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Front Page - Friday, September 4, 2020

Even Pro Bowler Kern concerned about readiness

The lack of preseason games is worrisome to many NFL players, including Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern. The Pro Bowler has instead concentrated on film study and situational punting to get ready for the season. - Photo by Steven Senne | AP

Coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons and a first-team, All-Pro selection in 2019, you wouldn’t think Titans punter Brett Kern would need much preparation for the upcoming season – even during a pandemic.

But Kern, entering his 13th NFL season and 12th with the Titans, still says there is plenty to improve upon.

So, what exactly is Kern practicing to improve his game coming off a season in which he averaged 47.1 yards per punt and a 43.1-yard net?

Well, for one thing, Kern was not satisfied with his cross punting. For those who don’t know what that is (full disclaimer: I didn’t either until he explained it), it is punting from one hashmark to the other hashmark as part of directional punting.

Such a punt can help to send coverage one way or the other or maybe can take advantage of the wind blowing a certain way. In any aspect, it is far beyond Punting 101, and Kern has a masters’ degree in the subject.

“This year, just going back and looking at film from last year and even the year before that, I felt pretty good when I was on the right hash going right or the left hash going left, but I’m working on those cross-field punts, working from the right hash, trying to go left and getting outside the numbers, and then working from the left hash trying to go across the field,” Kern explains.

“Those are kind of tough punts, longer punts. To get them to go farther, obviously you have to hit them a little bit farther with the angles that you’re kicking to, but that’s something I’ve been working on in this camp.”

Titans special teams coach Craig Aukerman admits that it isn’t easy to critique Kern’s game, but the punter still works as hard as ever.

“It’s tough, but obviously we hold Brett to a very high standard here,” Aukerman says. “He’s going to be his own worst critic. I might point things out here and there just to nitpick, because he’s done a real good job these past couple years and throughout his career.

“But any little detail that we can help him out with as coaches, he’s all for it. He’s going to make his own corrections. He’s going to know when he mishits a ball, and we’re going to talk about it.

“He takes one step the wrong way, or an inch here or there, he’s going to know about it. He’s hard on himself, but it’s good. We had to come up with a few things to try to nitpick on. But he handles it, and he takes coaching, and goes out there and tries to improve every day.”

One thing the Titans punter does to stay on top of his game is extensive film study. While it might seem odd for a punter to study film the way a quarterback or defensive player might, Kern insists it is important for him to maintain an edge.

“It’s easy. I’m a perfectionist. I’m probably my toughest critic. So when I go back and look at film, it’s not very hard for me to find stuff that I need to get better at. I watch the film and watch last year and the year before, maybe even go three years back, and look at games in the same stadium and really just try to dissect it,” Kern says.

“I don’t want to create a certain pattern where if I’m in a certain situation, I’m going to hit a certain punt. I want to mix it up a little bit. I’m working on punts where I feel like I wasn’t as consistent as maybe I should be and work on those.”

Kern says he has had to approach things a little bit differently this summer with no preseason games.

“Normally in the past, with those four preseason games, some years, it’s been by the second preseason game that I feel like I’m ready to roll, and sometimes it might not be till the fourth preseason game,” Kern explains. “This year in training camp, I’m just trying to get as many live reps in full pads as possible to try to simulate that. It’s going to be different, but everybody else is also dealing with it.”

And Kern is working to stay one step ahead in his preparation.

“Usually you have preseason games to get your leg into shape, but this year has been a little different. So I’m trying to find different ways to get my leg used to what a game is like. A lot of it is conditioning in training camp, but I go back and I look at things that I did last year that I want to improve upon. So, I’ll work on those a little bit in training camp and fine-tune those things,” he adds.