We caught up with Jets punter Robert Malone in the locker room Friday. In his first season with the Green & White, the 24-year-old is on pace to break Curley Johnson’s franchise single-season records for gross and net punting average. Malone talked with us about the possibility of breaking those records, facing off against one of his former teams Sunday, and what the Christmas holiday means to him.
Sunday you’re going up against the San Diego Chargers, a team you previously spent a little bit of time with. What’s your mental outlook heading into this game?
I mean, it’s no different than any other game for me. I knew I wasn’t going to be there to beat out Mike [Scifres, the Chargers' long-time punter]. I played for Rich Bisaccia, who is the special teams coach there now. I played with him at Tampa. He brought me over there, and it was good. I appreciated the opportunity to get some film out there, but I approach it the same as any other game.
How much do you feel that short time playing alongside Scifres helped you?
The thing that benefitted me the most was just the pure competition. He has the highest hangtime in the league and that really helped me improve myself, just to be at that level. I didn’t want to be just totally outdone when I was there, so that constant competition really drove me.
Do you still keep in contact with him?
A few texts messages here or there, but not a lot.
Looking forward to seeing him Sunday?
Yeah, it’ll be good.
Assess your season overall. Would you say this is the best season of your NFL career?
Yeah, I would think so. I’m still getting more consistent as the year goes on. I’m trying to perfect my craft. But I do feel comfortable and it’s been a strong season so far.
Tell me your mental process each time before you punt the football. What’s are you thinking about?
Each punt is a different situation, different scenario. You’ve just got to win each situation and put your team in the best situation. Whether that means getting the ball off as fast as possible, or pinning them back deep, or if you’re directional -punting, spend some time kind of walking through like, “OK, what do I have to do here?” Given the different situations, playing that through my head, and just making sure we execute.
How do you feel like you’ve handled the cold weather so far because it seems like it hasn’t affected you too much.
It hasn’t gotten cold enough too fast, so I kind of got used to it. It’s kind of been a gradual thing. It’s not like it just dropped 50 degrees in one day. I’ve actually kind of got used to it now.
You’re on track to break two of Curley Johnson’s 1965 franchise single-season records in net punt average and gross punt average. Is that something you’re aware of?
I’ve heard about it. I try not to pay too much attention to it. A lot of things can happen. I mean, if these next two games we have to pin ‘em back deep and we have to kick a whole bunch of short ones, that kind of stuff, you just have to win each situation. So I’ve never really been focusing on “OK, I’ve got to break a record” or anything like that.
Your net average is 39.8, very close to reaching a 40.0 net for the season. Is having a 40.0 net average a goal you set for yourself before the season?
I would want to hit 40. Unfortunately, we had the two blocks and we would have been about 41. But it would be an awesome goal if we could reach that. There’s only two games left, so I don’t know if we’ll have enough just to bring up the average. But we’ll see. That’s definitely a goal I always wanted to hit, that 40 mark, because it’s not been done.
Would that mean a lot to you, though, if you were able to break those two team records?
It would be an honor. It’s not something that I’m solely striving for. I’m just trying to put the team in the best position each punt.
Christmas is just days away. What does the holiday mean to you and what’s the day going to be like for you this year?
Well, I’m a Christian and I’m excited to celebrate the birth of Christ. My wife gets to come up. She’s coming up today, actually. She lives back in California and she’s flying up today. I’m excited to see her. We’ll get to celebrate as a family.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Curley Johnson, Mike Scifres, Mike Westhoff, Robert Malone, San Diego Chargers
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Most football players have a preference between competing in an outdoor stadium or a dome.
All nine of the Jets’ games this season have been held outdoor stadiums. Their final six will be also. The Green & White will play their lone indoor game in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Sunday.
For Jets punter Robert Malone, the excitement of the venue is clearly evident.
“Most kickers and punters would prefer to kick inside a dome,” Malone said Friday afternoon after practice, “because, I mean, you don’t have to worry about weather conditions. Being out here in New York, where it’s cold and windy, it’s not the most ideal place to punt. So it’s nice to be able to get in a dome where you don’t have to worry about that too much and you can kind of just focus on what you have to do.”
One Jet who isn’t as big of a supporter toward a dome’s environment is Malone’s personal protector, Tim Tebow.
“I prefer grass,” No. 15 said. “I prefer playing in elements on grass. I feel like that’s how football should be played. But really, it doesn’t bother me too much at all.”
Malone said he’s played two games in domes during his time in the NFL. When he was a member of the Buccaneers, he faced the Saints in the Superdome and also played in the Georgia Dome vs. the Falcons.
“Some people can get pretty excited to be in there and try to swing for the fences and that’s when mistakes can happen,” the punter said. “So you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to be smooth. You’ve got to stay with your rhythm, because there’s definitely been some mis-hits in domes, too.”
The 24-year-old enters Sunday’s contest against the 3-5-1 Rams looking to build off an impressive outing last week at Seattle. In that game, he had seven punts for a 45.9-yard gross average and a 40.1 net. Three of his punts resulted in fair catches by Leon Washington and four were inside-the-20 punts. The only other game this season he’s had four inside-the-20s was Sept. 23 at Miami.
“I wouldn’t say it was my best game,” Malone said. “I was happy with the performance. There were a few things I could have done better. I would probably say the Colts game was my best game as a Jet. But I felt solid. There’s definitely a few things I can improve on. But I can’t complain with the net and the four inside-the-20s.”
Malone’s net production hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Head coach Rex Ryan praised the effort and production during his news conference Wednesday.
“We have a young man, I think this might be the best net punting we’ve ever had here,” Ryan said. “I think that’s been a success.”
Malone attributes a lot of his positive net punting — his 39.3 net for the season isn’t far from Curley Johnson’s franchise mark of 39.7 in 1965 — to special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.
“He’s just a big believer in doing your job, focusing on your job and doing what you can for the team,” Malone said. “He puts a lot of pressure on you, which is good because when it comes to the game, there is a lot of pressure. So in practice, that’s kind of how he does it. He tries to make you prepared.”
After a positive start, the Jets’ special teams have struggled over the last two games. Punt returner Jeremy Kerley muffed a punt against Seattle and one of Malone’s punts against Miami in Week 8 was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Westhoff has shown his disappointment and it hasn’t been fun for Malone either.
“Obviously like any coach would be,” Malone said, “you know if things aren’t going well he’s going to show his frustrations. The players are just as frustrated. So we’ve got to do our best to not get that feeling anymore.”
The Orange, Calif., native said his knowledge of the game and anticipation in punting situations are the two things he’s improved most since he was signed Sept. 4. And with only seven weeks of the regular season remaining, No. 3 is striving for one thing: consistency.
“It’s a long season,” Malone said, “and you’ve just got to try and keep your legs fresh. It’s harder to stay fresh out here just because it’s so much colder than most places. You’ve got to keep swinging your leg. You’ve got to warm up a lot more. Just staying fresh, staying consistent throughout the season and finish strong.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Curley Johnson, Edward Jones Dome, Mike Westhoff, Robert Malone, St. Louis Rams
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