EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —
If Steve Weatherford is not out on the field practicing, it’s a good bet the New York Giants punter is lifting.
The ripped 30-year-old health nut who played at Terre Haute North High downs a couple of protein shakes after practice and heads into the weight room like clockwork. The routine extends to his eating. Nothing bad goes in.
Everything is planned, even his directional punting. Almost every punt lands outside the numbers and along the sideline. It makes the coverage easy.
That’s why his recent slump was surprising.
He didn’t hit a couple of balls well, one was returned for a touchdown and he had a horrible game in the wind against Oakland. It was humbling.
In the past three weeks, Weatherford has made everyone forget the slump heading into Sunday’s game in San Diego against the Chargers (5-7). He averaged 53.0 yards, 54.6 and 47.8 against Green Bay, Dallas and Washington, respectively, with net gains of 42.2 yards, 51.6 and 42.
“It’s just trusting myself,” Weatherford said Friday after his workout. “When you have a game like I did against the Raiders, granted it was windy, but you come out of that game and obviously your confidence is going to take a blow. I never lost faith in myself and the coaches never lost faith in me. It just feels good to get out of that slump and hit the ball well and do what I am capable of doing.”
The low point for Weatherford was the Oakland game on a very windy day at MetLife Stadium. He punted three times for an average of just over 30 yards, including one that was partially blocked and went seven yards. It was a low point of a three-game run that featured a punt return for a touchdown by Minnesota, and an Eagles’ touchdown after snapper Zak DeOssie hiked the ball over Weatherford’s head and it was recovered in the end zone.
“It’s been weird. Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong,” Weatherford said, noting that Denver and Kansas City both returned punts for touchdowns against the Giants (5-7) this season. “It’s difficult, but you take the negative of something like that happening and try turn it into a positive and get through it. Fixing the problem, you build confidence and it helps you believe you can handle anything.”
Weatherford said working on his technique and hitting the ball better was only half the battle. The guys on special teams held extra meeting to work on their coverages and the whole process improved.
Safety Will Hill, who was the Giants’ gunner on punt coverage until he became a starter, said Weatherford is unbelievably consistent.
“The majority of time he puts it in the spot where it needs to be, outside the numbers,” Hill said Friday. “When you are the gunner on the side of the kick, when he does that, all you have to do is run down and leverage the ball and it’s right there for you.”
The three returns for touchdowns this season have destroyed Weatherford’s statistics. His 47.3 punting average is seventh in the league. When the 507 yards of return are factored in, his net average drops to 37.5 yards, 27th in the league.
Placekicker Josh Brown downplayed Weatherford’s punting on the windy day against Oakland, saying sometimes nature wins.
However, he is a big fan of what Weatherford does, especially off the field. He takes care of his body and in the process is prolonging his career.
His twitter page has seven photographs of him standing shirtless, showing off his muscles.
“He is the most jacked punter I have ever seen,” Hill said.
The benefit is going to be a long career, Brown said.
“There are a lot of guys who spend a lot of time in the weight room,” Brown said. “But a lot of guys aren’t doing it like him. Are they as serious or knowledgeable about the body and what they are putting into it? No! He is really smart. He is an intelligent person who knows what he likes. Lifting weights is a hobby for him and so a part of his life.”