It's no secret that BJ Sander had a rough season last year. Things didn't go as he had planned as a rookie, but to his credit, the punter knew he had to work extremely hard in the offseason and forget about the past.
If his latest performance is any indication, his punting woes may also be behind him at this point as well. Sander, the Packers third-round draft pick in 2004, was a highly touted performer coming out of college at Ohio State and the team knew that he was capable of being a great punter.
However, Head Coach Mike Sherman also knew that Sander could use some extra work in the spring. With that in mind, Sander went over to NFL Europe and led the league with a 36.6-yard net average.
Sander has had a strong showing in the preseason practices and his performance from his time overseas appeared to pay off. Yet, it was only practice, and although it was a good place to start, Sander wanted to prove himself in an NFL contest, even it was just a preseason game.
It's safe to say that Sander didn't disappoint. In fact, the former Ray Guy winner in college had a remarkable night in the Packers 10-7 win over the San Diego Chargers at Lambeau Field.
Sander punted seven times averaging 46 yards with a 41.1-yard net average. Those numbers are remarkable, but they're even more impressive when you consider the field conditions that Sanders had to work in. Punting in a steady rain, and sometimes a downpour, Sander got a taste of what conditions can be like at Lambeau Field.
Sander's longest punt occurred in the third quarter when he hit a booming 53-yarder. Perhaps Sander's poorest punt came in the same quarter when he landed a touchback, but the ball still traveled 48 yards. Without question, Sander hit the ball well all night; his shortest punt was 41 yards.
Considering the pressure Sander was facing, not to mention the harsh weather conditions, one might think that he'd be ecstatic over his latest performance. However, that wasn't the case at all.
"It's a good place to start, but I still have to go out and do it again the next time we have practice or the next time we're in a game," Sander said. "I was happy with it, but there were still some things I need to work on."
Sherman seemed to be taking the same approach as his second-year punter.
"We're just taking them one punt at a time," Sherman explained. "After his first punt, I said OK that's a pretty decent job, but that punt's gone. That's in history. I've already forgotten that one, you have to worry about the next one. And after that punt, we'd talk about the next punt."
Still, Sherman likes what he sees so far.
"I thought he handled things," Sherman said. "This was a very, very important test for him. Tonight was really game-like and he was put in some very difficult situations as a punter and as a holder."
Besides his punting duties, Sander also served as the holder on kicker Ryan Longwell's game winning 53-yard field goal that barely stretched past the crossbar.
Sander said that it's very important for Longwell to gain the trust of his holder and he's working very hard to earn it.
"Its one thing that I've been trying to work on," Sander explained. "I want Ryan to be as comfortable with me as he was with all of the other guys he had last year. I think we're moving in the right direction, but there are still things to work on there, too."
Longwell doesn't have any complaints yet, however.
"BJ got it down right where he needed it and right on the spot, Longwell said. "The hold was perfect.
"I was really proud of BJ. He handled it really well. He wasn't too high and not too low. He was very even keel and that is the hallmark of the good ones in this league."
Sherman can see the difference in this year's Sander compared to last season's.
"I thought he kept an even keel," Sherman said of Sander. "There's a maturity level in him now that he didn't have last year. He'd get really high after a real good punt, and down on a bad punt."
For now, Sander is concentrating on getting better with every repetition.
"I hit the ball well," Sander said. "The placement on the couple of the other ones, I wasn't as happy as I should have been, but overall, it's a good place to start. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but that's one of those things I continue to work on and continue to get better."
Judging by his performance Thursday night, that approach is already paying dividends.