Impacting Field Position Is Fields' Area Of Expertise; Other Notes

Posted Sep 23, 2011

Field position at the start of a drive is a critical factor for any offense, and nobody has more of a direct impact on field position than a punter.

Brandon Fields has developed a knack for changing field position that has him near the top of the league in all pertinent punting statistics, and that comes as no surprise to his teammates and Head Coach Tony Sparano. He goes about his business with the quiet confidence of a skilled sniper, especially when he’s trying to pin the opponent inside its own 20.

“Listen, the guy is kicking the ball tremendous right now,” Sparano said. “He keeps kicking it the way he’s kicking it then he’ll get a vacation out of the thing at some point. He’s knocking it inside the 5-yardline, inside the 2 or 3-yardline when he wants to and then he’s kicking the heck out of it, 71, 61 yards. I mean these punts are enormous.”

Last week against the Houston Texans, Fields averaged 60.3 yards on three punts with a long of 70 and he ranks fifth in the National Football League with a gross average of 54.2 yards. Four of his nine punts have landed inside the 20, tied for third best and his 43.7 net average is tied for fourth best.

This is Fields’ fifth season with the Dolphins and he has put up these kinds of numbers on a consistent basis, ranking near the top of the AFC and NFL in each of the previous two seasons. He has yet to earn a Pro Bowl berth, but there is no mistaking the strength of his leg and the sound of the ball leaving his foot.

“I’m on the right side so I play wing and every time I’m pretty much right by the ball when it’s being booted so I can hear it,” said fullback Lex Hilliard, who is one of the team’s best special teams players in coverage. “Boom. I can hear the cannon go off right behind me and then we don’t ever see the ball. We keep our eyes on the return guy and we just see him backing up and we’re just like, ‘What in the world?’ He’s been hanging them up there and that just means we’ve got to get out and cover a lot faster down the field.”

The New York Jets saw more than enough of Fields last December up in New Jersey during their 10-6 loss to Miami as he put together the third most prolific punting performance in league history. His 564 gross yards on 10 punts trailed only Leo Araguz’s 709 for the Oakland Raiders against San Diego in 1998 and Bob Scarpitto’s 565 for Denver at Oakland in 1967.

What has been most impressive about Fields’ long punts when he’s kicking either out of his own end zone or deep in his own territory is the hang time he gets. Usually when a punter launches one more than 60 yards he tends to outkick his coverage, giving the returner a much bigger cushion to get his speed up for a long return, but that hasn’t been the case with Fields.

“He’s getting the ball up in the air and he’s getting it deep and anytime you punt the ball that far you’re going to have some room to cover,” said linebacker Jason Trusnik, who is tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with two. “That’s just how it is and the gunner’s got to get down there and us as the interior men, we’ve just got to get down there, get to the ball, know your lanes and just do our job.”

This Sunday on the road at the Cleveland Browns, Fields will be tasked with making Browns punt returner Josh Cribbs a non-factor. Cribbs is averaging 13.8 yards per return, seventh-best in the NFL, and has a long of 43.

Sparano wouldn’t trade Fields’ leg for anybody’s, and he can handle the strain those long punts put on his coverage unit because when they make the tackle it’s going to result in a tremendous swing in field position. The key is for those players to not let Cribbs escape.

 “It does make it hard on those guys because obviously they have to protect first. They just can’t take off,” Sparano said. “And then when you kick it that far there’s going to be a cushion there between when they catch it and where we are. At one point in the film the other day he kicked one so far that we were about 22 yards from the ball when he caught it. We converged on it pretty good. Now this one happened to come out of there but we had two missed tackles right away and the ball came out.

“That’s the problem is I think as it’s kicked that far and they’re humping it to get down there I think you can end up in some bad body positions at that point because breaking down the ball has already been caught. You’re not breaking down now, you’re not coming to balance necessarily. You’re in full sprint, so that would be the only downside, but I’ll let Brandon swing away.”

And when he’s not swinging away but aiming for the coffin corner on a short field, Fields is just as accurate. That’s an entirely different type of punt because he has to dial back the strength of his kick and put more loft on it so it will roll out of bounds or just die near the goal line.

The coverage guys in that situation know the returner is either going to make a fair catch or let the ball bounce most of the time. This is where directional punting comes into play, and Fields approaches it like a golfer approaches an approach shot.

“He can almost tell you what line it’s going to land on before he kicks it,” kicker Dan Carpenter said. “He gets it down with such consistency that he can pin guys inside the 20, and that’s big in this league, making teams go 80-plus yards. He’s one of the best guys in the league at those flip-flop punts.”

Fields has the entire package – accuracy and distance, which equals field position impact.

INJURY UPDATE: Cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring) and defensive end Tony McDaniel (hand) did not practice again and both are officially out for Sunday’s game. … Free safety Chris Clemons (hamstring), cornerback Will Allen and wide receiver Roberto Wallace (quad) were limited with Wallace listed as doubtful and Clemons and Allen listed as questionable. Running back Reggie Bush (groin), inside linebacker Karlos Dansby (groin) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (groin) practiced in full and are probable. … For the Browns, linebacker Titus Brown (ankle) did not practice and defensive back Eric Hagg (knee) was limited and both are out. … Wide receiver Josh Cribbs (groin) and running back Peyton Hillis (illness) did not practice while offensive lineman Tony Pashos (ankle) and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle) were limited and all are questionable. Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell (finger), linebacker Marcus Bernard (non-injury) and defensive lineman Scott Paxson (shoulder) participated in a full practice and are listed as probable for the game.
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