JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Before third-round draft pick Bryan Anger even arrived in Jacksonville, the Jaguars eliminated all competition for the team's punting job.
After three days of rookie camp, it looks like a sound decision.
Anger averaged about 5 seconds of hang time during the camp, showing why the Jaguars used an early round pick on a special teams player. Whether it changes public perception remains to be seen.
The Jaguars were widely criticized for drafting Anger with the 70th overall pick, with many questioning why a team coming off a 5-11 season and seemingly needing more talent and depth on both sides of the ball would spend a third-rounder at a position that typically gets on the field six or seven times a game.
General manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey defended the pick as best they could. Terry McDonough, the team's personnel director, even challenged reporters to compare Anger to other third-round draft picks in four years and see who has been more productive.
Anger, though, did the most to justify the selection in camp. Not only did he have the all-important hang time, he showed he has distance and direction — little things that can mean a lot in close games.
"They believe I can do the job, and I believe I can do the job," Anger said Sunday. "It's a great environment to excel."
Although Anger was impressive, he was the first to acknowledge that his performance came in nearly perfect weather, without a live rush and far removed from a pressure situation.
Nonetheless, Mularkey watched every kick.
"Rarely do you have a guy that kicks it that far that can hang it for that long," Mularkey said. "It's either a trajectory shot that is right down the field and returnable in most cases. But rarely do you see ones that can be kicked that far and hang that high where you can actually go down and defend the return. That's what I see."
The Jaguars lost a game last season because of punting problems. Veteran Matt Turk had a 22-yarder late against Cincinnati, setting up the winning score.
Jacksonville cut Turk two days later and signed veteran Nick Harris off the street. Harris was an improvement, but still ranked 23rd in net punting. The Jags were so confident in Anger that they waived Harris and fellow punter Spencer Lanning a day after drafting him.
"It's always a good atmosphere to coming into when you come in with the coaches and the front office behind you," Anger said.
Anger has no secrets for his success.
He grew up playing soccer, baseball, basketball and football in Southern California. He settled on football and basketball in high school, but didn't start punting until a spontaneous few minutes at a Chris Sailer kicking camp. Anger went to the camp to hone his place-kicking skills before his junior year of high school.
In the final 15 minutes of the camp, Anger decided to punt a few.
"Chris made some adjustments and told me that day to stop kicking, stop everything else and start punting because it's going to be your future," Anger said. "After that, everything took off."
He was one of the top-rated punters coming out of Camarillo High and chose California over Stanford. He averaged 43.5 yards a punt in college despite being asked to make rugby-style kicks his final two seasons.
He started shooting up draft boards after averaging 60 yards a punt in the East-West Shrine Game in January. But few people, not even Anger, expected him to be drafted higher than any punter since the Chicago Bears took Todd Sauerbrun in the second round (56th overall pick) in 1995.
"I wasn't sure where I would go," Anger said. "I knew there was a slim chance I go could go in the third round, but I had no idea. Then I got the call."
The pick was considered one of the oddest of the draft. Television analysts mocked it, and even satire magazine The Onion published a spoof with a fake quote from Anger saying, "I will punt the Jaguars to greatness."
"It just comes with the territory of kickers and punters," Anger said. "People are always going to question it. People who know in this organization and others believe it's a great pick. I'm looking forward to going in and establishing myself this first year."