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Reading between the lines


It's important to read between the lines when it comes to special teams and their impact on a team. A glance at the 2009 NFL statistics would show Jaguars punter Adam Podlesh finished 27th in the league with a 41.9-yard average, but that doesn't tell the whole story.

Podlesh finished 15th in the NFL with a 38.3 net average on 72 punts. Read a little deeper and find that the Jaguars led the NFL with an opponent's punt return average of only 4.2 yards.

Translation: The 2009 season was perhaps the best of Podlesh's three seasons in the NFL.

"Honestly, I don't look at gross punting," Podlesh said. "I would have to guess that if you ask any head coach or special teams coach, they would much rather have a better net punt average and less return yards. That speaks for what we value in this league; directional punting and return yards."

The 4.2-yard return average was the third-lowest in the NFL since 2000 and the fifth-lowest since 1990. The Jaguars were the only team that did not allow a punt return of more than 13 yards in 2009.

"We had great synergy between myself and our coverage team," Podlesh said. "I thought it was a really successful and consistent punt team."

Things could have been much different for Podlesh.

After two seasons with special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, now in the same role at Dallas, head coach Jack Del Rio brought in longtime NFL coaching veteran Russ Purnell to direct the unit.

A battle for the punting job ensued between Podlesh and veteran Steve Weatherford during training camp. Both excelled in the preseason with Podlesh earning the job in the end.

"I don't think people realized it because maybe it wasn't at the forefront," Podlesh said. "It was a back and forth battle. Steve is a great punter and it showed when he got picked up right away."

Days after being released by the Jaguars, Weatherford signed with the Jets where he spent the entire season. The punting job wasn't the only competition as longtime long snapper Joe Zelenka was outlasted by Jeremy Cain for the starting job.

"You went from great to another great," Podlesh said. "I think they knew that and it was a tough decision by the guys up top."

Zelenka was left-handed and Cain a righty so that was the only major difference. Cain finished with nine special teams tackles in his first season with the club, the second-most in team history by a long snapper.

The reason Podlesh rarely finishes high in the statistics for gross punting average is because of what he is asked to do; the strategy is more about directional punting instead of down the field. He said at Maryland he probably had several instances each game where he "could let it fly," while that has had happened only three or four times in three seasons with the Jaguars.

It was a learning experience for Podlesh as it was all about getting the ball off quickly, which he does in around 1.9 seconds and to the right spot on the field.

"It was tough the first couple of years," Podlesh said. "I always thought of myself as a versatile punter."

Podlesh feels like it all came together for him in year three. His 38.3 net average was the fourth-highest in franchise history and his 23 punts downed inside the 20 were the most of his career.

"I was a lot more comfortable doing those things," Podlesh said. "You want to trust your protection, which was great. I want to make sure I'm going to be able to get the ball off. The coverage team has to have confidence in the punter, knowing he's going to not only be able to put it out there with good hang time but also in the spot that we want it.

"If we have 'right' punt called, we want to make sure that ball is not going to be in the middle of the field. When you have confidence between those two spots you are going to have a successful punt team."

Of course, it won't hurt in 2010 to have arguably the AFC's top two special teams players in Kassim Osgood and Montell Owens.

"Kassim is a great guy and is motivated to do this work," Podlesh said. "I don't think anyone could ever question Montell's desire. Obviously these guys are the standouts but the coverage and core special teams players are second to none and then those guys are at the top."

The Jaguars are hoping for more of the same with training camp right around the corner.

"I feel I'm going to be a better punter than I was the year before," Podlesh says, "and with the guys we have coming in and the existing guys we still have, we are going to have a successful punt team."

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