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Rookie punter looks to seize huge opportunity

Undrafted from Miami, Justin Vogel gets chance to prove himself as lone punter currently on Packers' roster


GREEN BAY – And then there was one.

Rookie Justin Vogel is well aware that could be temporary, though.

As the lone punter remaining on the roster after the Packers released the injured Jacob Schum on Thursday, Vogel isn't naïve. Things could change at any time.

But the undrafted University of Miami product has as good an opportunity as he could have hoped for to break into the NFL, no easy feat at a position where a scant 32 jobs exist.

"I know it makes me the only guy here, but I know the situation," Vogel said of Schum's release following Thursday's OTA practice. "They could bring in another guy tomorrow, or I could go all the way through the preseason and they could bring in a guy at the very end, a veteran.

"I'm just taking it for how it is. Right now it means I get more reps at practice."

Vogel was a rather unheralded post-draft addition to the Packers' roster, but he's used to not being noticed.

Lightly recruited out of high school, he originally went to the University of Florida, but after taking a redshirt, he didn't play in any games his second year.

So he transferred to Miami, got on the field and kept the job for three years. He averaged between 42.5 and 43.8 yards each season, earning second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in 2016.

That was his best performance, when his strong hang time resulted in 33 of 64 punts being fair-caught.

"That's a big emphasis in this league," said Vogel, whose father, Paul, was a linebacker who played in one game for the Houston Oilers back in 1987. "The guys you're kicking to are really fast guys. You don't want to give them too much space back there."

Upon going undrafted, Vogel chose Green Bay from a handful of offers because of the legitimate chance he felt he'd receive. Schum held the job only last season and was re-signed for just one year.

"The problem with the kicker position is a lot of guys are seasoned vets with big contracts, and it's hard to overthrow a guy like that," Vogel said.

Schum's injury has ended the expected head-to-head competition for now, and Vogel hopes the change works out as well for him as the decision to switch schools three years ago.

"Once I got a chance to prove myself in a game situation, I never looked back," he said. "It just starts all over again now."

Vogel also was the Hurricanes' holder on placekicks for three years, so he's confident he can handle those duties for veteran kicker Mason Crosby. The operation right now is full of youth, with undrafted rookie Derek Hart from James Madison the only long-snapper currently on the Packers' roster.

Should he win the punting job for 2017, Vogel will have to adjust to the late-season cold weather in the upper Midwest, but that's not an overriding concern at the moment.

One step, and kick, at a time.

"I'm trying to get as many reps as possible, get as familiar with the system as I can, and try and prove to them I'm the only guy they need," he said.

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