When Brad Wing arrived on the scene to become the punter for the New York Giants right before the start of the 2015 season he was given a straight-forward instruction from the coaching staff.
"Take the return man out of the game."
Wing, acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional draft pick right before the start of the season, has followed that instruction beautifully.
Through three games, Wing leads the NFL in punts downed inside the 20-yard line with eight. He is second in the league in punts that have been fair caught, with six. Impressive, especially since he has punted only 12 times. By the way, only three of those punts have been return, for a paltry 17 yards (5.6 yards per return). Only two NFL teams have given up fewer return yards. Here is one more number: Wing is averaging 41.4 net yards per punt. Giants' opponents are averaging 36.3, meaning the Giants are gaining five yards of field position for each exchange of punts.
Punt returner Dwayne Harris has something to do with that, but so does Wing, a 24-year-old left-footed Australian punter.
"The whole thing that I'm trying to do is just eliminate return man. That's everybody on the punt team. We just want to take their returners out of the game, that's the main focus," Wing said. "You don't want to hit an 80-yard punt and have it run back 50. That's kind of pointless. It's finding a good balance in between and just letting the guys go hunt."
The Giants, of course, struggled with their punt game the past two seasons. In 2013, they gave up three punt return touchdowns and tied with the Washington Redskins for the most return yardage allowed in the league. In 2014, with Steve Weatherford struggling through ankle and back injuries, they surrendered another punt return touchdown and the sixth-most punt return yardage in the NFL.
Wing was a rookie in 2014, punting for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He lost a competition this year with Jordan Berry, and the Giants pounced. Wing averaged 43.4 yards per punt last season, with a net of 38.6 yards. Only 27 of his 64 punts (42 percent) were returned.
Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn was guarded in his assessment of Wing, understandable after only three games.
"He seems like he's doing alright. We haven't had to punt a whole lot and then a lot of the times when we're punting, it's the plus-area, something he does well, so I've been pleased. He's working hard, good listener, so it's been good so far," Quinn said. "He does hit that Aussie punt pretty naturally since he's grown up with it, so it's pretty easy coming off his foot, and he can move it around, which a lot of Americans don't have that ability."
Wing said that "Direction and hang time, they are areas of my game that I have spent a lot of time on over the past couple of years.""It's not just standing back there and punting the ball down the field. There's some times where the punt may require a little more hang time or a little more direction. Not every situation requires the same punt. You have to have a bag of tricks, just be able to deliver different types of punts in the situation of the game whether it be a short punt from midfield or a backed up punt coming out of the end zone.
"You have to hit different punts to get a good result."
Wing definitely got a good result on this punt Thursday against the Washington Redskins. Can you really intentionally make a football bound sideways like that? As much as wing would love to take credit for that one, he admitted that some things just come down to luck.
"You aim to get the ball inside the 10-yard line. With that particular punt it is a back-spinning punt, so there is a chance that the ball will not bounce forward. I'd be a liar if I was sitting here telling you I wanted that ball to hit left and sit on the one like it did," Wing said.
"I think there was a bit of luck involved in that one. It's very, very difficult I would say, near impossible, to want the ball to spin one way and it actually do that. I got it down to where it needed to be and it took a good bounce for me -- not always the bounces go your way, so we'll take ‘em when they fall that way."
Similarly, the Giants will take it if Wing keeps punting the ball with the kind of precision he has shown in the first three weeks.