These details helped Chiefs punter become All-Pro: ‘I’m just trying to keep rolling’
Tommy Townsend, in his third season with the Kansas City Chiefs, acknowledges that some recent individual honors he’s received have been meaningful.
Townsend was the AFC’s special teams player of the month in September. Then, in the last few weeks, he was named both first-team All-Pro at punter and was selected for his first Pro Bowl.
“It’s definitely nice to get recognized at some point, especially at a position such as punter. It’s one of the least glorious positions, I’d say,” Townsend said with a smile. “So it is cool. It’s not as black and white as kicking, like, ‘Oh, you make it. Great job. Great job.’ Sometimes we go unnoticed, but it’s OK. It’s part of the position. I accept it. But it’s definitely cool to be recognized for it.”
What’s especially rewarding for Townsend is knowing the process it took him to get here.
The 26-year-old says there are “a million things that I could go and name” that he hoped to improve upon this past offseason. The most important, though, was correcting issues with his leg swing.
Townsend says, in the simplest terms, he was looking to improve his attack angle to the ball. That starts before the kick even happens, as if a punter’s strides are too long before he makes contact, the result can be that your heel kicks your butt on the backswing.
“Basically, you don’t want that,” Townsend said.
There’s a fine line, though. Townsend still needs his kicking leg to get plenty of extension back while looking to create lag that generates the force required to drive the ball downfield.
All those details have come together this season. Through the regular season, Townsend led the NFL in net punt average (45.6 yards) and was second in yards per punt (50.4).
“Obviously, I got those (issues) sorted out and worked some things through preseason,” Townsend said, “and was able to get it straightened out before the season.”
Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub has been most pleased with Townsend’s improved consistency after the two discussed that aspect before the season. The reliability continued in last week’s playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, as Townsend averaged 50.8 yards on four punts with a net average of 45.
“Game in and game out, he’s been great,” Toub said. “And he’s banging that ball high for us so we can get down there and cover.”
Townsend also made a change last week while working to ensure his holds would be executed properly.
On a cold, damp day at Arrowhead Stadium, Townsend wore white gloves for his holding duties. Townsend said he hadn’t done that recently after experimenting with it some during his rookie year two seasons ago.
Part of the gloves’ purpose is protection. Townsend said when it’s especially cold, football laces can “feel like razor blades” when caught on a field-goal snap.
The moisture, however, added a different dimension to Townsend making the switch.
“I wanted to wear them this past game just because it was raining and snowing, and the ball was really slick,” Townsend said. “And especially when the nose of the ball — when the ball’s put down by the snapper — if the nose of the ball is touching paint, the wet paint on the ball makes the ball feel even more slick. It feels like oil. So I just wore the rain gloves just to get a little extra tack on the ball.”
Snaps and holds were not an issue Saturday, as Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker went 3 for 3 on extra points and made two 50-yard field goals.
The biggest game of the season, to this point, looms Sunday, as KC plays Cincinnati in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead.
Townsend will enter the matchup confident in his punting abilities — while backed by a consistent drive to improve.
“I’ve done a lot of work off the field, just trying to straighten out my mental and just trying to figure out a more relaxed approach. And I’d say I’ve been fairly successful doing that,” Townsend said. “So it’s just one of those things I’m just trying to keep rolling.”