The single position Redskins’ brass felt the most comfortable with heading into the 2009 season was that of punter. In April, the team inked Hunter Smith, the Colts’ 10-year starter to a modest 1-year contract (veteran’s minimum of $845k + signing bonus of $50k). Smith wasn’t selected in the first round like Ray Guy, and doesn’t make the millions that Shane Lechler, Brian Moorman, or even Matt McBriar do. He hasn’t even made a Pro Bowl, but his reputation & pedigree were enough for Washington to part ways with 2008 punter Ryan Plackemeier and former Eagle Dirk Johnson, another spring signee, leaving Smith alone at Redskin Park for punting drills.
Smith did not miss a game during his decade in Indianapolis, and despite – as put by Len Pasquarelli – “never [being] noted as a directional punter and a player who often outkicked his coverage, Smith nonetheless had 193 punts inside the 20-yard line and just 61 touchbacks” over that 10-year span. His 2008 averages of 44.2 gross and 38.8 net (career-high), looked other-wordly compared to the Redskins’ 40.5 (29th in the NFL) and 33.4 (last in the NFL), respectively. His two touchbacks were also the fewest in the NFL among punters with enough punts to qualify.
HC Jim Zorn called the signing of Smith “huge… when you talk free agent acquisitions, that was as good an acquisition, potentially, as Albert Haynesworth or DeAngelo Hall because it directly impacts field position. We are going to have to punt this year, and when we punt it’s just going to be a tremendous asset to us with our punting and our punt coverage.” Special teames coach Danny Smith (no relation) says “Hunter’s going to be out of sight. Hunter’s a punter. It’s been a long time since we had one of them. Wherever we say the ball is going, it’s a pretty good chance that’s where it’s going to be. We stopped calling where the ball was going to be in the past because we didn’t know, nor did the punter know.”
In addition to kicking, Coach Danny has aslo said Hunter “might be the best holder in the history of the game” following stints playing Lucy to Mike Vanderjagt’s & Adam Vinatieri’s Charlie Brown. If you’re interested in the GHOAT debate, see a lengthy article on the subject by the AP’s Joe White here.
Back to punting, and Redskins’ fans have to wonder if it was smart not to keep Plackemeri, Johnson, or any other punter-off-the-street around for the preseason. In June, WT beat man David Elfin noted that Danny Smith’s “biggest concern about Hunter Smith is that he doesn’t overkick during training camp,” but there have been no other punters in a Redskins uniform since then. Smith punted nine times in the opener at Baltimore and admitted he was “a little tired” after “kind of get[ting] used to it. In Indianapolis I never got used to it.” Smith said that punters “always are prepared for preseason games to be punt-fests” but yet he only punted nine times in all five Colts preseason games combined last summer. Smith only punted nine times in one of his 175 regular- and post-season games with Indianapolis, and that was more than seven years ago.
In his first ten regular seasons, Smith punted an average of 3.6 times per game. Over the past five seasons that average has been 3.2. With five punts Saturday night, Smith’s average this preseason stands at a whopping 7.0… with more likely to come. Over the past three seasons, Smith never punted more than 7 times in a game and only punted 5+ times in three games each season. In 2008 Washington averaged more than 5 punts per game, and finished the season with Plackemeier punting 6, 7, 6, 8, and 5 times down the stretch.
At least Smith has what he thinks are the right shoes for the job, sporting flashy burgundy & gold spikes during camp made of “a synthetic” with “no seams on the entire shoe,” making “a really good platform for the ball to come off of.” Naturally, he got “the idea from Fred Smoot.”
That might be all he and Smoot have in common. The latter was convicted a few years back on disorderly conduct and being a public nuisance on a watercraft during the Minnesota Vikings “Love Boat” scandal, while the former is one-half of the Christian rock band Connersvine. Smoot probably doesn’t want you to read about the specifics of his most famous off-the-field activity, and went as far in 2007 to claim that “nothing happened on that boat.” Smith, on the other hand, is proud of his band (“not so much a Christian rock band as we are Christians who play rock music”) and even gave a copy of his CD to Zorn.