By a few old reliable measures, Robert Malone is off to a strong start as the Jets’ punter.
Malone’s 46.4-yard gross average and his 40.0 net in his first three games is better than the first three games of his immediate predecessors in the job — T.J. Conley (41.4, 37.0 last year), Steve Weatherford (40.7, 37.7 in 2009) and Reggie Hodges (41.3, 35.4 in ’08). The last punter to have comparable numbers was Ben Graham in 2005, who opened with a 46.0 gross and 42.6 net. So all things considered, with a small data set, Malone’s been muscular out of the gate.
But punting can also be about more than yardage figures. And in this regard Malone is impressive also because he’s, well, muscular, especially below the waist.
“Robert’s got an explosive lower body,” ST coordinator Mike Westhoff said. “He was talking about doing weightlifting, and a lift called the hang clean. He’s one of the best on our team, maybe even the best, with the most weight.”
Malone pleads guilty. Fresno State isn’t the biggest football program around but it has a fine reputation for its strength program and facilities, and that’s what got him moving up the weightroom’s recordboards.
“For me, I like to compete with the position players,” he told me this week. “It was fun to beat your own number, things like that. I set the school record for the hang clean, probably 420, 430 pounds. It’s the heaviest on our team. That’s what Bill [Hughan], our strength coach said.
“I also have, I think, the third-highest weight in the power clean at Fresno. And I was even five pounds short of a record in the bench press, but that we broke it down to the best weight in school history for kickers, punters, snappers and quarterbacks.”
It’s pretty easy to see how having a strong lower body might lead an athlete to excel in a specialty that requires a strong leg. As Malone describes the cleans: “It’s a quick motion. The fast-twitch muscle fibers, they’re really firing. The lifts help the hips and being able to get that extension. That’s all, really, that punting is, one quick, explosive move.”
The cut of his jib has impressed Westhoff, who has worked his way through 11 punters in his first 11 seasons as the Jets’ teams coordinator before they brought in No. 12, Malone, to replace Conley days before this year’s opener.
“His lower body, his thighs and his glutes, remind me a bit of Reggie Roby,” Coach Westy said of the big-leg Iowan whom he coached for seven seasons with the Dolphins. “He’s not quite that size because nobody was bigger than Reggie’s lower body, but this guy’s close.”
Besides strength, Malone recalled that he was third-fastest for all positions at Fresno State in both the three-cone drill (which is called the L-test at the school) and the shuttle. Basically, he’s a talented athlete, someone who loves to lift and compete with even his linemates on the Jets while providing the punting to help the Jets win games, such as on Sunday against Roby’s and Westhoff’s former team, the Dolphins.
“Now we just have to keep working with him,” said the coach, who’s been this way before, “get his timing and technique and all those little things down. But he can bomb the ball in the air. He’s done a real good job. He’s off to a good start. Of course, we’ve got a long way to go, but there’s some real good things there.
Interestingly enough, Malone will be going up, indirectly, on Sunday against 14th-year man David Akers, the 49ers placekicker who has some similar traits.
“David is extremely explosive in his lower body as well. You look at how explosive he is and it’s why he’s just been an incredible kicker,” Westhoff said. “Of course, he’s also a 50th-degree black belt or something in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He’s the one guy on the field you don’t want to fight.”
Then again, maybe the Jets have the one guy on the field who might be able to win an Olympic decathlon.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Ben Graham, David Akers, Miami Dolphins, Mike Westhoff, Reggie Hodges, Reggie Roby, Robert Malone, Steve Weatherford, T.J. Conley
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