Quigley finding success thanks to directional punting, exceptional Vikings gunners
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings punter Ryan Quigley said he hasn’t been recognized yet while out and about in the Twin Cities.
“I’m a pretty generic-looking guy,” he admits.
Quigley doesn’t mind. He points out that nobody notices the punter until he messes up.
Quigley hasn’t done much of that in his first season with the Vikings. Just two years after ranking next to last in the NFL in net punting average with the New York Jets, he is averaging 44.0 yards net in his first two games this season, which ranks him fifth in the NFL.
That’s actually higher than his gross average of 43.9. The Vikings are leading the league in fewest punt-return yards given up, minus-1 on three returns.
Quigley did step out of the shadows during Sunday’s 26-9 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, attempting a third-quarter a pass on a fake punt to tight end Blake Bell that was batted down.
“We didn’t complete it, so that probably was not a good thing,” Quigley said.
Quigley’s real job, obviously, is to punt, and he has exceeded expectations so far. Minnesota special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer has said he wants his punter to average at least 40 yards net.
Jeff Locke, the previous punter, never averaged better than 39.2 yards in four seasons with the Vikings. He left as a free agent in March to sign with Indianapolis. Waived by the Colts, he is now with Detroit.
Quigley beat out rookie Taylor Symmank for the job despite Symmank having a stronger leg. But Quigley, a five-year veteran, is a better directional punter, and that’s a better fit in Priefer’s system, which relies on ball placement to avoid long returns.
“Every competition I’ve faced except maybe one (in the NFL), there’s always been a bigger-legged guy,” Quigley said. “You get these kids coming out of college where in college you bang away. … Taylor is an unbelievable punter, and he’s going to punt in this league eventually. For me, and what Preif wanted, I knew what the goal was for this team.”
Since going undrafted out of Boston College in 2012, Quigley has made the rounds in the NFL. He was with Chicago in the preseason in 2012, punted for the Jets from 2013-15, and spent time last season with Philadelphia and Jacksonville before getting into six games with Arizona as an injury replacement.
Quigley ranked 13th in the NFL with a net average 39.9 for the Jets in 2014 before he fell back to 36.5 during his rough 2015 campaign. He seems, though, to have found his niche in Priefer’s system.
“I’d say I’m more on the throwback side of things,” Quigley said. “I’m not going to be (Oakland’s) Marquette King or some of those other guys that bomb it 60-some yards. I can hit big balls when needed, say if we’re backed up in the end zone. For us, the goal is just hitting consistently, staying away from those big misses and putting the ball where it needs to be put.”
Quigley gives plenty of credit to Minnesota’s punt-coverage team. Of Quigley’s eight punts, four have resulted in fair catches, three have been returned and one went out of bounds at the opponent’s 11-yard line. Four of the punts have been inside the 20.
“The biggest thing is our gunners,” who cover the punts, Quigley said. “We have incredible gunners.”
Safety Jayron Kearse has become an ace on punt coverage. In the 29-19 win over New Orleans, he tackled Ted Ginn for no gain and at Pittsburgh belted Eli Rogers for a 1-yard loss.
“I love that role,” Kearse said of gunner. “In training camp, I just learned how to play the position, and we thought me using my athletic ability would be good at that position.”
With Quigley getting good hang time and not outkicking his coverage, Kearse has had time to meet up with the returner right after he catches the ball.
To illustrate how good a net average of 44.0 is, consider the case of Houston’s Shane Lechler. Lechler averaged 51.1 yards gross for Oakland in 2009, the second-highest in NFL history, but his net was 43.9. Lechler has the NFL’s highest career gross average at 47.5, but his career net average is 41.1.
“It’s only two games, but if you talk to me at the end of the season, and we’re doing (44.0 net), that will be all right,” Quigley said.