GREEN BAY – The Packers believe in JK Scott.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur publicly professed as much this week, expressing he has "all the confidence in the world" the talented second-year punter will work his way out of this midseason slump.
The Packers need him to, because after averaging less than 47 yards per punt only once through the first seven games, suddenly Scott hasn't even hit a 38-yard average over the last four contests. The Packers' defensive field position is suffering as a result, and it was especially damaging in a blowout loss at San Francisco last week.
While field-flipping punts can be harder to come by in cooler weather later in a season, Scott has to recapture where he was the first half of the season. In that effort, he's just trying to keep it simple in practice.
"Make sure my line is good, make sure my drop is good, and then just let it loose," Scott said after Wednesday's practice. "Don't even think about it. That's been my goal for this week."
This isn't the first time Scott has experienced struggles, but the origins this time around are far different.
Late in his rookie season last year, Scott could feel his body wearing down from the non-stop workload of the college football postseason through the combine and pre-draft process through his first training camp, preseason and regular season in the NFL.
He admitted as much right after the year ended, and he devoted his offseason to getting in better shape and managing his workload for the long haul.
The Green Bay Packers held practice on Thursday, Nov. 28, in preparation for their Week 13 matchup with the New York Giants.
This year, he said he's fine physically. He also denied that the blocked punt in Week 9 against the Chargers – the second game of the slump – has had an impact on prolonging it.
He traces it back to the Kansas City game in Week 8, when his objective was to get more hang time to limit the returns of the Chiefs' speedy rookie, Mecole Hardman. Scott adjusted his mechanics to drop the ball from a slightly higher release point – a higher drop produces more hang time, a lower drop allows a punter to drive the ball harder and farther.
It's a standard adjustment any punter makes. The problem in this case is it was a little breezy that night at Arrowhead Stadium, which messed with his higher drop. Scott hit three poor punts and posted his worst numbers of the season (35.3 gross average, 29.3 net) as Hardman had one 18-yard return.
Since then, it's been a struggle to get back to where he was. He doesn't really know why, but he termed his practices "inconsistent" and it has carried over to the games. He hasn't rediscovered the comfort zone with his mechanics that he enjoyed previously.
"I've been kind of trying to get back to that," he said. "It's been, I don't know. When you make a change, it's like if it gets thrown off a little bit, it's hard. You kind of got to find that rhythm again. So that's what I've been trying to do, just find the rhythm."
Over the Packers' bye week, Scott reconnected with a former punting coach, former longtime NFL punter Tom Rouen, for a conversation. He also appreciates the support he's gotten from fellow specialist and locker-room neighbor Mason Crosby as he tries to work his way out of this.
"Mason has been really good," Scott said. "He's always really encouraging, because he's been through the ups and the downs. He's been talking to me, just kind of helping me keep it simple."
LaFleur's message wasn't just delivered from the podium, either. He personally went up to Scott after the San Francisco game and told him how much he believes in him, because "he's proved it … he's done it."
The Packers need that punter back, the field-position weapon who boomed a 63-yarder late in the fourth quarter in Week 1 at Soldier Field to help the defense close out the game, and who pinned opponents inside their own 20 a dozen times in the first five weeks.
"I would say anytime you're out of rhythm, it's going to affect your confidence a little bit," Scott said. "Because you don't have surety of hitting a perfect ball every time. That's what I'm trying to build, is just that confidence and things will let loose."