- Associated Press - Friday, October 13, 2017

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - The moment the ball left his right hand, Lachlan Edwards cringed a little and then hoped it would at least reach his teammate.

After all, the New York Jets punter is used to kicking footballs, not throwing them.

“I was watching it and it was an ugly ball,” the native of Australia said with a big grin. “It wasn’t a nice spiral, but it made it there.”

It sure did: a successfully orchestrated fake punt that went for a 31-yard completion - on fourth-and-21 - to Marcus Williams two weeks ago in the Jets‘ 23-20 overtime victory over Jacksonville.

“It’s funny because my college coaches at Sam Houston State, we never ran any fakes and if there were, it was going to be me running with it, not throwing it because they didn’t trust me with it,” Edwards said. “I’ll admit, I wasn’t a great passer back then. I’m still not amazing now, but I can get the job done when I need to.”

His sudden passing prowess aside, Edwards’ value to the Jets remains his powerful right leg that gives New York the opportunity to change field position with one big kick. In that same game against the Jaguars, Edwards had a 70-yard punt in overtime that flipped the field around and eventually led to Chandler Catanzaro’s winning field goal.

That came just a few minutes after Edwards’ shaky 40-yard punt had the crowd at MetLife Stadium shouting at him.

“You go from getting booed off the previous punt to everybody cheering,” Edwards said. “It’s funny how quickly you go from the villain to the hero - and vice versa. It was good just to be able to get the job done.”

Edwards has been doing just that this season, his second in the NFL after being drafted last year in the seventh round by New York. Edwards’ 51.3 gross average last week at Cleveland matched his career-best, set last season in his NFL debut against Cincinnati.

He’s tied for ninth in the league with a 47.3 gross average on punts, while his 42.3 net average ranks eighth. That’s a far cry from his final numbers from last season, when his 43.1 gross and 37.3 net both ranked among the NFL’s worst averages. Edwards has also dropped 11 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, just 13 less than he had all of last year.

“He figured out how to be a pro,” special teams coordinator Brant Boyer said. “He has done a hell of a job in the offseason. He has prepared and worked as hard as any guy on this roster in the offseason. Lac’s worked his tail off.”

During the offseason, Edwards spent several weeks in San Diego working with fellow Aussie Darren Bennett, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who punted for 12 years in the NFL. Edwards said the Jets also flew Bennett in to New Jersey after a few preseason games this summer.

“We worked on a few things like body positioning when I’m punting,” Edwards said. “During the season, you start to pick up some bad habits because you maybe had a bad game, so you try something different. Or maybe you’re adjusting to the cold and the wind and all of the sudden, you’re not punting like you were in the preseason. That’s what happened last season.”

Bennett regularly trains high school kicker and punters, and also serves as a mentor for several pros. Despite them both being from Australia, the two met while Edwards was punting at Sam Houston State. Assistant coach Patrick Toney helped make the connection after Toney had previously worked with Bennett.

Edwards had never previously worked with a kicking coach after only picking up American football as a teenager while attending an Australian punting and kicking academy. Bennett prepared him for the NFL combine in 2016 and then worked with him through the offseason leading into his rookie season.

While watching film of Edwards from last season, Bennett spotted some flaws in the young punter’s mechanics.

“He knows what works well for me and what doesn’t because when you’re around the same guys each week, you might not notice how things start to creep in slowly,” Edwards said. “When someone hasn’t seen you in a couple of months and they see you and are like, ‘Why are you doing that?’”

Edwards spent the winter and spring fixing those things, while also adding some muscle to his 6-foot-4, 209-pound frame.

“I’m a lot stronger than last year,” he said. “You don’t really need to try to murder the ball every time you go out there. Obviously, you want to be smooth. You don’t want to have to muscle a ball. It’s like a golf swing. Every time you try to smash a drive, you shank it. So, it’s really about being smooth with every punt.”

Boyer and the rest of the coaching staff have been pleased by Edwards’ progress since last year. So much, in fact, that the Jets didn’t bring in another punter during the summer to compete with him in training camp.

Edwards has rewarded their faith in him by being more consistent through the first five games of the season.

“Every now and then, I’ll still have that one that I wish I could get back,” Edwards said. “But so far, it’s turned out pretty well. I couldn’t tell you where I’m sitting overall (in statistical categories), but personally I’ve been pretty happy with it.

“I’ve still got a lot of improvement to go, but so far, so good.”


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