The Jets' rookie punter Braden Mann likes to mix it up on the football field -- as in make a tackle or two when called upon.
That could be a good thing and/or a bad thing. The good: He's the last line of resistance should a returner break into the open. The bad: He's the last line of resistance should a returner break into the open.
Mann's appetite for exploring territory where punters generally fear to tread comes, he said, from his days playing football at Cy-Fair High School in the Houston suburb of Cypress, Tex. He fancied himself a linebacker, at least he did as a freshman.
"I played [linebacker] my freshman year, but never played it on the varsity," Mann, 22, told The Official Jets Podcast. " I like to think I laid on the wood a little bit, but I was never the biggest or most physical specimen out there [he is now 5-11, 198]. I think, looking back at my body, I'm now glad I strayed from linebacker. I'm glad I made the transition."
The switch to punting seems like a genius move now that Mann, who was drafted by the Jets in the sixth round out of Texas A&M, is kicking in the NFL in the New York area. That said, you could say once a linebacker, always a linebacker.
"There's something I like about getting to lay people out," he said.
Through his first six games as a professional, Mann has gotten to "lay people out" twice: First against Denver in a Thursday night game and in a game at Miami last Sunday.
Against Denver, returner Diontae Spencer sliced through on-rushing Jets players and was speeding up the near sideline with only Mann to beat. But the Jets' punter slipped a block by Kelvin McKnight and upended Spencer with an ankle tackle. In a sign of respect -- and perhaps a bit of amazement -- Denver's Joe Jones (a linebacker of all things) walked over to Mann, and patted him on the backside in congratulations.
Against Miami on Sunday, Mann (who punted 10 times in the game) hit a 54-yard effort that was fielded by the Dolphins' Jakeem Grant. Grant scampered 30 yards to the Jets' 48-yard line before Mann took him down.
"I never trash talk on a return because it's usually a pretty good return and it's not my place to talk trash," Mann said. "There's not much going through my mind, just let it go and use the sideline a lot. The sideline never missed a tackle. Try to keep them by the sideline and put my head in there and maybe a shoulder.
"I think, I get pretty excited a split second before I make a tackle. It lets me live out dreams of long ago playing linebacker. I never really want to make a tackle, but when I get to it's a little bit of fun getting to interact with guys who are bigger, faster, and taller than me." He added: "All returners are super dangerous."
In college at Texas A&M, Mann indulged his taste for mixing it up when he had four tackles as a junior, all solo tackles, and forced a fumble in a game against South Carolina. As a senior last year, he notched seven solo tackles.
"I like to think that I can tackle," Mann told nyjets.com after the draft. "A lot of people think the kicking game is a 10-man play because the kicker isn't expected to make a tackle, but I think it's an 11-man play. Obviously if I do my job well enough, I shouldn't have to be able to make a tackle, so some of those I wish I had back for sure. But if I have to get in there, I'm more than happy to do so. I used to play linebacker so it's in my nature a little bit."
There's always the concern that he could be putting his professional career on the line when he's called on to intervene. At least that's the opinion of another former Aggie who went on to a career with the Jets -- the record-setting Steve O'Neal.
"Please pass on to Braden that I hope to meet him one day and I wish him luck and to take care because it could shorten your professional career," O'Neal said of punters making tackles.