Looking back: When your punter is the most significant bright spot that should speak volumes about the season the team had. To make matters more stunning, Tennessee’s Craig Hentrich got selected to the Pro Bowl over Shane Lechler.
Lechler rebounded from a subpar, for him, 2002 season to put together a super 2003 campaign. Lechler posted a 46.6 gross and 37.2 net averages last year after compiling a 42.5 and 32.7 clip in 2002. Lechler has been known for his rocket-launching leg strength and had been improving on placing kicks inside the 20-yard line but he actually regressed in that category. In 2002, Lechler placed 18 of his 53 punts (33.9%) inside the 20-yard line compared to 27-of-96 (28.1%) last season.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski had a Pro Bowl worthy season if not for Indianapolis’ Mike Vanderjagt not missing a single field goal in 37 attempts. Janikowski continued to be a reliable kicker in making good on 22-of-25 field goal attempts. Janikowski, however, took a step backward in getting consistent depth on his kickoffs. Janikowski registered just seven touchbacks in 66 kickoff attempts last season compared to 22-of-97 in 2002.
Janikowski came into the NFL in 2000 with a reputation for his leg strength. Ironically, Janikowski was perfect in 12 field goal attempts of fewer than 40 yards last season and is 35-of-56 in his career on field goal attempts beyond 40 yards.
Looking ahead: If Lechler and Janikowski are not the best punter/kicker combination, they are a very select group.
Both players have lived up to the franchises expectations since they were drafted in 2000 and barring any unforeseen decline, they figure to do so for a long time. Lechler is not only a great punter but also a very good athlete.
With Janikowski, the concern is always his tendency to run afoul off the field. In which case the question becomes – will he drink as many “high balls” as he kicks?