Punt team tries to block out blocks

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS - For the AJC By Matt Winkeljohn

FLOW­ERY BRANCH — Fal­cons fans likely would be pleased and not sur­prised to see spe­cial-teams coach Keith Arm­strong on the field work­ing with Eric Saubert and Foye­sade Olu­okun on punt pro­tec­tion be­fore prac­tice even be­gan. They were try­ing to right the wrongs on the right side.

It might be sur­pris­ing to know, though, that it was noth­ing new for a punt squad that hasn’t ex­actly been ster­ling. “We do pre-prac­tice punt sets ev­ery Wed­nes­day and Thurs- day,” Arm­strong said.

The ex­tra work didn’t help Saubert keep from get­ting beat at right guard Sun­day by Pitts- burgh full­back Roo­sevelt Nix. He blocked Matt Bosher’s punt late in the third quar­ter to set up a touch­down that swung the game over­whelm­ingly to the Steel­ers.

That came two weeks to the day af­ter Olu­okun, the right tackle on the punt team, barely got any meat on Saints de­fen­sive end Alex Okafor. He raced past the right shoul­der of the Fal­cons’ rookie line­backer and blocked Bosher’s punt to set up a short field for New Or­leans, which soon scored a crit­i­cal touch­down in what be­came a 43-37 over­time loss for the Fal­cons.

“I used the anal­ogy like be­ing on the bomb squad ... get­ting it right nine out of the 10 times isn’t go­ing to get it done,” coach Dan Quinn said. “So we’ll have an ex­tra em­pha­sis ... on both oc­ca­sions it wasn’t a cer­tain scheme or pres­sure that got us. Some- times you wish it was. It was just some­body get­ting beat on that play.”

There have been six blocked punts through the first five weeks of the NFL sea­son, and two came off Bosher’s right foot.

He had one punt blocked in the pre­vi­ous four sea­sons com­bined.

So, it’s ob­vi­ous some­thing has to im­prove fast for the Fal­cons (1-4) be­fore they play the Buc­ca­neers (2-2) on Sun­day at Mer­cedes-Benz Sta­dium.

And yes, Saubert and Oluo- kun agree, there is a need for speed as they’ve been too slow af­ter Josh Har­ris’ long snaps to Bosher in step­ping back into pro­tec­tion stances. Plus, Saubert kind of got run over.

“It’s just a lapse in funda- men­tals. When we get tested like that, that’s what you’ve got to fall back on,” said Saubert, a re­serve tight end. “The get- off ’s got to be bet­ter . ... My getoff, I need to get back quicker to make sure that doesn’t hap­pen.”

There are no per­son­nel changes planned on the right side, and Saubert and Oluo- kun both said they don’t need to learn any­thing new. Nei­ther time were they shocked by schemes. They were just beaten by tech­niques.

“Get­ting off faster. Yep,” Olu­okun said. “We should try to get back quicker ev­ery time. They were run­ning dif- fer­ent stunts, but if you get back fast ev­ery time you can sort them out.”

Not ev­ery Bosher punt is launched at the same speed.

If the Fal­cons find fourth down on the op­po­nent’s side of the field, he’s try­ing to drop the ball on the 10-yard line or so to pin that team deep. The “flop” kicks don’t re­quire as much power be­cause they’re not go­ing to travel as far, so he gets them off quicker.

Against both the Steel­ers and the Saints, how­ever, the Fal­cons were backed up in their own ter­ri­tory, and Bosher was look­ing for more dis­tance on the balls that were blocked. Long balls can take a tad longer to launch.

Saubert and Olu­okun want to get bet­ter and Bosher does, too.

“I’m happy with what we’re do­ing as a group mov­ing for­ward. I think there’s al­ways some­thing we can im­prove on. My­self, I can be more con- sis­tent in get-off (catch-to-kick time) and get it off as quick as pos­si­ble.”

Arm­strong is not pleased that two Fal­cons punts have been blocked, nor that Bosher’s gross av­er­age of 44.2 yards per punt ranks No. 23 in the NFL, and def­i­nitely not that the Fal­cons’ net punt av­er­age of 35.8 yards gained in field po­si­tion ranks No. 30.

“I think we can do bet­ter in all phases,” Arm­strong said. “... I think any time you have an is­sue, no mat­ter what phase you’re work­ing in, you have to ad­dress the is­sues, so there’s al­ways more em­pha­sis on the is­sues as you go through the week.”

Arm­strong did not ex­actly de­tail all el­e­ments of the punt game.

Are Bosher’s boots get­ting away quickly enough? “Sure,” he said.

Are Har­ris’ snaps get­ting to Bosher fast enough? “Yes,” he said.

The punter claims im­mu­nity to what most peo­ple might con­sider hu­man na­ture, and that he does not speed up his kicks af­ter hav­ing one blocked. His goal, in fact, is to for­get what’s hap­pened, even if that seems hu­manly pos­si­ble.

“No. We al­ways prac­tice to be on time,” Bosher said when asked if he ac­cel­er­ates af­ter a blunted punt. “I think that in our po­si­tion, punter, kicker what­ever it may be, you have to have a short mem­ory. You can’t think about what hap­pened last whether it was a good ball, bad ball, blocked ball ... it doesn’t mat­ter.”

Arm­strong re­mem­bers ev­ery­thing, and he’s un­happy about what he can’t for­get.

“Bot­tom line is this,” he said. “I’ve got to do a bet­ter job of get­ting them coached up, and we’ll get that done.”

GETTY IM­AGES

Matt Bosher takes off with the ball af­ter his punt was blocked by the Steel­ers. Six punts have been blocked in the NFL this sea­son, two off Bosher’s foot.

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