Bucs punter Michael Koenen, who ranks last in the NFL with an average of 42.5 yards, says the team has shifted its punting strategy, trying to get more fair catches from opponents this season.
"We've put a little bit of an emphasis on getting fair catches, to get the ball out of their hands, trying to limit returns," Koenen said Thursday. "Definitely the less chances they get to return the ball, the better for us."
Bucs opponents have seven fair catches in Koenen's 20 punts this season -- that percentage of 35 percent ties for the seventh-best mark in the NFL, so to that extent, the Bucs have followed their strategy. But in net punting -- which calculates the opponents' starting position from where the ball was kicked, factoring in returns -- Koenen still averages just 35.5 yards, ranking 30th out of 33 punters in the league.
"Your net's not as high, but I've never been a statistical punter," Koenen explained. "It's hang the ball up, get it on the sideline, cause fair catches, take the ball out of their hands. I'm more than willing to do that."
There have only been four punt-return touchdowns in the NFL this season, and the Bucs surrendered one in Week 3 when Atlanta's Devin Hester took a 56-yard punt back 62 yards for a score in the Falcons' 56-14 win against the Bucs.
"It's hard to gauge everything when you have a guy like Hester back there who makes plays when there's not one there," Koenen said of his team's kick coverage. "Our guys have done a good job."
Even if you remove that punt from the calculations, the rest of Koenen's punts yield a net average of 37.7 yards, which would rank 25th in the league. Koenen has zero touchbacks this season, an impressive feat, though only five of his 20 punts have been kicked from the opponent's half of the field, with all five caught or downed inside the 15.
Koenen is among the NFL's highest-paid punters, making $3.25-million this season as part of a six-year, $19.5-million deal he signed in 2011. His 2014 punting average of 42.5 yards is just below his career average of 43.0; his net punting (35.5) is at a low in his 10-year career, well below his career average of 37.8 yards.