METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead prepared for the 2012 season as if it would be his audition for a new contract.
When he unexpectedly received a lucrative extension as training camp began, the pressure was off in some respects. Morstead, however, wasn't about to change his approach, and now finds himself in position to set NFL records.
"You're geared up for that last (contract) year and I got my deal early," Morstead said this week of the six-year extension worth $21.9 million he signed in late July.
"In some ways the pressure's on because now they're paying you what they think is your value, so you better perform at that level or you'll lose your job soon enough," Morstead added.
He won't have to worry about losing his job anytime soon. If anything, he might have an extra game to play in Hawaii.
With fan voting now closed for the Pro Bowl, Morstead leads all NFC punters with 104,563 votes, making him a front-runner to get the nod for the NFL's all-star game, depending on how voting by coaches and players turns out.
"His numbers speak for themselves," Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon said. "No one would be more tickled if Thomas made it (to the Pro Bowl) than myself and really our franchise. ... He's plenty good enough and he's a great worker and he's a great teammate."
Morstead leads the NFL with a net punting average of 44.7 yards. Last season, San Francisco 49ers' Andy Lee set the current single-season record in that category at 43.99 yards.
To Morstead, no statistic is more important than the net punting average, which takes into account not just the distance of a punt but how far it is returned. Morstead has shown he can blast punts more than 70 yards down the field, but doing so can be counterproductive if he outkicks the coverage and gives opposing returners room to make plays coming back up the field.
So Morstead came into this season with the goal of setting a record for net punting and wasn't shy about saying so.
"I don't feel bad in going for something like that," he said. "It's 100 percent good for the team. It's not like trying to break the gross average. If I try and bang it 60 yards every time and they get big returns every time, that's a selfish sort of thing."
"What's neat about it is that it's a team record. It's not how far I punted. It's how far I punted minus how many return yards our team allowed. It's our punt team record. It's pretty cool."
Morstead is always looking to carefully calibrate the power and direction of his punts, even changing to a rugby-style kick on short-range punts, to get the optimum distance while sharply reducing an opponent's prospects for a return by either having the ball land out of bounds or pinning the returner close to a boundary.
"We're big on directional punting," Morstead said. "It's kind of like golfing a little bit, having different clubs in your bag. What are you going to hit this time? You can always have those different clubs in your bag to pull out. What's nice is the other team doesn't know what kind of club I have, so you can kind of pick and choose your spots in what you're going to do."
At 6-4, 225 pounds, Morstead does not look out of place on a football field as some specialists do and has a powerful leg, routinely hitting kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks. His gross punting average is still an impressive 50.3 yards, second longest in the NFL behind Miami's Brandon Field (50.6). The Saints noticed Morstead's leg strength and all around athleticism when he was at SMU. New Orleans used a fifth-round draft choice on the Texas native in 2009.
While punters are not often drafted, the Saints are pleased with their decision.
"His work ethic's phenomenal," McMahon said, even comparing Morstead to locker room leaders like star quarterback Drew Brees. "His attention to detail and his routine is a lot like Brees. It's really something."
Notes: The Saints added RB Pierre Thomas to their injury report with knee soreness and he was limited in practice. ... RT Zach Strief (right ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. ... RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) and CB Patrick Robinson (groin) also were limited. ... FB Jed Collins (right toe, left knee) was held out of practice.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.