A change of scenery might have been just what Titans P Brett Kern needed to turn around his career.
After the Broncos released him six games into the 2009 season, Kern, a third-year pro from Toledo, signed with Tennessee, and in 10 games with the Titans, he looked like a worthy successor to Craig Hentrich, Tennessee's longtime punter. Kern posted a 41.4-yard net average in 37 punts with the Titans, a vast improvement over his 34.5-yard net average in 27 punts with Denver.
The Broncos began 6-0, but in their Oct. 19 win at San Diego, one of Kern's punts was returned for a touchdown by the Chargers' Darren Sproles. One week later, Kern was released. Kern said Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels didn't cite any specific reason for the move other than that the club wanted to "try something different," as Kern said McDaniels told him. Kern, who had never been cut from a team before, was surprised, but that emotion later gave way to relief, saying that it felt like "a weight lifted off my shoulders, because there was a lot of pressure down there."
Said Kern: "In Denver, there was a sense of urgency to perform your best, and if you didn't, (there was a) 'you were going to get cut' sort of feel."
Kern quickly landed with the Titans, who lost Hentrich to a season-ending injury earlier in the season. And Tennessee, according to Kern, set out to reassure him that a bad punt or two wasn't going to cost him his job, with head coach Jeff Fisher and Hentrich particularly helping in that regard.
A self-described perfectionist, Kern, 24, consistently sought advice from Hentrich, a 17-year veteran. "He was telling me, every punt doesn't have to be perfect," Kern said, noting that Hentrich would tell him that "you're going to have a lot more good punts than bad punts."
And that was the case in Kern's stint with the Titans. Only 14 of his 37 punts were returned, and for a grand total of just 55 yards. Also, 18 punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.
With Hentrich retiring, Kern has the inside track on being the Titans' punter this season. He's participating in the club's offseason workouts and recently began kicking again, but he had begun working out on his own for two months previously. Kern, who has a strong leg, is working to increase his hang time and cut down on the longer, line-drive punts that enhance a punter's gross average but can set up big returns.
Whether he improves his hang time or not, Kern will enter his third NFL season with a new mindset.
"The biggest thing for me was coming to grips that you're going to make mistakes," he said. He added, "The primary thing was trying to fix those mistakes."
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