For the first time in a decade, the Stamps are looking for a new punter.
But how do you go about replacing a guy like Rob Maver?
Well, in short, you don’t.
“Rob Maver is a Hall of Famer,” said punter hopeful Ronnie Pfeffer. “There’s a reason why he played so long and so well. I don’t look at it like I’m coming in and trying to replace him and do what he did. You can’t replace him.
“It’s all about coming in here and doing the best you can. We all know how good Rob was at placing the ball when it comes to coffin corners and everything, so our focus is to hit our ball and making it smooth.”
Special Teams Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach Mark Kilam had a front row seat for Maver’s heroics over the years and said the four guys battling for the job have to focus on their game, not mimicking Maver.
“You can’t ask anyone to be anybody else,” said Kilam. “Even when Maver came in, he evolved – dramatically evolved – two or three times with rule changes, punt scheme changes, and with how the game was evolving and that’s what made him an all-star. It was his commitment to his craft and his ability to evolve that made him who he was. I think with these guys, it’s four different guys with four different styles and four different body types.
“We have certain expectations numbers-wise, hang-time wise that we want our punters to achieve, but they still have to be themselves. If they try too hard to do something else, they won’t become the player that they need to be.”
Joining Pfeffer in the chase to earn the job are Keiran Burnham and a pair of Australians, Cody Grace and Gerard Laws.
Of the foursome, Pfeffer is the only candidate with CFL experience.
But does that give him the leg up? (pun intended)
“He knows the rules of the CFL, he’s played for a number of organizations, and he’s worked with some good special team’s coaches in his career,” said Kilam. “He’s really the only pro. Cody Grace is straight out of college, Keiran Burnham is right out of college, and Gerard Laws didn’t play in university or college sports – he played semi-pro, which is essentially men’s league in Australia. It’s no knock on men’s league or college sports, but professional football is professional football. It’s a step up for all of those guys and they’re taking turns finding their stride, but all four guys are trying to work for that consistency in what we’re doing right now.”
Like most position battles throughout the roster, the evaluation process has been made more difficult by the lack of pre-season games.
“You have to try and treat every practice like it’s a game,” Pfeffer said. “But at the end of the day when the lights come on and there are fans out here chanting, it definitely becomes a different game. That’s where my CFL experience helps; you’ve been under the lights and you know the game well. But at the end of the day, it’s about how well you can kick a football. Regardless of whether the lights are on or off, it’s about how consistent you can be with that.”
“You can design situational opportunities, but anybody is lying if they think it’s easier,” Kilam chuckled. “It’s definitely more challenging to evaluate. Some guys only show up in games. They look good in practice but then the lights come on and they really shine. Conversely, some guys can be great practice players but then you put them into the game and they can’t execute whatever his job is. I think it’s a big challenge and anyone saying otherwise is lying. But it’s our job as coaches to try and find and put these guys into as many situations and competitive situations as possible to see how they separate themselves.”
The punters have been thrown into the deep end in the first few days of camp.
It’s time to sink or swim for these four candidates.
“Yeah, we’re pushing hard. We’ve had 42 team punt snaps in three days,” explained Kilam. “We always have a lot more punts early, so we’ll back off a bit, but we’re pushing them hard to see what we’ve got, to see how they handle it, and to see how they fit in. I’m looking forward to watching them push through training camp.”