Titans Pro Bowl punter thinks his tenure may be up in TN

Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern (6) is seen before their game against the Tampa Bay...
Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern (6) is seen before their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. Three-time Pro Bowl punter Kern is Tennessee’s longest-tenured player and needs just four punts to become only the 25th NFL player with 1,000 career punts. Kern may wind up losing his job to an undrafted rookie from Colorado State with one of the strongest legs the veteran has ever seen.(AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Published: Aug. 28, 2022 at 2:40 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Three-time Pro Bowl punter Brett Kern is Tennessee’s longest-tenured player and needs just four punts to become only the 25th player in NFL history to notch 1,000 for his career.

Whether that happens with the Titans remains to be seen.

Tennessee claimed Kern off waivers from Denver in 2009, and now the punter who ranks third in franchise history with 197 games played may wind up losing his job to an undrafted rookie from Colorado State with one of the strongest legs Kern has ever seen.

“You could probably flip a coin,” Kern said after watching Saturday night’s 26-23 win from the sideline with Ryan Stonehouse punting and holding on extra points and field goals. “I feel like I’ve hit the ball well this camp, and Stoney has obviously done really, really well. I just kind of understand how the business works, and we’ll just see what happens.”

The Titans will be unavailable to media Monday. Vrabel said Sunday that roster cuts could start Monday and continue Tuesday up to the NFL-mandated deadline to trim the roster to 53.

Roster decisions are never easy. With Tennessee coming off a 12-5 season and the AFC’s No. 1 seed, those choices are made tougher trying to balance when to move on from an experienced veteran for a less polished rookie.

The Titans have about $6.8 million in cap space for their top 51, according to Spotrac.com. Kern, 36, is in the final year of his contract and would count $2.75 million against the salary cap with a $550,000 dead cap hit.

Kern said he knew this would be a grind the first time he saw Stonehouse punt in April and recalls telling the rookie he had seen only three or four people hit a ball like that in his entire life. Kern says the rookie is really good at what he isn’t, while the veteran’s strength remains directional punting and downing punts inside the 10.

That’s why Kern may have overreacted a bit during Saturday night’s preseason finale — just in case it was his final game.

“If I’m here, I’m ready to go,” Kern said. “If I’m not, I’m beyond blessed with the years I’ve been here and the friendships that I’ve made that I’ll have for the rest of my life. Nashville is home now.”

Kern trails only Bruce Matthews (296) and Elvin Bethea (210) for most games played for this franchise. He has nine seasons, including six straight, with a net punting average of at least 40 yards. No other punter in franchise history has done that even one season.

Last season, Kern ranked third in the NFL of punts downed inside the 20 compared to touchbacks. He placed 59.5% of his punts, 22 of 37, inside the 20 for the best results by any punter with at least 30 punts since 1991. Kern earned his third straight Pro Bowl nod in 2019

Kern also holds several franchise career records including most punts (923), a 45.9-yard gross average on punts, net average of 40.8 and 373 punts inside the 20. He set both the single-season punting average at 49.7 and net average of 44.6 in 2017.

Aside from his strong leg, Stonehouse also has impressive hangtime on is punts hovering around 5 seconds when anything over 4 seconds is good. The rookie had a pair of 64-yard punts against Arizona, and he is starting to show more touch with three punts downed inside the 20. Stonehouse has done all he can control, knowing he still has room for improvement.

“That’s invaluable to learn from a guy like that, and competing with him has been awesome,” Stonehouse said.

General manager Jon Robinson said during the telecast Saturday night that rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere, the third-round draft pick from Ohio State, has earned the starting job at right tackle. Petit-Frere beat out Dillon Radunz, a second-round draft pick in 2021 out of North Dakota State who has been working more at guard in recent practices.

Another looming decision, which shouldn’t be nearly that tough, will be on Ryan Tannehill’s backup. Vrabel said Sunday that both Malik Willis, their third-round draft selection out of Liberty, and Logan Woodside, Tannehill’s backup the past two seasons, played well.

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