Fan Q&A with Punter Steve Weatherford
The following is the latest in our Player Q&A series in which we ask you, the fans, to submit your most pressing questions for our weekly guests.
This week, we sat with Giants punter Steve Weatherford, @Weatherford5 on Twitter, who began his NFL career in 2006 with the New Orleans Saints. After stops in Kansas City and Jacksonville, Weatherford spent two seasons with the Jets before making the short move down the hallway at MetLife Stadium to the Giants locker room this summer when he beat out second-year man Matt Dodge.
Weatherford, 6-2, 211, played his college ball at Illinois. Here’s what he had to say in response to YOUR questions…
Q: What made you decide to become a punter?
A: I was a soccer player my entire life, and my high school soccer coach’s younger brother was a kicker at Michigan. He asked me if I wanted to try kicking field goals, so I went over there and it just came natural to me. I got some major college (scholarship) offers in football, and some offers from schools in soccer, basketball, and track. I kind of felt that I was probably most talented at kicking the ball, so I went with that.
Q: Can you share some insight into your football training and how it prepares you for when you have to mix it up on punt coverage? Are you a guy who doesn’t mind making a tackle if he has to?
A: Absolutely. I’m definitely willing to go in there to make a tackle – anything I can do to help my team win, and, obviously, prevent the other team from scoring a touchdown, I’m going to do. As far as my regimen goes, I try to stay very strong overall. I don’t just go in the weight room and work out my legs. I train my upper body as well because I want to stay well rounded in the event that I need to carry out a fake punt or make a tackle.
Q: What makes directional kicking such a challenge to master?
A: It’s difficult to be consistent punting the ball, period. It’s also very difficult to be able to place the ball where you want on the field when you’re dealing with the weather elements or sometimes if the snap isn’t perfect. There are a lot of different variables that make punting the ball directionally difficult. I think the longer I’ve been in the NFL, I have made progress as far as improving my consistency and placement of the ball.
Q: What drills do you do to improve your chances of pinning an opponent deep when it counts?
A: It’s not really drills so much as it is making sure that we’re getting quality reps. It’s not something where I’m going to go out there and ask (long snapper) Zak (DeOssie) to snap the ball to me 150 times. On a day like Friday, for example, I try to limit the number of punts that I have and I need to make sure that the punts I do have are quality reps.
Q: Kickers and punters don’t really have a position coach like other units. With that said, could you explain the evaluation process you go through in terms of identifying any technique issues and how you’re coached to correct them?
A: If I feel like I’m in a slump and I just can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong, I always call a mentor of mine, (former NFL kicker) John Carney, who was a Pro Bowler here. He’s been around the game so long and I’ve trained with him for six years now. He’s seen me when I’ve been punting great, and he’s seen me when I’ve been punting badly. He has a knack for being able to offer advice on what to adjust, and usually with a few comments from him, I’m fixed. He’s been invaluable to me — I spend every off-season in San Diego training with him and he’s become a very close friend of mine. I named my daughter Carney as tribute to him.
Q: When you look back at your time with the Jets, what would you say is the one thing you took away that you think has made you a better punter?
A: (Jets special teams coach) Mike Westhoff really stressed the importance of practicing the way you play. So for me, that meant making sure every punt in practice was perfect, just like you’d want in a game.
Q: How unsettling is it to be on a unit where the personnel changes every week depending on injuries and coaching decisions necessary for the offense and defense?
A: When you go out there to punt, it’s really just you punting the ball – nobody else is out there helping you with that part of it. You’ve got guys going down there to make the tackle, but performing the actual act of punting the ball is on me, so it’s up to me to focus and make sure that I’m executing what the coaches want.
Q: Now that you’re a member of the Giants, did you have an opportunity to learn about some of the great Giants punters of the past such as Dave Jennings, Sean Landeta, Jeff Feagles, etc.?
A: Over the years I’ve become friends with Jeff – he’s a guy that I looked up to when I was growing up, and is someone I try to model myself after. Sean Landeta is another guy I admire — I’ve been friends with him for a few years as well, and he’s been very complimentary toward me throughout my career. So it’s very humbling to have an opportunity to carry on the great tradition of punting that those guys started.
Q: What’s the toughest transition to make when you go to a new team?
A: The transition for me was getting used to a new coaching staff and what they wanted. Here, (Head) Coach (Tom) Coughlin likes to be in the special teams meetings and be out there through the special teams walk-throughs, and the special teams practices. So for me, that was an adjustment, but I knew that coming in from being friends with Jeff (Feagles). To be honest with you, it was a very easy adjustment to make. I feel very comfortable here, and received a very warm welcome from the coaches, players, and the fans.
Q: You’re known as a short-field specialist. How have you mastered this aspect of the game?
A: Well, actually I haven’t mastered anything. I think anytime you develop a strength to your game, it comes from repetition, which builds confidence. Statistically it looks like I’m great at putting the ball inside of the 20, but you still need guys that are able to get down there to help you out.
Q: Do you keep in touch with Matt Dodge?
A: Yes, I keep in touch with Matt. I’d love to see him get a job soon. I think once someone gives him a chance, he’s going to flourish.
Q: Having played in the old Giants Stadium and the new one, what kind of differences have there been regarding the winds in each building?
A: It’s totally different in the new stadium – the winds are much more predictable. If you walk into the stadium and you feel the wind is going in one direction, then that’s the direction it’s going in. In the old stadium, the wind was very swirly, so it was very difficult to make adjustments, especially for directional punting, because if you wanted to go right and the wind was swirling, it could catch the ball and pull it to the middle or to the left. So it was very challenging to kick directionally in the old stadium.
Q: Can you speak about the challenges of preparing to play in different NFL stadiums given how they’re built, the weather, altitudes, etc. Do you have to have a “game plan” going in regarding ball drop and stuff like that depending on the climate or do you keep things consistent regardless of where you play?
A: I try to keep my swing consistent. Let’s say I go to Chicago late in December. I’m going to have to make adjustments in my swing in order to be successful there because you can’t try to punt the ball for hang time because the wind will knock it down. Going to different stadiums, you’re going to have to change your footwear because, for example, you might have a stadium where the grass has been chewed up or it’s been raining and the field is muddy, so you want the proper footwear on. In Denver, you have the high altitude, so you know that maybe you won’t directionally punt as much that week because you can kick the ball higher and farther. In a dome, you can probably rely more on your directional punting to put the ball out of bounds because you don’t have to worry about wind. I think it helps to be a veteran and to have played in different stadiums at different times in the season because you get a feel for what’s going to work in different situations.
Q: What NFL players did you most admire growing up?
A: Growing up, a guy I watched was John Carney to where I was like, ‘Man he’s so good.’ Then for me to get the opportunity to play on the same team as him (New Orleans, 2006-2007) — I couldn’t believe it. I came to work every day, and my eyes were so wide. Everything he said, I was writing down because he has done it for so long, just like Jeff Feagles. Jeff played for 22 years and John played for 23, so obviously those guys did something right to last that long. Any time those guys say anything to me, I’m like a sponge that’s trying soak it all up.
Q: What are your favorite bands and what type of music gets you going on game day?
A: Metallica is my all-time favorite band. I would say Metallica and Nirvana. When I’m relaxing, I like Bob Marley or John Mayer.
Q: How hard is it to balance the demands of the football season with a family life?
A: It’s easy for me. My wife (Laura) is great. She’s been with me since I was 18. She knows me, she knows my off-season routine, she knows my training camp routine, and she knows my routine during the season. In the off-season, I try to do the majority of the work with the kids. In training camp, she doesn’t see me at all. And then during the season, she understands that if I come home tired and she needs help, she doesn’t bother to ask because if I’m tired on Sunday, it’s going to affect our life. So she’s been incredible and is an amazing best friend and supporter of my career. She has made it very easy for me to be a father, a husband, and a pro football player.