If you had told Washington Redskins punter Tress Way that not only would he make the team after a brief stint on the roster during the preseason, but that he'd go on to lead the league in punt average, he simply wouldn't have believed you.
But not only did Way beat out Robert Malone during the final two games of the preseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, he finished tied for the highest average per punt in the league in 2014 at 47.5 yards.
And while it's never really a feat that's often spotlighted, Way had one of the best punting performances of the season against the San Francisco 49ers when his first four punts all landed within the five-yard line.
Way said he thought he "hit the ball really, really well" throughout the season, and attributed much of his success to repeated drills in practice.
"Coach Ben [Kotwica] and Coach Brad [Banta], they actually do an average hang time throughout the year, and it was somewhere around a 4.65 or 4.70 for an average hang time every punt," Way said. " I'd like to keep it up around 4.7, 4.8."
Despite having much success in his first NFL season, Way – a left-footed punter – said that as he works on becoming more consistent with his hang time, he has other aspects of his kicking game that he'd like to sharpen, as well.
Take directional punting, for example.
"Whenever I first went to Chicago right out of college, they were a directional punting team and I could punt left really well, but I struggled going right as a lefty coming across my body," he admitted. "Well this year, I was just hammering the ball to the right and couldn't get it quite over as far left as I wanted to. So that's one thing I'll work on."
He also wants to improve on "those pooch punts where you hit them end over end."
"A lot of guys like Donnie Jones or Chris Jones for Dallas, they can hit them from back further in their territory and really drive them out to the 20-, 15-, 10-yard line, and I want to get better at those," he said. "I know have the leg strength to really get it out and pin teams deep, so those are two things for sure that I really want to work on."
Coordination With SundbergWhile the quarterback-center connection must be one that's an exact science where both players understand what the other one is going to do, so too is the process with the punter and the long snapper.
Throughout the season, Way said he was lucky that Nick Sundberg – who has played through injuries in the past – was his long snapper on every single punt.
After the season finale, Way solidified a plus-40 net average for the season, something Sundberg, a five-year veteran, had never accomplished as an NFL long snapper.
The two made sure to celebrate each other's successes together.
"It's quite an accomplishment and we just kind of slapped hands in the locker room," Way said of the moment when they found out. "I said, 'Dude guess what? We just averaged 40 yards on net punting for the year.' And then I said, 'What is one thing that happened every single punt?' I said, 'Every punt started with a snap, man. It all started with a snap.' He's like, 'Dude, get out of here.' I go, 'Man, it started with a snap. You gave me great snaps all year. You did a great job.'"
Way said Sundberg was huge in keeping his confidence high as well.
"It was the stuff off the field that really made Nick so valuable," he said. "The way he would talk to me on the sideline, the way he would talk to me throughout the week, he really just helped me get my confidence up. He made me feel like I couldn't miss. It was a great feeling and Nick did a great job with me because of that."