Rookie Punter Zoltan Mesko Learning to Stay on an Even Keel in First Pro Camp

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FOXBORO, Mass. — Zoltan Mesko showed up to Monday night's in-stadium practice before the season-ticket holders even had a chance to begin tailgating.

The rookie punter was alone on the Gillette Stadium turf an hour and 15 minutes before the practice was scheduled to start, wearing full pads and working on his technique.

"I'm supposed to be there that early," Mesko said Tuesday, "but I also wanted to soak in the environment and kind of get familiar with the stadium because I have a lot of catching up to do compared to the other guys."

Mesko has been one of the first players on the practice field for the majority of the Patriots' training camp sessions, and the coaching staff has noticed his dedication.

"He comes to work every day and knows what we?re trying to do for him to be an NFL punter," special teams coordinator Scott O'Brien said.

Mesko has been smoking the ball for the Patriots, but O'Brien said it's not just about catching the snap and kicking the ball as far as possible. Mesko has to understand situations, where the Patriots want the ball to land, how the punt coverage unit can best limit the return and other things of that nature.

Because of that, it hasn?t even taken a week for Mesko to realize how intense training camp can really be.

"It involves a lot of hard work," Mesko said. "You can definitely tell the difference between a college camp and an NFL camp."

As a specialist, Mesko has been spending the majority of his time with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and long snapper Jake Ingram. Gostkowski is the obvious veteran of that trio, and he has taken the 2010 fifth-round pick under his wing as much as possible.

It's been a smooth transition for them, and Gostkowski said Mesko has filled in nicely for the popular Chris Hanson.

"He's a good character," Gostkowski said. "He's just trying to learn. We're trying to not get onto him too much, but just teach him how to be a professional. I'm not going to teach him how to punt, but I'm going to help him if Scott gets onto him or Bill [Belichick] gets onto him. Just tell him we've all been there, tell him how we've dealt with it, tell him how other guys dealt with it, and just try to help him through the process of being a rookie."

Mesko, who is 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, has all of the physical attributes to be a solid punter in the league. Yet, like every rookie, he's still learning how to be a professional.

"I tell him stuff like, 'If you go out there and kick a great punt, you can't get too high, just like if you go out there and hit a bad punt, you can't get too low.'" Gostkowski said. "You've got to stay in the middle because you never know what could happen.

"I told him a story about my rookie year," he added. "I went out and kicked a 48-yard field goal against the Colts. I was so pumped, so happy. We kicked off, made them fumble, and I was just so jacked up that three plays later I missed like a 35-yard field goal. You can go from hitting a long field goal against one of the best teams in the NFL to messing up on a chip-shot field goal. You've just got to stay even keeled and do your job for 60 minutes then get excited after the game."

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