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JK Scott’s hang time key for NFL’s best punt unit

AL.com 12/4/2022 Mark Inabinett, al.com

JK Scott of the Los Angeles Chargers enters Week 13 of the NFL’s 2022 season with a 43.2-yard-per-punt average, which ranks 30th in the league. Only the Cincinnati Bengals’ Kevin Huber and the New England Patriots’ Jake Bailey are behind him among the NFL’s 32 punters.

But Scott just won the AFC Special-Teams Player of the Week Award for Week 12, even though his average on six punts was 39.0 yards in a 25-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

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Distance on punts isn’t Scott’s No. 1 objective. He’s trying to keep the football in the air for as long as he can.

“Hang time’s huge,” Scott said. “It just gives guys a chance to get down there. It’s amazing what a half second’ll do with the coverage team to be able to get into position. And so since the beginning of the year, that’s been our goal.”

This season, the Chargers have allowed the fewest punt-return yards at 58 and the smallest punt-return average at 3.9 yards in the NFL. On 46 punts, Scott has had one touchback and 19 that pinned the opponent inside its 20-yard line.

“I feel like that’s my strength, really, is hitting the high ball,” Scott said, “and so we just try to play to those strengths and just hit high balls and get our guys a chance to get down there, let our coverage team really take care of the rest. Our gunners have done a phenomenal job, our protection’s been really, really good, so our punt team overall is awesome.”

Scott set Alabama career records with 243 punts, 11,074 punting yards and a 45.6-yard average. But Scott said he changed his approach to punting in his final season with the Crimson Tide.

“My senior year of college, I made a transition from I used to hit the ball a lot further, drove it more,” Scott said. “… I think it was Joe Pannunzio, my old coach at Alabama, he was the one that really encouraged me to play to that because naturally I feel like I can hit a high ball really well, so he had a big role in encouraging me to focus on that and kind of run with it, and so then I made that transition going into my senior year at Alabama, and that’s how I’ve kind of been playing it since.”

Scott said playing for coach Nick Saban wasn’t the pressure-packed ordeal that some might imagine a specialist would endure at Alabama.

“He did a phenomenal job as kind of a manager of me and the other specialists,” Scott said. “Being a specialist is so different than any other position, so there’s all these different things that go into it that most coaches of football don’t really understand, and he was really good at understanding that and kind of giving us a chance to do what we needed to do. He really didn’t get involved with me a ton as far as telling me to do this or that. He really just wanted to let me do my thing, which was awesome.”

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After his record-breaking stint at Alabama, Scott entered the NFL as a fifth-round selection of the Green Bay Packers in the 2018 draft. In three seasons with the Packers, Scott averaged 44.6 yards on 194 punts.

On the day that NFL teams had to reduce their preseason rosters to the regular-season limit for 2021, Green Bay obtained Corey Bojorquez, the NFL’s leading punter in 2020, in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams and waived Scott, even though he had a year left on his contract.

Scott was out of football until signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 31.

With regular punter Logan Cooke sidelined by a knee injury, the Jaguars picked up Scott with two weeks left in the 2021 season. Scott averaged 39.8 yards on four punts with no return yards in a 50-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Jan. 2. But he missed the regular-season finale after being placed on reserve/COVID-19.

“Last year, not being on a team until the end,” Scott said, “it was just a good chance to really trust the Lord and just spend a lot of time with my family and really continue to train and do all that. Just carrying that kind of mindset over into this year when I ended up getting picked up has just been awesome.”

Scott signed a one-year, $965,000 contract with the Chargers as a free agent on March 21.

Scott’s performance has sparked a turnaround for Los Angeles’ punt team. The best in the NFL so far this season, the Chargers were one of the league’s worst in 2021, when they gave up 329 yards on 30 punt returns.

Scott and the Chargers will be in Las Vegas on Sunday, when they take on the Raiders at 3:25 p.m. CST at Allegiant Field in an AFC West game.

Los Angeles has a 6-5 record. Las Vegas is 4-7.

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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit al.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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