Jets punter Ben Graham says surprising benching was `like a rocket' Print
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Wednesday, 26 December 2007 13:03
NFL Headline News

 HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -This is what it's come down to heading into the last game of a disappointing season: The New York Jets have a punter controversy.
With Ben Graham struggling in recent weeks, the Jets activated rookie Jeremy Kapinos from the practice squad last Saturday and played him against Tennessee.
``The consistency needs to improve and Ben knows that and is working at that,'' Mangini said Wednesday, adding he would see who has the better week of practice before deciding who plays against Kansas City. ``With Jeremy doing as well as he's done, it was time for him to get a chance.''
While Mangini remained undecided on his quarterback situation with Kellen Clemens still recovering from a rib injury, the coach has made it clear that punter can be added to the team's growing list of uncertainties.
The left-footed Graham, whose 36.4 net average has him tied for 18th in the league, was clearly bothered by the benching. Special teams coach Mike Westhoff told Graham the news a few hours before the game, and the punter was asked if it jolted him.
``A jolt? It was like a rocket,'' Graham said in his warm Australian accent. ``It wasn't a jolt.''
When asked what he was told specifically, Graham said: ``Ummm, you're not playing. We're going with Jeremy.''
Graham, the former Australian Football League star in his third season with the Jets, came into the year with a 37.9 net average, but hasn't been as effective as in his first two seasons. He also had a kick blocked deep in Jets territory at New England that led to an easy score for the Patriots.
``It was surprising,'' said Graham, who has been sharing practice time with Kapinos the last few weeks. ``Obviously, you prepare all week to play and then when you're told Sunday morning that you're not, you do (get surprised), but it's a team sport and a team game, and you support the decisions that they make.''
Not that Graham necessarily knows what goes into those decisions.
``I can only go on what they told me, and that hasn't really been a lot, other than, `We're looking at him for next year,''' Graham said.
Kapinos, a finalist last year at Penn State for the Ray Guy Award given to the nation's top punter, spent training camp with the Jets before being cut a week before the regular season. He was signed to the practice squad Nov. 27 and many wondered if it was a sign Graham's future with the Jets was on shaky ground.
``I understand that we've struggled as a team throughout the year, winning only three games, so I know they're looking at a lot of positions, and punting's no different,'' Graham said. ``I still have four years to run on my contract, so, it's day by day for me. Right now, I'm just preparing to punt against Kansas City on Sunday.''
Whether that happens remains to be seen. Kapinos averaged 41.6 yards - but only a 36.4 net - in his five kicks against the Titans. He blasted his first punt 43 yards into the end zone on the Jets' first possession.
``I was pretty excited, pretty pumped,'' Kapinos said. ``Once I got that one out of the way, I kind of settled down and my nerves kind of went back to normal and I took a deep breath.''
Kapinos also was the holder on kicks, usually Graham's job. But it was something he hadn't done in a game, even in college. Nugent had an extra point blocked and was wide left on a 51-yard attempt, but Kapinos wasn't blamed for either mishap.
``I think Jeremy has done a good job and I've been pleased with what he's done in practice,'' Mangini said. ``And I like the things that he's done, not just in terms of his punting, but his holding has gotten a lot better, as well, so I thought I'd give him an opportunity.''
Graham is trying to stay positive while dealing with his benching, something he was unfamiliar with during his 12 seasons with the Geelong Cats.
``This is a first time for me, a new experience,'' Graham said. ``Obviously, it's a different game and they go through things differently, the way they coach and communicate and everything like that, but it's a situation where I haven't performed up to my expectations anyway. I just have to deal with it and prepare to play on the weekend.''
 

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