Many people were surprised former journeyman punter Michael Palardy earned a roster spot over veteran Andy Lee as the Carolina Panthers’ season began.
After the first two games, though, those people have disappeared.
Palardy is sixth in the NFL in net punting with an average of 43.7 yards per game, with a 58-yard long. Opposing returners have only accumulated 11 yards against his punts.
He has quietly become a field-flipping weapon for the Panthers, at a position in which the value is often overlooked.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But in tight games, like Carolina’s 9-3 victory against the Buffalo Bills last week, every inch of turf a punter can take away from an opposing offense matters – and the talents of a directional punter become ever more valuable.
That’s where Palardy excels. On Sunday, he showed his versatility by pinning speedy return specialist Kaelin Clay back with a shorter punt that hung high in the air to force Clay to make a fair catch. Later in the game, he booted a 55-yarder that was muffed by Clay (a holding penalty called on Buffalo further helped push the Bills backward).
Palardy also had to come out when quarterback Cam Newton was knocked backwards and out of field goal range on a third-down sack, and with the help of gunner Russell Shepard, dropped the ball on the 2-yard line – giving Buffalo a long way to go on offense.
Palardy’s preparation, said long snapper J.J. Jansen, is what sets him apart.
Jansen calls the way Palardy prepares for a game “punt-passing.”
“So, he really treats a football like he’s throwing a pass,” said Jansen. “And that gives him a high proficiency at not only directional close to the sideline, but plus-50 (yards) work, and we spend a lot of time on that during the week with our gunners on that.”
Palardy also prefers live situational analysis through the game.
“I don’t spend a lot of time kicking in the net,” said Palardy. “I like to try to stay as fresh throughout the game as possible. I try to mentally prepare myself as I see the offense move down the field. I kind of play those scenarios in my head – (including hash-mark position, wind direction and volume as the team completes each play) – and so, you’re really paying attention to those types of little details in the game so that before you run out, you’re already prepared for what it is that you have to do.”
It was tough for the amiable Palardy to not become frustrated over the last few years, as he jumped from team to team. At one point, the only work he had was a honey-do list from his fiance.
But after getting signed halfway through the 2016 season by Carolina when Lee tore his hamstring, Palardy has stuck. And he thinks that getting thrown into a preseason punting competition with Lee was the best thing that could have happened for him.
“A lot of people see the journey I’ve traveled, and naturally they think it’s inconsistency, or ‘he’s not good enough’ or whatever it is. But for me, I’ve never been put in a situation where I’ve been able to compete for a job,” he said.
“I’ve always been behind guys that have established themselves. ...And it’s been great to learn from them. But sometimes (people) see that journey and they think, ‘Oh, he’s not good enough because he’s been on 10 teams in four years.’
“To be able to go out there and be in my own zone and do what I know how to do...I think I have a lot of confidence in myself to be able to perform. And hopefully, in 14 more games, I can do that for this team and help them win.”
4th and long (punts)
NFL’s net punting leaders