INDIANAPOLIS — Cameron Johnston came to the NFL Combine to disprove a misconception about the way he punts footballs.
Ohio State’s punter established himself as one of the best in the country last year, winning Big Ten Punter of the Year and finishing as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award. Still there were questions about his style.
The Australian’s gimmick — mostly rolling out and hitting balls rugby style — was effective in college, but it doesn’t translate to the NFL. Is that all he is, or can he do more? Can he transform himself into the more traditional punter the league is looking for?
Turns out it didn’t require much of a transformation. He was just so good at doing the rugby thing that a lot of us failed to realize that it wasn’t all he could do.
“That’s a big thing,” Johnston said. “I was trying to break out of that. I totally understand why we do that in college because that’s what the rules are and you gotta take advantage of it. That’s why Coach (Urban) Meyer is such a good coach. If we roll out to the right, we can free release four or five guys off the back side. I would’ve rather done more spiral (punting), but at the end of the day it’s just breaking that mold here. That’s the biggest thing.”
Johnston had 15 punts during his on-field workout at the combine to show he can bring what the NFL desires. He’ll have more chances at Ohio State’s Pro Day on March 23, and in whatever private workouts he’s sure to get before April’s NFL Draft.
Getting drafted is a long shot for any punter — as long as some of the balls Johnston routinely placed inside the opponent’s 10-yard line with power and precision. For specialists like Johnston, it’s more about getting noticed, getting an undrafted free agent spot and winning a job in training camp.
Johnston will get his shot, because he’s always been more than a rugby-style punter. Ohio State just didn’t let him show that very often.
College rules allow more players to release on the snap during punt plays, which means Johnston could roll out and kick a line drive to a group of waiting Buckeyes. In the NFL, only two players can release. The punting team loses its numbers advantage, and that makes the punter’s goal to get more hang time and keep the ball near the sideline.
Johnston can do that. That’s how he arrived at Ohio State in the first place. His highlight tape that got him a scholarship was filled with more traditional “spiral” punts than the roll-out, end-over-end kicks Johnston used with the Buckeyes.
“That was the way I learned,” Johnston said. “It was Coach Meyer, when I got to Ohio State, took advantage of the rules we were given in college …
That was one of the biggest thing was making sure with the workout to do my best and show that’s what I do. I was happy with it.”
Johnston can still hit those end-over-end balls out of the traditional two-step approach, which might make him a more attractive asset to NFL teams.
He won’t lose his pinpoint accuracy, that ability to more often than not dictate exactly where the ball lands on the field. He just won’t be doing it with the unorthodox approach he used at Ohio State.
But he was always more than that anyway.
“I think I showed that I’m very capable and I can do it with ease,” Johnston said. “The big thing with the workout was showing you have the power, the consistency, and the leg to do it.”