“Sickening” net average for Waitman has Stukes and Broncos looking for more
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It’s probably not fair to Corliss Waitman to compare his numbers with those of Sam Martin, the man he beat out for the Broncos’ punting job this summer.
But punter was one of the few true competitions that existed for a first-team spot on the roster. And Martin ranked fifth in the NFL in net punting average last year. It wasn’t just that Waitman won the job, it’s that he seized it from an established veteran who, as it turned out, had no problem finding another gig.
And at this moment, Martin, now with the Buffalo Bills sits No. 2 in the NFL in net punting average. Of course, Martin’s sample size is limited; the efficiency of Buffalo’s rampaging offense left him with a league-low three punts through two weeks.
Waitman hasn’t been much more active; just three punters — including Martin — have fewer attempts so far than his six to date.
But while Martin ranks near the top of the league in net average, with two of his three punts landing inside the 20, Waitman sits dead last, with a net average of just 33.8 yards.
“Room for improvement,” Waitman replied when asked to summarize his early-season work. “Just really trying to maximize on the net punting, of course, pinning them inside the 20, which is very important.”
Broncos special-teams coach Dwayne Stukes was blunt in his assessment.
“It’s already concerned me,” Broncos special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes said. “It’s sickening.”
Now, Waitman isn’t going to rank among the league leaders in gross average — simply because of where he punts. Half of his 6 punts this season came with the line of scrimmage in opponent territory. Another punt saw long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer firing Waitman the football from the Denver 45-yard line. So, his 41.7-yard gross average — which is next-to-last in the NFL — isn’t as alarming as it might seem on the surface.
But the net average incorporates the yards lost to touchbacks. In other words, when Waitman punts from the opponent’s 48-yard line and it bounces into the end zone, the gross number is 48 yards — but the net is 28.
Effectively, four of Waitman’s six punts this season came with placement inside the 20-yard line as the No. 1 goal. But just two stayed out of the end zone, which did a number on Waitman’s net average.
“Myself and Corliss have had a conversation about that,” Stukes said. “Corliss is trying to be very aggressive as far as getting the ball to the 1-yard line because, again, we preach around here, given our defense, the long field.
“So, he’s a little aggressive out there. The wind took the ball a little bit more than what he anticipated. We’re going to play that better. We’re going to do a better job of inside-the-20 punts, 100 percent. He understands what he needs to do to accomplish that.”
Waitman came close on his first punt against Houston. Waitman got the football to bounce at the 6-yard line. Essang Bassey was in the area, but he got his body turned around and couldn’t down it, leading to a touchback.
“I can help my gunners by giving them more time or giving them a better bounce, whatever it may be,” Waitman said.
That said, bounces can be capricious — and the closer the bounce is to the goal line, the less the margin for error.
“At times, it will bounce back. We have techniques that help it bounce back,” Waitman said. “But as we’ve seen in a lot of football games, sometimes it bounces forward into the end zone. And as a punter, you don’t want to do that. So, if it does bounce forward, at least give your gunners some room to bounce it back in, and keep it outside of the end zone.”
Added Stukes: “I mean, I think at times he gets greedy, and it might be me trying to push him a little bit, saying that we definitely need this ball inside of the 10-yard line. Again, we’ve had a conversation about that. He knows, ‘Hey, if I just kick it to the punt returner, he fair-catches it and the ball’s inside of the 10, we’re winning. It’s better than hitting a touchback and giving them the field position that we don’t want to give them. So, the conversation has been had.”
That said, it’s not all on Waitman. His final punt last Sunday was a 50-yarder, but the net result was 43 yards.
“I thought Corliss did a good job of executing the punt as far as distance and hang. I thought ‘AP’ (edge rusher Aaron Patrick) and (edge rusher) Jonathon Cooper did a great job with speed and urgency getting down the field,” Stukes said. “Obviously, we had two guys free to make the play. They should make the play right where he catches the ball.
“I know we gave him a seven-yard return, but that’s our mentality right there. Limit the guy to a short return — if any return at all.”
And Waitman has been fine in terms of hang time. According to Pro Football Focus, Waitman ranks 15th in the NFL in hang time. PFF’s stopwatch clocks Waitman at 4.47 seconds; my stopwatch clocks him at 4.50. Either way, that should be sufficient for success.
But the net will be the number to watch as Waitman continues.
“He’s going to make adjustments, myself included, and you’ll see a better result going forward,” Stukes said.