A little less power on his kicks and a good deal of persistence has helped Browns P Reggie Hodges to his finest season to date.
Hodges, who replaced the injured Dave Zastudil in August, has posted a 39.9-yard net average through six games, a career best. His gross average of 44.8 yards is also a career high. Twelve of his punts have been downed inside the 20, and opponents have returned 16 of his 34 punts for just 64 yards.
Hodges, 28, had a career game at Pittsburgh in Week Six, with four of his five punts pinning the Steelers between their two- and eight-yard lines. Employing a rugby-style kick when trying to pin teams inside the 20, Hodges credits some good bounces for his big day. The punts, he notes, are "50-50" propositions to be downed by the coverage team because they usually bounce forward — or backward.
Hodges credits Browns assistant head coach/special-teams coach Brad Seely for helping him improve his technique by urging him to hit the ball at 80-90 percent strength as opposed to 100 percent. The idea, Hodges said, is to keep his adrenaline in check, to be technically sound and to avoid the physical errors, such as stepping too far or having his shoulders go back, which lead to bad punts.
"I didn't know about control four years ago," Hodges said. "I was trying to kick everything to the moon."
Hodges also said confidence in the Browns' coverage team, allowing just 4.0 yards a return this season, has also helped him.
"I'm really free to go out there and hit a quality punt and let our guys do what they do," he said.
Hodges, who played collegiately at Ball State, was a sixth-round pick of the Rams in 2005, but he was released after five games. He would have a stint with Philadelphia in the same season, but that would be his last time kicking in a regular-season game until 2008, when the Jets, then coached by Eric Mangini, signed him in September. Hodges would punt 12 games for New York, which he called a turning point in his career. While the Jets waived him the following September, he found himself in demand last season, punting first for Tennessee, then Cleveland, where Zastudil had suffered a season-ending knee injury. When Zastudil's injury didn't sufficiently heal this summer, Hodges once again took over as the Browns' punter.
A devout Christian who believes in sharing his faith, Hodges never gave up on his NFL dream, even when he was out of football during the 2006 and '07 regular seasons. "I'm not a quitter," he said.
It took a few years, but his hard work paid off.