Photo Cred: Tennessee Titans
By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
Perhaps Brett Kern was just warming up. Because like fine wine and stories about the big fish that got away, the Titans punter is seemingly getting better with age, and on Tuesday was selected to play in his first Pro Bowl
Claimed off waivers in 2009 after one season and six games with the Denver Broncos, Kern arrived in Tennessee with his wife, Tiffany, and six-week-old son, Bryce, mildly shocked but ready for a fresh start.
“I thought I was off to a pretty good start for the season (with the Broncos), but that’s just the way the NFL works,” Kern said. “I got picked up off waivers and it definitely was a good change for my wife and I and our family. I felt like this was home. It was definitely a huge blessing to be able to switch teams. The Lord is always in full control of things so I was definitely blessed to be able to come here.
“Craig Hentrich was the punter, and he was on I.R. He played in the league for 17 years, so for me, it was my second year, to come here and kind of pick his brain about things, just have conversations about the mental aspect of punting and some of the things that he does and how he trained and what he thought works, I was able to learn from him a lot. Even in my third, fourth and fifth year, I’d kind of go work with him after he was done playing. It was just huge.”
Now in his ninth season with the Titans and tenth year in the NFL, Kern began the year with a career 45.3 yards per punt average. However, through 14 games in 2017, he’s averaging 51.6 yards per punt, which would break Washington’s Sammy Baugh’s all-time NFL record for gross average set in 1940.
“This year we haven’t had many attempts of the 50-yard-line going in, where you’re trying to pin the offense back in there,” said Kern. “If you’re punting from the 40 and they’re fair-catching on the 15, that’s a 25-yard punt. I’ve had years where I’ve had a bunch of those and your gross just isn’t as high. And I’ve had other years where we really don’t have many of those and we’re more backed up a little bit where your job is to flip the field. So, I’ve had a little bit of both. This year we’ve definitely had more of those backed-up type punts.”
During the game on October 18th in Miami, Kern flipped the field enough to make Dolphin fans seasick. With 10 punts – including ones of 71, 64, 63 and 60 yards – he averaged a remarkable 54.9 yards-per-punt.
“It was like 112 degrees on the field and you just try to stay hydrated and try to stay into the game and not mentally kind of get defeated from the heat. It can kind of wear you down after a while,” Kern said.
“I didn’t even really realize it until we got on the bus afterwards and my special teams coach, Steve Hoffman, said, ‘Hey, do you realize what you did?’ And I said, ‘Not really. I was just trying to stay hydrated and not pass out.’ So, he told me.
“I think we have the best punt team in the league with some of these guys that go out there and cover. They’re fast and so having a bunch of those long punts, they took it upon themselves to really go down there and cover.”
Because of the relationship they have on and off the field, Tennessee’s kicker Ryan Succop, long snapper Beau Brinkley and Kern have developed into a special team within the team, and have each shined this season.
“Beau’s like a little brother, we’ve been together for six seasons now. And Ryan’s like a brother, as well. This is our fourth season together,” says Kern. “Any time you get a lot of continuity between the holder and the snapper and the kicker, it’s huge. I know pretty much all of Beau’s tendencies. And Ryan, we’re on the same page as far as holding and how he likes it tilt. Certain wind conditions, he likes it a certain way. We’re just really, really comfortable with each other on the field.
“And it also helps if we have a great relationship off the field. We hang out together, play golf together, our families hang out. It’s a really good atmosphere for us. We love playing together and that makes it fun.”