RENTON — In an era when a Marshawn Lynch run can be detected by a seismograph, we may next wonder if Jon Ryan’s hovering punts will be picked up by air traffic controllers.
While the Seahawks have been dominating opponents and dazzling stat keepers, Ryan is one player whose remarkable performance has gone largely under the radar.
His first punt of the season, at Carolina, was returned 10 yards. His subsequent 46 punts have been returned a net of 5 yards. That’s an average of about four inches.
By contrast, the Seahawks have picked up 412 yards in punt returns this season, giving Seattle a 397-yard advantage through 12 games.
In the past 14 seasons, only one team (’08 Falcons, 47 yards), limited opponents to less than three-figure yardage on punt returns. The all-time record for lowest return yards goes back to 1967, when opponents picked up 22 yards against Green Bay, in a 14-game schedule.
“(Pete Carroll) talks about it a little bit, and it’s nice to get a little recognition from the head coach,” Ryan said. “It’s not a stat that’s gonna be all over ESPN or anything, but we take a lot of pride in it.”
For the most part, Ryan’s punts have been Unreturnable Flying Objects. Eighteen have been fair caught and 18 have been downed inside the 20. His hang time and positioning have been such that opponents have attempted to run back a mere 12 punts in 12 games.
“The most important thing is Jon Ryan,” said gunner Byron Maxwell, one of the team’s outside coverage players. “He hangs that ball in the air so long you can pretty much walk down there. He makes it easy for us – some of those end-over-end punts are just beautiful.”
Ryan’s gross average of 43.2 yards per punt is the second-lowest of his eight-season career. But his net of 40.3 is his second-highest.
“I think I still have the ability to punt the 55- or 60-yarder, but I can control it a lot better now,” Ryan said. “When I was younger, I probably wanted to be up there (in gross yardage), but that’s not as good as the 43- or 44-yarder with enough hang time that they can’t return. I call it ‘Team Punting.’ ”
Seahawks placekicker Steven Hauschka first praised Ryan as the best kick holder he’s ever worked with. But then added appreciation for the way Ryan has focused on placement rather than raw distance.
“I watch him boom the ball in practice every day,” Hauschka said. “He’s got one of the strongest legs in the NFL, so I know he wants to punt those full-field punts, but it’s best for the team that he does what he’s doing.”
On the outside in punt coverage, Jeremy Lane has turned into one of the league’s best. He points out the success of that unit is a product of design and preparation.
“A lot of it is the way we prepare,” Lane said. “We work on downing punts a lot during the week. Jon is such a great punter. I love everything he does; we work so hard, we’ve become good friends.”
Those playing on Seattle special teams all comment on a factor that fans might not fathom – that Ryan is, as Lane puts it, “a great athlete.”
Ryan, a five-sport (lacrosse, hockey, football, basketball and track) star in high school, and in college, playing for the University of Regina, once caught a 109-yard touchdown pass.
Yes, 109 yards. The Canadian field is 110 yards long.
“He’s one of the best athletes among specialists in the league,” Hauschka said. “Fans don’t realize how fast he is. He’s a strong and fast athlete … a great asset for our team.”
He’s also 2-for-2 passing for 60 yards on fake punts in his NFL career.
Ryan credits the coverage guys; the coverage guys tout Ryan. Not much room for egos on special-teams units. Apparently, that’s why they call it Team Punting.
“There’s strategy involved in it all, trying to pin teams back, knowing that our defense will stop them,” Ryan said. “It’s a cool thing that we all take a lot of pride in.”