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Punters locked in job battle


The battle for the punting job is on, with Adam Podlesh and Steve Weatherford trading wins.

"They take turns, one guy out-punting the other. One day Steve would have a good day, and the next day Adam would step it up. It's a long time until we have to make that decision," Jaguars special teams coordinator Russ Purnell (pictured) said of the competition between his two punters.

Tuesday morning, Weatherford appeared to kick the ball a little higher and a little farther. "That's why we have tape," Purnell said, preferring a more measured evaluation.

Weatherford is a veteran of the punting wars. He hung on for three years in New Orleans before getting a midseason visit from "The Turk" last year. He knows how unfair life can be for an NFL punter: bad weather, bad snaps and bad luck.

Bad luck? How's this for bad luck?

After being cut at midseason last year, claims for Weatherford were made by Kansas City, Arizona and Pittsburgh. The Chiefs, of course, were the highest of the three teams in the claim order, so they were awarded Weatherford. Two weeks later, the Chiefs' regular punter was healthy again and Weatherford was cut. Arizona and Pittsburgh, of course, went on to play in the Super Bowl.

"I've had to compete for my job every year," said Weatherford, who's claimed victories over veterans such as Mitch Berger and Chris Hanson. "There are a lot of guys who have really big legs and kick the ball far, but the key to sticking around is doing it day after day after day."

Consistency will almost certainly be the key to winning the punting job with the Jaguars. Weatherford and Podlesh each have strong legs and kick the ball high and far. The one who kicks the ball highest and farthest most often will win the job.

"I actually like it," Podlesh said of the competition. "Competition brings out the best in everybody."

Podlesh was a fourth-round draft choice of the Jaguars in 2007. That's a relatively high pick for a punter and that kind of investment gave Podlesh an edge through his first two seasons, but it won't sustain him forever. As well as he punted late in his rookie season must become his standard of consistency.

His '08 season was cut short when he sustained a significant knee injury late in the season, which caused the Jaguars to acquire Weatherford. Podlesh spent the winter rehabbing his knee and he reports that it's 100 percent recovered.

"OTAs were the big test, as far as how the knee went. It passed with flying colors. Both of us have been punting very well. If Steve gets picked, I hope he does a good job," Podlesh said.

"Both of them are able to directional punt. I haven't been around that. It's not something we were able to do," said Purnell, who came to the Jaguars following a long career as the Colts' special teams boss.

"I'm excited," Purnell said of the special teams talent he has with the Jaguars. "I'm familiar with these guys' talent. Montell Owens is one of the top special teams guys in the league. Brian Iwuh is outstanding and we have a good kicker."

The focus in the preseason will be on deciding on a punter.

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