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Monday, December 1, 2008

Struggling Frost Gets Boot Article

Struggling Frost gets boot
Punter's potential never showed up
By Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Dec. 1, 2008

Green Bay - A lot of different things ail the Green Bay Packers, but only one can really be cured with a change in personnel this late in the season.

And so after a month of frustration with their punting game, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy made the decision to cut punter Derrick Frost. For 12 weeks, they held on to the hope that Frost would carry over his outstanding practice performances to the field, but they were continually disappointed.

When it's all said and done, perhaps the biggest mistake Thompson will have made this season - the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers debate withstanding - is dumping incumbent Jon Ryan one week before the season started. After working with Ryan for two seasons, Thompson and his staff didn't think he was going to get much better and took a flier on Frost.

Without question that decision cost them dearly.

Poor field position has been a consistent problem the second half of the season and it clearly affected games against Tennessee, Minnesota, New Orleans and Carolina. Not all of it can be attributed to punting, but consistently bad punting makes it impossible to overcome.

"He's practiced very well the last month," McCarthy said Monday, a day after his team fell to 5-7 with a 35-31 loss to Carolina. "But it's a performance industry. We all know that. And it did not transfer. And it was something that we felt factored in some of the outcomes of our games, and we need to make a change."

Since the bye week, Frost has averaged 39.7 yards per punt gross and 34.0 net. If those figures were season totals, he would rank lower than 32nd in the NFL rankings in both. As it is, Frost ranks 26th in gross (42.1) and net average (36.1) for the season.

What's more, two of the five games since the bye were played indoors. Yet Frost, whose strength is supposed to be hang time and directional ability, was terrible in both of them, averaging 35.0 net at Minnesota and 30.8 at New Orleans. The final straw was the Carolina game in which Frost averaged 32.3 net, mostly the result of low kicks that were easily returnable.

The wind was a factor, but apparently not so much that Carolina's Jason Baker couldn't average 46.2 gross and 42.3 net, landing three attempts inside the 20-yard line.

Special teams coach Mike Stock agreed that the punting, which he said "right now (is) the biggest problem we have," has affected the outcomes of games. Asked if considered the recent losses to Tennessee, Minnesota and others to be attributable to poor punting, he said, "Every one of those. You have to punt the ball good. And you have to punt it consistently good."

The questions Thompson and McCarthy have to face after the season are why they waited so long to get rid of Frost and whether they should they have gotten rid of Ryan in the first place.

When Ryan was let go, the coaching staff was assured that based on the personnel department's evaluations, Frost was the better prospect. Since being picked up by Seattle, Ryan has clearly outperformed Frost, averaging 45.9 yards per punt gross (seventh in the NFL) and 37.3 net (16th)
Asked if the Packers made a mistake cutting Ryan, McCarthy only would say, "I don't want to go back. I have a lot of respect for every player I've had the opportunity to work with. Jon was a true pro, a very talented punter. (We) had a positive experience with him here. I wish Derrick the best, too, as he moves on."

The options available to the Packers for replacing Frost are limited.

According to agent and NFL sources, the Packers made contact with five young punters: Paul Ernster, Ben Graham, Durant Brooks, Jeremy Kapinos and Ricky Schmitt. Graham signed with Arizona Monday and it looks as if only Ernster, Brooks and Kapinos will be brought in today for tryouts.

The Packers also appear to have a fallback plan with veterans Josh Miller or Scott Player, should they not feel confident in the tryout participants.

Of the youngsters, Ernster and Brooks punted this year in the NFL. Ernster was a three-game fill-in for Pittsburgh's Mitch Berger and averaged 31.6 yards per punt and 31.3 net on 12 attempts. Only two of his punts were returned, for 4 yards, and he landed four punts inside the 20.

Brooks was the guy Washington kept ahead of Frost after training camp, thus making him available to the Packers. The sixth-round pick from Georgia Tech had an unspectacular training camp and then struggled for most of the season, averaging 39.6 yards gross and 32.1 net.

Opponents returned 12 of his punts for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He suffered a hip flexor injury in Week 5 that eventually resulted in his release.

His agent, Pat Dye Jr., said Brooks was completely healed and had a solid workout Monday with Arizona. He was scheduled to work out in Cincinnati before arriving in Green Bay today.

Kapinos is an undrafted free agent who was on the New York Jets' practice squad last year and has been out of football since being cut by the Jets in June.

As for Frost, Stock doesn't think his career is over. He said the 27-year-old punter had a lot of talent and just needed to be as productive on Sunday as he has been the rest of the week. He said it was an unusual problem, one he hasn't seen much in his long career coaching special teams.

"I've never been involved (in something) like that before with a guy who has talent, which he does, that has not at least been able to put a couple games together," Stock said. "It's not like this guy can't do it. He can do it."

It just won't be for the Packers.