The Patriots continue to roll through week three of Training Camp carrying two punters; one of the teams hottest position battles. Just weeks away from the regular season, 4th year man Zoltan Mesko is still competing alongside the rookie out of Louisiana Tech, 2 time Ray Guy award winner, Ryan Allen. Meanwhile Gostkowski continues to show signs of struggle from last season and remains the clear starting K with no competition…
Fall is fast approaching and so too is the 2013 NFL Season. The New England Patriots continue to roll through the late summer, dispelling concerns of a weakened offense with two sensational showings from the 1st team offense in their preseason victories. Brady is linking up with Amendola and the new rookies while concerns about Gronkowski still linger, and a stronger defense, years in the making, is showing some excellent signs of life.
Beneath the main stories blasting around Pats camp, one of its most heated battles is at their least used position, the punter. One of my favorite small impact players on this team since they drafted him in 2010 is Pats P Zoltan Mesko who’s heading into his 4th season out of Michigan. The big lefty leg has been a great locker room personality, hilarious teammate, all while being a reliable piece of New England’s special teams, both as a booming punter and a talented holder.
After being drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, one of the strongest Patriots drafts in years, Mesko made an immediate impact. Despite only having to punt 58 times on the high powered Pats offense, he was able to make the most of every one gaining a 19-5 ratio of punts inside the 20/touchbacks. Along with those numbers, he compiled a net average of 38.4 yards, an NFL rookie record.
In 2 years since, he has continued to be one of the league’s top punters, moving on to a 41.5 net average during the 2011 Patriots AFC Championship season. That average was tremendous enough for 3rd in the league that season behind only Thomas Morstead and Andy Lee. Last season saw Mesko’s net drop to 37.9 but all 23 Punters in front of him have more than his 60 punts, 28 of which were downed inside the 20, an extremely impressive percentage.
Now the 2 time Rudy Guy winner Ryan Allen joins him to compete for the Punter position in Mesko’s contract year. This makes little to no sense whatsoever to me, and frankly, it angers me. With how good Mesko has been over his whole career, I don’t see any reason that he should have outside competition in training camp. I still see Mesko as the clear starter going into 2013, especially with the fact that he is a great holder and Allen has never held in his football career. But I don’t even see why there is a need for a P competition at all. Don’t try and tell me it’s for financial reasons when Mesko will only make a 1.3 million base salary this season. Choosing Allen over him would only save the Pats about 600k. Where is the need?!
Anyways my point here is that the Patriots are hosting this special teams competition in the wrong spot. Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski should be the one getting pushed in training camp, but for some reason he is the only Kicker on the roster. Gostkowski has been an extremely reliable kicker for the Patriots since Vinatieri’s departure in 2006 but had his worst season in the NFL last year going 29-35 (82.9%); that ranked 19th in the NFL. He finished 18-20 from inside the 40 while most of his struggles came from 40+, hitting 9 of 13, one of the misses being a game winning FG vs Arizona from 41 yards in Week 2.
The trouble seemingly has spilled into this season as well. So far this preseason Gostkowski is just 2-5 through 2 preseason games.
“No one feels worse about messing up than I do,” said Gostkowski about the early struggles.
The disruption, once again, seems to be from 40+ yards. And in a year where the Patriots offense may not blow out opponents on their way to easy wins like they have in recent years, this season may rely on Gostkowski in fourth quarter situations more than ever.
One of the most frustrating parts this entire situation is the salary numbers. When you try telling me tossing Mesko will save money, I ask you, what about Gostkowski’s $2.5 million bases salary (4th on the team behind Brady, Mankins, and Wilfork)? $2.5 million is the number the Patriots refused to give Vinatieri when he walked to Indy in 2006; is that what this is really about? Are they still too arrogant to even think for a second that they may have messed up letting him go that year? It makes absolutely no sense to me why Mesko gets pushed despite being one of the league’s most reliable punters, yet Gostkowski who struggled for most of last season is the clear starter.
I’m not saying Gostkowski doesn’t deserve to start, in fact he could have a sensational bounceback year, but it frustrates me that there isn’t even someone in camp to at least kick with him and encourage him to get it together. While it doesn’t seem like this problem is as serious as I’m making it sound, like I said before, there may be a greater need for a clutch Kicker than there has been in recent years and Gostkowski will have to be that guy as the “clear starter”.
All and all, it is another thing to watch in New Englands Week 3 matchup vs the Lions which is where the starters get the most playing time and where position battles are usually established. I’m fully expecting Mesko to come away with the starting Punter role with his success early in the preseason adding upon his great NFL body of work. That may not rule out Allen making the team with Mesko entering free agency following this year, but I’m not sure there will be room for a 2nd punter. Gostkowski also MUST improve upon his early 2-5 preseason struggles and set a good precedent and increased confidence going into the Regular Season. It’s one of a number of interesting stories to watch as that exciting opener in Buffalo fast approaches.
What are your thoughts on the Mesko/Allen punting competition, as well as Gostkowski’s early performance?
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