watching it. In other words, it's not a tracked stat.
|Avg||Net Avg||Inside 20|
|Dirk Johnson 2009||41.3||36.2||10|
|Dirk Johnson Career Avg||41.7||35.9||13.42|
There a bunch of rookies or players with no stats (like A.J. Trappasso) so it's tough to evaluate them, but it looks like Dirk falls right in line with what's on the street. A fun side fact. Dirk has already punted the same number of times this year with the Bucs through 7 games that he did with the Cardinals all last year in a listed 12 games.
To try and put this all in perspective, in 2008 the Bucs averaged 44.5 yards per punt, good for 11th in the league. Dirk's average of 41.3 would have been good for 29th in the league last year. The league average in 2008 was 43.7 yards.
In fact, looking at the last 5 years, Dirk's current average would have never finished higher than 24th in the NFL. This is usually yardage that doesn't get noticed. It's hard to complain when you are talking about 3 yards per punt, but it adds up.
Additionally, there is no tracking on hangtime of punts, but I feel confident in saying Johnson is towards the lower end of this "stat" also.
Dirk may be the best person on the job compared to what is remaining on the street. I just hope that Dominik and company are scrutinizing this as close as the rest of the team. I know that each time Dirk punts the ball, I'm terrified of where the kick might end up or how far it will go. To be able to change field position from a punting perspective would be a huge addition to our team and give our defense better field position.