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Punt team holding down fort


With the notable exception of Chicago's Devin Hester, punter Steve Weatherford faced the heart of the NFL's order in terms of premier returners to start the season.

In consecutive weeks, the lineup included game-changers DeSean Jackson, Patrick Peterson, and Leon Washington. 

Weatherford and his punt team didn't exactly pitch a shutout, but they didn't give up any long balls either.

In those three games (Weeks 3-5), the Giants punted 16 times for an average net of 37.3. Those aren't particularly glowing numbers, but the longest return given up was a 19-yarder to Washington that resulted in no immediate damage. For the entire season, the Giants have punted 29 times (fifth-most in the NFL) with an average net of 39.0, good for 20th in the league.

Stats, however, sometimes don't tell the full story. That is especially true when evaluating punt coverage.

Last year, for example, Weatherford tied the record for 42 balls placed inside the 20-yard line, but the Jets only finished 17th in net yard average.

"It can be misleading a lot of times," Weatherford said. "So, to be honest with you, I try not to (look at rankings). I mean, I do pay attention to stats because you always want to see how you line up. But at the same time, I try not to be consumed with it because you can only control what you can control. You can hit the best punt you've ever hit, and for some reason it gets returned."

Next up for Weatherford is the Buffalo Bills C.J. Spiller, who has 15 career punt returns for a 13.3-yard average with a long of 34. His kickoff returns have been his strong suit, running one back to the end zone during his rookie campaign last season.

"This is the National Football League, there's never a week off," Weatherford said. "C.J. Spiller is probably one of the fastest guys in the NFL. Any guy can sting you at anytime. Granted, we have run the gamut of great returners with the exception of Hester. I don't think it's really going to get any tougher for us."

Given the caliber of the returners so far, Weatherford and his band of half a dozen greenhorns have quality results to build on.

"I've got six guys on my punt team that are rookies. I think they're doing a great job," said Weatherford, who pointed out Tyler Sash as a player with a long career in his future. "But it's a combination of them learning a new position because a lot of those guys didn't do special teams when they were in college. And they didn't have the OTA's, the minicamps to adjust to it. So I think it's a learning process for them, but at the same time, we've had great returners and I can always do better."


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