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Graham Ready for Year 3 of American Footy


Graham checks the outcome after the hold

Ben Graham says that even in his third year as a punter of footballs in the United States, he still gets an occasional curveball from the American culture.

"Nothing ceases to amaze me," the amiable Australian said after Wednesday's morning training camp practice. "Every day something comes up that's new to me."

But one thing that Jets followers shouldn't be surprised by is Graham's game. After two seasons of upper-echelon punting — his 37.9-yard net average in 2005-06 is fourth among 31 qualifying punters — he's looked even better than that this preseason.

Graham has been overshadowed a bit by Mike Nugent's maturation as a third-year placekicker, but he and Nugent were both on top of their games at that Sunday Green & White Game at Fordham.

"The workload was a little extra but I enjoyed it," Graham said. "I was punting in all situations, punting for both teams. I was punting against myself a lot of the time. But it was a great experience. It kept you on your toes and in the game a few days away from the start of the preseason."

On his 19 game-condition punts for the day, he averaged a robust 49.5 yards. And although the officials spotting of the ball despite no tackling, only touching or thudding, left a margin for error, his gross of 43.8 was pretty spiffy as well.

But here's the statistic worth mentioning about Graham's day: On those 19 punts he had no touchbacks. His most consecutive punts without a TB in his two Jets seasons is 18, and he surpassed that in a three-hour span in the north Bronx.

"I feel good. I've worked hard preparing to have a good season," Graham said. "But it's good to have your teammates around you 100 percent supporting you, busting their butts to get downfield so they can down the ball at the 2."

That may sound like an obligatory mention for his unheralded coverage team, but the Green & White's coverage needs to be heralded some more. We've already mentioned on that the Jets were the only team in the NFL not to allow a punt return of 20-plus yards last season.

"From a special teams perspective, that's a feather in your cap," Graham said. "And we also gave up no kickoff return of 40 yards or longer. I don't know how many years it's been since that's been done. It's something we're proud of."

I don't know when the last time that happened in the NFL, either, but I can report that according to Stats Inc., the Jets are the only team since at least 1994 to have yielded no 20-plus punt returns and no 40-plus kickoff returns in the same season.

Graham is helping his gunners get to those balls inside the 5 with some early unerring accuracy with his drop punts, those end-over-end kicks that frequently hit inside the 10 and bounce straight up rather than forward. At Fordham, Graham had two inside-the-5 punts (and six inside the 20).

All of these numbers and anecdotes are prelude to what's about to happen. Graham and the Jets finally get to return to the Meadowlands for their first game experience since disposing of the Raiders in the regular-season finale and moving on to the playoffs.

"I'm looking forward to it," Graham said. "Last year it was great to go scrimmage in the stadium before our first live game. Now I understand the winds and I'm preparing for what the weather conditions are like. And I cant wait to be playing in front of the home fans again."

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