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Punters take center stage for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers' search for a punter has led to a guy who spent last season tutoring University of Kentucky athletes and an Australian whose previous experience kicking can be found on YouTube.

And yet, general manager Ted Thompson and his staff are confident that either Tim Masthay or Chris Bryan will be the team's punter when the regular season kicks off Sept. 12.

"They both have a lot of talent, they're working very hard, and our special teams guys are pretty excited about them," Thompson said Friday. "I just think these guys have the ability to punt in the league."

So while the rookie orientation camp is normally about the youngsters recently added to the roster, the two players generating the most buzz Friday weren't among their seven draft picks or members of their 11-player undrafted rookie free-agent class.

Instead, they were Masthay, who played at Kentucky and signed with the Packers in January after being out of football last season. And Bryan, who signed with the Packers in March and is hoping to join Philadelphia's Sav Rocca and Arizona's Ben Graham as former Australian Rules Football players punting in the NFL.

"As of right now, it's just me and Chris Bryan on the roster, so as far as I can tell, it's just an open competition for now between the two of us," Masthay said. "Every day matters, so this is really kind of the beginning to all the sort of tests leading up (to the decision)."

Masthay and Bryan are vying to replace Jeremy Kapinos, an exclusive rights free agent who did not receive a qualifying offer. Kapinos finished the season tied for 32nd in the NFL in net average (34.1 yards per punt), 32nd in touchback percentage (15.2) and 33rd in inside-the-20 percentage (22.7).

Masthay, 23, was released by the Colts in August before even kicking in a preseason game. At Kentucky, he finished his final season ranked fifth in the country with a 45.3-yard average and he spent last season working out on the UK campus while tutoring students.

"It was nice to be there because I had access to the facilities to work out, hoping I'd get back to a place like Green Bay," he said. "I'm actually more confident now than I have been because of the past two months, as I've been working out and hitting the ball well and my fundamentals have gotten better."

Bryan, 28, faces a greater challenge, since he doesn't even know all the NFL rules.

"I'm doing a lot of video work, and watching the game, I'm seeing the refs doing all the hand moves and I'm not sure what they're doing," Bryan said. "Basically, I know I have to kick the ball long and high and hopefully they can't return it."

The Packers first learned of the 6-foot-5, 210-pound left-footed Bryan through Nathan Chapman, a former Australian Rules player who went to training camp with the Packers in 2004. Chapman runs a punting academy called ProKick Australia, where he trains players who want to punt in the NFL or NCAA. He's placed several players in NCAA programs in addition to helping Bryan get his shot with the Packers.

To monitor Bryan's progress before they signed him, the Packers actually watched video of him on YouTube that Chapman posted. In the video, Bryan kicks on a soccer field with markers every 10 yards and the hang times and distances are posted after each kick.

"It was funny. There were a lot of comments (on the video)," said Bryan, who played four seasons with two Australian Football League teams. "There were some questions like, 'Are you sure those are 10 yards apart, not nine?'"

The Packers feel Bryan's five years of pro experience playing Australian Rules Football will help him.

"He's played in professional environment, played in front of large crowds," Packers college scouting director John Dorsey said. "Chris is mature enough to handle adversity. Are there subtle differences to each game? Yeah, but I think he'll adjust."

That adjustment will take awhile, Bryan admitted — including not using the Australian Rules ball anymore.

"It's a little bigger, a little fatter through the middle and not as pointy. So the sweet spot on the Australian Rules Football is a lot bigger, so it's a little bit more forgiving," Bryan said. "If you miss the sweet spot on this one, you look bad."