SPARTANBURG Last season, Brad Nortman showed flashes of why the Panthers made him a rare punter selected in the draft the second one taken in the 2012 draft with the final pick of the sixth round. Now he just needs to show he can string it all together for a whole season.
While he supplied an upgrade from the previous season for the Panthers, Nortman knows he still has a ways to improve.
(Last season) was pretty good, Nortman said. Just in general, rookies at any position go through really good games and then games where they struggle and learn a lot. Its taking those games where you had a performance that you thought you could have done better and understanding how you can improve on the next occasion that really goes a long way.
Nortman was tasked with replacing Jason Baker last year. Baker was the longest-tenured punter in Panthers history but had seen both his average punt and net punt distance drop steadily to 42.7 and 34.1 yards, respectively, in 2011.
The rookie punter ended up topping Bakers marks with 43.0 yards per punt and a 36.5 yard net average, also improving from his senior season at Wisconsin. Unfortunately, that still left the Panthers 28th in punt distance and last in net yardage.
Coach Ron Rivera and special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers both stressed that all the special teams players from Nortman to kicker Graham Gano to their rookie backups most importantly need to improve their consistency.
I think the one thing when you look at the kicking competitions is just be consistent more than anything else, Rivera said. And I think thats what gets guys in trouble; they lose that consistency.
Now that hes been with the team for a full year and two training camps, Nortman knows whats expected of him and knows how to better handle the workload of an NFL practice. Plus with a year under his belt working with the special teams crew, he has a stronger relationship to help build that consistency.
Nortman is the placeholder for field goals, although his senior year at Wisconsin was his first year doing that. The Panthers find that using the punter instead of a backup quarterback as the placeholder allows the field goal unit to get more reps, since theyre already together for most of practice.
Just being together and having that comfort together helps us all perform a lot better, Nortman said.
The Panthers brought in undrafted rookie Jordan Gay from Division III Centre College to compete with Nortman in training camp. Gay average 44.8 yards per punt last year, but Nortmans experience could put him over the top in new general manager Dave Gettlemans eyes.
Theres always room for improvement on accuracy of directional punts and hang time, but ultimately the coaches want one thing from all their kickers: Consistency.
We want him to be a consistent punter in this league, Rodgers said. Consistency will give you the chance to be around for a long time. So if he can get that down, hell be here for a while.
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