Mike Connell, who replaced popular but aging Mike Bragg as the Redskin punter this season, is last in the National Football League in yards per punt at 36.5, but the team's coaches insist the 24-year-old former free agent is effective and they are satisfied with his performance nearing the midpoint of this season.
"Mike's punting average is a very deceiving statistic, because there's a lot more involved in rating a punter than how many yards he averages," said Ted Fritsch, who was Connell's snapper in the preseason before being released. Fritsch rejoined the Redskins last week as their special teams coach. "He might be the last of 28 kickers in terms of average, but statistics like that are only for people who don't know much about punting. Mike has a good leg and he's done a very good job for us this year,-Fritsch said.
Fritsch also was quick to point out that Connell's net yards per punt average of 33.2, 17th in the league and eighth in the NFC, is a better indicator than his gross average.Connell's soaring kicks are largely responsible for the Redskins' special teamsmen having ample time to get downfield quickly on almost all of his 37 kicks to prevent any long returns. A 24-yard return by Denver was the longest against the Redskins this season.
Bragg, for 13 years a Redskin, says he is happy punting for the Baltimore Colts, for whom he is averaging 40.6 yards per kick, good for 15th in the NFL.He ranks 14th in the league in net punting yards.
With the hard-working Connell 10 years younger, drawing about half the salary and performing almost as effectively as Bragg, the Redskins' controversial decision to cut Bragg before the season seems to be a solid business move for the future.
Connell also received a vote of confidence from Coach Jack Pardee.
"I don't think his statistics are true to the way he's been kicking," Pardee said after yesterday's light practice. "His average is not good but he hits the ball pretty high and has good distance. He's gotten us out of holes several times -- especially these last two weeks. He still has to work on his accuracy though."
"All this week in practice I'll be working on angling the ball toward the corners," said Connell, drafted by San Francisco two years ago in the 10th round and coming to Redskins after the 49ers cut him before the season.
Connell, who says the pressure of the preseason competition finally has subsided, is changing his style of kicking when inside the 50-yard line.
"I haven't been angling my body enough when attempting to kick for the corners," said the punter, who produced a 20-yard kick when aiming for the left corner in Sunday's rout of St. Louis.
In Connell's defense, he rarely if ever gets an opportunity to angle punts to the corners, although he has deposited six inside the 20.
"Mark (Moseley) thinks anything inside the 50 is his territory," Connell said, laughing. "Most teams just don't have a field goal kicker with Mark's leg strength, so they send in the punter when the team is anywhere beyond the 30-yard line."
Bragg, who averaged 39.8 yards per kick with Washington, said there is one major difference in punting for Baltimore.
"Over here you just don't punt as much," he said. "I've only punted twice, twice, three times and twice in the last four games.
Bragg, who said he is still "a big Redskin fan, I'm rooting for them every day," has punted only 27 times this year. That's because Bert Jones and the Colts have been a lot more successful in moving the football -- especially on third downs -- than have the slow starting Redskins.
Bragg's 11 punts inside the 20 place him third behind Cincinnati's Pat McInally and the Giants' Dave Jennings, who are tied with 13.
Pardee said yesterday that the vacancy on the roster left by Ray Waddy, whose season was ended by a broken leg, may be filled today or Friday. Injuries to center Bob Kuziel and tackle Terry Hermeling have further complicated the coach's decision. . . Pardee said Hermeling is being fitted with a soft cast for his injured thumb and should be able to play in Sunday's home game against winless New Orleans. . . Kuziel, who badly sprained his right wrist and forearm Sunday, worked out yesterday but did not snap the ball. "We may try to left-handed snap," said Pardee. "We really need him." b