By my count, there are two interesting punters in the league, and Marquette King didn’t even have to leave the bench very much in his game. The other one, though, pulled off the most unorthodox play on any unit of Week 1.
Johnny Hekker, the most envied punter in the sport, punted five times in the Rams’ 46-9 win, and put all five inside Indy’s 20. One of them, a third-quarter kick that went out of bounds at the Colts’ 6, looked at full speed like just another near-coffin-corner punt. But it was something much more than that.
Hekker dropped the ball onto his foot sideways, that is, with the ends of the football pointed at either sideline. He did so in order to strike the ball slightly off-center, sending it corkscrewing clockwise (from his perspective) through the air and toward the right sideline, so that when it hit the ground, it bounced unerringly to the right and out of bounds. This is a remarkably difficult thing to do, to nail all the fine mechanics and still place it so perfectly, and while many punters mess around with it in practice, few have the balls or the skills to pull it off in a game.
Former NFL punter Pat McAfee was impressed as hell, and broke down the kick:
It’s called a banana kick, and it’s adapted from Australian rules football, where it can be useful for bending the ball when shooting from a bad angle—a situation that doesn’t come up much in NFL punting. But that spin does impart a predictable bounce, which matters very much.
Here’s an AFL instructional video showing how the banana kick is done, and this is pretty close to what the ball looked like coming off of Hekker’s foot. Note the ends of the ball pointing sideways upon contact, and the spin it imparts:
Hekker is already one of a growing number of so-called Aussie-style punters, who on normal kicks drop the ball vertically, with the nose facing the ground, rather than straight out. While decreasing potential distance, this method imparts more control and leads to more backward bounces, perfect for pinning opponents in their own end. Add to that rapidly changing standard this even newer wrinkle, and it’s kind of heartening that there are still borrowings and innovations to shake up American football, even in 2017.