EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New York Giants rookie punter Matt Dodge has been testing Tom Coughlin’s patience since the start of training camp.
Handed the job with the unexpected retirement of Jeff Feagles this spring, the seventh-round draft pick from East Carolina has been inconsistent.
Dodge has a great leg and has shown the ability to boom punts 70 yards when he hits it right.
His problem has been the low line drives that lead to big returns. There have been too many of them.
Coughlin’s concern will be even greater on Sunday night, when the undefeated Chicago Bears and top kick returner Devin Hester take the field against a Giants team riding a two-game losing streak after a season-opening win.
“You’ve got to believe that he’s going to be able to recognize the level of competition and rise to the occasion,” Coughlin said of Dodge. “That’s what we’re working with him every day. All day long people are in his ear and hopefully it’ll sink in.”
Hester displayed his talents Monday night against the Green Bay Packers. Catching a punt at the Bears 38, he stretched the line of defenders coming down to cover the kick and then found a seam for a run to the end zone.
It was the eighth time he has scored on a punt return, which is tied for third best in NFL history. However, it was his first return for a touchdown since 2007.
“He’s electric,” Giants special teams coach Tom Quinn said of Hester. “He’s dangerous when he touches the ball, so you have to do your best to try and claw at it. You have to try and keep the ball out of his hands, and there is not a lot you can do. It was tough to do last time we played him, he touched it three times. We are prepared to get down there, cover, and tackle.”
Feagles was a weapon against Hester because of his ability to be a directional punter. All his punts had good hang times, and usually went out of bounds around 40 yards downfield.
“Against a guy like this, you definitely need to do well with your directional,” Dodge said. “If you give him the whole field, he is going to make guys miss and you saw what he can do the other night. You watch the highlights and you see he is special. We’ve got to try to not let him do anything like that.”
While Dodge talks about directional punting, it’s something he is learning. He didn’t do it in college.
When the Giants last faced the Bears on Dec. 2, 2007, in Chicago, Hester was limited to three punt returns for 16 yards.
Quinn remembered watching those plays. Hester was boxed in on the sideline on two punts and he had to make an over-the-shoulder catch to field the third.
Dodge needs to nail down his directional punting soon, or else Coughlin could easily say goodbye and bring in a veteran next week.
“I figure if I hit 10 punts 40 yards out of bounds, that’s a 40-yard net,” Dodge said. “If you don’t do that, eventually he’s going to do what he did the other night.”
The coverage teams should improve this weekend with the return of special teams captain Chase Blackburn. The linebacker missed the last two games with a sprained right knee.
Hester isn’t the only problem for the coverage teams. The Bears’ kick return game is just as good with Danieal Manning (26.2-yard average) and Johnny Knox (29.3).
“When you are facing adversity and things are going like that, you like to face a challenge,” Blackburn said. “Sometimes it takes that for everyone to come together and gel as a unit.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.