Kapinos, Brooks No Strangers To Competition


As the competition at punter unfolds in Green Bay this summer, don't expect Jeremy Kapinos or Durant Brooks to blink in the face of the pressure.

That's because both young punters already have gone through a job competition in the NFL before, and both believe they've become better punters because of it.

For Kapinos, that competition was last year with the Jets, though it didn't last as long as the former Penn State standout was hoping. Holding his own through organized team activities (OTAs) and mini-camps in what was portrayed in the New York media as a close battle with Ben Graham, Kapinos was released prior to the start of training camp and never got the chance to punt in any preseason games.

The early decision surprised and disappointed Kapinos, understandably. Having been signed to the Jets' practice squad in 2007 and then promoted to the active roster to punt in a game late that season, while Graham was also active, Kapinos thought he had earned an opportunity for a full-fledged fight for the job in 2008.

It didn't work out that way, but facing the close scrutiny of a professional coaching staff and working under an intense media spotlight was valuable experience nonetheless for the undrafted Kapinos, who ultimately joined the Packers for the final month of last season to replace the inconsistent Derrick Frost.

"That was definitely a tough break," Kapinos said of his release from the Jets. "I wish I would have been given the opportunity in training camp. That taught me a lot, in terms of, you always have to be on, and nothing's guaranteed.

"It's definitely prepared me for this. I've competed to get where I am now. Everything has been an uphill battle for me. But this is the fun part I think. When I was sitting home, out of work, I just wanted a chance to compete, so this is the fun part and I feel pretty prepared for it."

The same can be said for Brooks, who won his competition last summer in Washington but didn't stick with the Redskins, getting released six weeks into the season and landing on Green Bay's practice squad last December.

Drafted by Washington in the sixth round out of Georgia Tech to compete with the incumbent Frost, Brooks beat out the veteran based on what he felt were more consistent hang times. But a shaky start to the season - he averaged just 37.9 yards on seven punts in the season opener against the Giants and then had an admittedly low 38-yard boot run back 55 yards for a touchdown by the Saints' Reggie Bush in Week 2 - compounded by the reappearance of an old college injury with his hip flexor made for a tough go of it.

After playing hurt through Weeks 5 and 6, and having another low punt run back 68 yards for a score by Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson (albeit with some controversy, as the officials picked up two flags for potential illegal blocks), Brooks was let go, and less than two months after winning a job, he was out of one.

"I wasn't near as consistent as I should have been," Brooks said. "(Playing with the injury) was just making it worse. I was trying to get treatment for it, but every time I tried to kick it would come back, and the inconsistent punting, all rolled into one, ... it wasn't working out for me.

"But definitely having the experience in Washington is going to help me out. I know what it's like to go into a competition now. I never had that before I came to Washington. I know how competitive it's going to be, I know what it means, and I know only one of us is going to get the job."

As the two prepare during the current offseason program for that battle to come, both feel they haven't shown their best in the NFL ranks yet.

Kapinos was solid though unspectacular in his four-game stint to close 2008 in Green Bay, averaging 39.2 yards on 17 punts, and placing seven of them inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

He bounced back from a forgettable opening act - a 25-yard shank from midfield in the first quarter of the Week 13 game against Houston - to average 41.6 yards on his remaining seven punts that day. He also pinned the Texans on their own 3-yard line with the score tied in the final two minutes.

Other ups and downs followed, as a nicely placed 48-yarder angled toward the sideline was fair caught in Jacksonville, but a low 33-yarder midway through the fourth quarter in Chicago was run back 24 yards by Devin Hester, helping to set up the Bears' tying touchdown.

"Consistency is always a key component of being a good punter in the NFL," Kapinos said. "Learning and understanding the game and what kind of punt you need where, and when you need it, is big."

In addition to smoothing out those rough spots, Kapinos also would like to show what he could do over a full season, and in good weather. To his credit, his statistics with the Jets and Packers (a 39.8-yard average with nine of 22 punts inside the 20), have been compiled playing only one of five career games in temperatures above 45 degrees.

In addition, Kapinos has never had the benefit of a full offseason program, training camp and preseason schedule to strengthen his leg and build for the long haul, something he's hoping for the chance to do this year in Green Bay, provided the competition carries late into the summer.

"There's got to be some sort of stat somewhere ... I've played in five regular-season games and not one preseason game," Kapinos said. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm pumped about staying in training camp and punting in some preseason games and kind of getting a tune-up, as opposed to every time I have a tryout in the regular season for a job.

"In training camp, you can kind of ease into it or peak at the right point, but when I went to these workouts, I had 10 punts, and if those 10 punts weren't good, you weren't going to get the job."

Brooks has something to prove, too. With his rookie season derailed in October, Brooks learned an important lesson about conditioning himself, particularly his leg, for the long season.

He said the hip flexor injury from his senior year at Georgia Tech flared up because the muscle was overworked, and he's taking measures the time around to limit his reps appropriately through the spring and early summer. After being released by the Redskins last year, he took five weeks off before even attempting to try out for another team, and the break made a noticeable difference.

"I just needed some rest," he said. "Coming out of college I had to go into the Senior Bowl right away, then the Combine and then our pro day. Those were all back-to-back-to-back. Then going into the draft and mini-camp, I just never had any rest for my leg.

"Right now it feels great. I've learned a ton from last year, from the competition, from over-kicking, all that stuff. I'm a lot smarter about it right now, so I'm making sure I'm good and strong, ready to go."

{sportsad300}With OTAs not beginning until late May, both punters for now are focusing on their technique and fundamentals, as well as their leg strength and flexibility. From there they'll work on building up their reps for training camp and the preseason games.

When the decision will be made is really up to the punters themselves, and how they perform.

For Kapinos, the Packers have seen first-hand what he can do, and obviously thought enough of the cameo that they'd like to see more.

"I think the Packers were extremely brave to give me the opportunity, because at the time we were still in reach of the playoffs and I was sort of an unknown commodity, and it was cold," he said. "I'm very thankful for that opportunity. I obviously did some good things, and there are some things to improve on.

"I just want to be the same guy day in, day out, and be a good, consistent punter day in, day out."

That's Brooks' goal as well, and he's grateful for his chance in Green Bay, too.

"I have a long ways to go, and right now I'm taking everything for what it's worth," Brooks said. "I've got another shot and I'm ready to go."

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