Punter Graessle Wasting No More Time


P Adam Graessle wore No. 17 for his tryout during rookie orientation earlier this month. For OTAs later this spring, he'll be wearing No. 9.

Upon signing a free-agent contract following the Packers' annual rookie orientation earlier this month, punter Adam Graessle dove immediately into the team's offseason workout program the next day, even declining to return to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, to retrieve any personal possessions he might need.

As he competes with Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks to be one of two punters the Packers likely will take to training camp, he's just going to continue to live in the same hotel, and out of the same suitcase, that constituted his lifestyle during his tryout.

"They said I could go home for a day but I really wanted to stay," Graessle said. "I'm fine. I've waited so long to be here, I don't want to leave."

Considering Graessle's story to this point, it's easy to understand his approach.

A second-team All-Big East punter in 2006 at the University of Pittsburgh, Graessle has been out of football the last two years. After an accomplished career at Pitt, where he averaged better than 42 yards per punt each of his final three years and used his strong leg to serve as the Panthers' kickoff specialist, he was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February 2007 but didn't perform well and wasn't drafted.

He got two tryouts in the summer of 2007, with the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, but nothing materialized.

"What it came down to really is technique-wise and everything I just wasn't ready yet," Graessle said. "I just wasn't consistent enough at the time."

But Graessle, who's a sizable 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, wasn't going to give up that easily.

Connecting the dots that consistency comes from sound fundamentals, Graessle spent time on his own working out and honing his technique. He also joined forces with kicking specialist Paul Assad and kept refining all the little things, speeding up his delivery while staying balanced and strong through each kick.

He was working back home in Columbus as a temp at the Abercrombie and Fitch headquarters just to pay the bills, but his focus was always on taking another shot at the NFL.

"I just kicked, went to work, came home, worked out, kicked," he said. "That was pretty much every day the last couple years.

"I think (quitting) went through my head maybe once or twice, you know, like, 'What am I doing?' But I just fully dedicated myself to it for a couple years, because I knew I had the ability. I stuck to it and I pushed those feelings aside. I set my mind for a couple years to giving it all I've got. I didn't really think about the negative."

Then earlier this spring, a few weeks before the draft, Graessle performed in front of various NFL scouts and coaches at kicking camps in Las Vegas and Arizona, and he started attracting some interest, including from Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.

Before the draft in late April, Graessle said Seattle and Indianapolis were also in touch with his agent. The Colts drafted a punter in the seventh round, Pat McAfee of West Virginia, so that took them out of the mix. The Seahawks proposed essentially the same offer as the Packers, a rookie-camp tryout, and with both the same weekend, Graessle had to choose.

With the Packers having changed punters (from Derrick Frost to Kapinos) with four games left in the 2008 season and no clear front-runner for 2009, Graessle felt Green Bay would give him his best opportunity. And by earning a free-agent contract, he'll at least get a chance to compete through OTAs and perhaps the full-squad mini-camp in late June before a decision is made about training camp.

Considering where he was not long ago in his quest to reach the NFL, he couldn't ask for much more at the moment.

{sportsad300}"I've just kind of got to the point where I'm a lot more consistent," he said. "I'm a lot more confident. It took me a couple years to mature, and I feel ready to go now. I don't have any jitters or anything. I'm ready to come out and be consistent."

All three punters in the competition know that's what Slocum and the Packers are looking for at the position. Graessle is a little behind experience-wise, but Kapinos and Brooks have punted in only 11 NFL games combined, so he doesn't see that as a significant gap.

With a couple more weeks of offseason training before OTAs begin on May 26 - unlike the rest of the rookie class, Graessle was able to join the program right away because he's been out of school for two years - he said his main focus is on improving his get-off time.

Whether he sticks around a few weeks, a few months, or in a perfect world, a few seasons, no one knows. But all things considered, the uncertainty is something to get excited about rather than fear.

"I've been taking it just one day at a time," he said. "I'm not going to look too far ahead. Just punt good every day and I'll worry about two months from now when it comes."

And see if he'll need another suitcase.

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