Impressed by Thomas Morstead’s hang-time, Saints make fifth-round pick their lone punter

By Brett Martel, AP
Friday, August 28, 2009

Hang-time helps Morstead hang on with Saints

METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints’ surprising decision to trade up in last spring’s NFL draft to select punter Thomas Morstead has so far produced the desired result.

Head coach Sean Payton said after practice Thursday it was “pretty obvious” that Morstead was winning the competition for the Saints’ punting job.

The coach said he decided to waive last year’s punter, Glenn Pakulak, on Wednesday night so Morstead could handle all punts during New Orleans’ final two preseason games, starting Saturday at Oakland.

“We felt it was the right time for us to focus on making sure Morstead was ready,” Payton said.

Pakulak, who punted in college for Kentucky, spent five years trying to break into the NFL. Between 2003 and 2008, he had brief stints with Seattle, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Tennessee, Chicago and then Oakland again, but didn’t make his regular season debut until midway through the 2008 season with New Orleans.

During the final eight games last season, Pakulak performed well, averaging 47.7 yards per punt.

Replacing Pakulak was not seen as a pressing need, but the Saints did not want to pass up an opportunity to take Morstead, who at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, is big for a punter and has a booming leg that was nurtured by his English, rugby-loving uncle and cousins since he was a child.

The Saints did not expect Morstead to last past the fifth round, so New Orleans made a deal for Philadelphia’s fifth-round pick in exchange for this year’s seventh-round pick and a 2010 fifth-round choice.

“Pakulak’s a good punter. He can punt in this league; there’s no question,” Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon said. “It’s like any position. Any time you have a chance to get a talented player, you’re going to try and acquire that player. Hopefully you’re right. … (We) just felt like we had a chance to go get a good young punter, evaluated him and felt like he was the best player we could get at that pick.”

Morstead averaged more than 42 yards per punt during his last three seasons at SMU. In 2008, only 19 of his 59 punts were returned. Since arriving in New Orleans, he has impressed coaches with hang-times often exceeding 5 seconds.

If he “misses a punt, we’re still getting a hang-time above 4.0,” Payton explained. “Sometimes it’s not the hits, it’s the misses. I think he has done a good job early on especially of being consistent. There’s certainly going to be some bumps along the road, but we like what we have in that player a lot.”

After Pakulak was released, coaches called Morstead, who was taking a nap at the time but was wide awake in a matter of minutes.

“I was definitely a little bit shocked and excited — called my parents and my girlfriend immediately, some of my close friends back at school,” he said.

Morstead said he wouldn’t allow himself to get too comfortable, understanding that he still must prove himself during the regular season or face being replaced. The Saints went through three punters last season.

“I know they drafted me and everyone made a big deal about them giving up an extra (draft) pick,” Morstead said. “I just felt like I was a second-string guy trying to take Glenn’s job. He proved himself last year, so I just felt like it was his job to lose and I had to go win it.”

Morstead’s performance in Houston last Saturday helped drive the decision to make him the lone punter. He averaged 43.5 yards on two punts, the longer going 45 yards, and both resulted in fair catches.

Morstead said coaches told him, “We’ll take fair catches all day — that’s why we drafted you.”

The punter added that his focus has been not so much on distance, but getting the punt off quickly, and getting good hang-time. He noted that the first statistic Saints coaches discussed with him wasn’t distance, but the fact that Atlanta punter Michael Koenen and the Falcons’ punt coverage squad allowed an NFL record-low 49 return yards last season.

“That’s something I want to try and compete with,” Morstead said. “Who knows what’ll happen, but they’ve told me that’s my role, to be a hang-time guy and just pop it up and have no returns.”

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