By the middle of the 2010 season, rookie punter Zoltan Mesko became the most tenured member of the Patriots’ specialists. On Nov. 10 — just three days after their Week 9 loss to the Browns — the Pats placed kicker Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve, cut long snapper Jake Ingram, and signed kicker Shayne Graham and long snapper Matt Katula.
It was a wild turn of events, but the Patriots forged through it and made it work. Here’s a look at that group as they transition into the 2011 offseason.
Specialists on Final Roster
Kicker Shayne Graham, long snapper Matt Katula, punter Zoltan Mesko, kicker Stephen Gostkowski (injured reserve)
Graham converted all 12 of his field-goal attempts and he was the only kicker in the NFL who didn’t miss a field goal all season.
Gostkowski will return after tearing his right quadriceps muscle, and that will give the Patriots a boost with their kickoffs, which didn’t boom as much off the leg of Graham. That obviously never hurt the Pats, who were 8-0 with Graham in the regular season. Graham, the third-most accurate field-goal kicker in league history, shouldn’t have trouble finding a team next season after he struggled to find work before linking up with the Patriots in 2010.
Will Zoltan Mesko feel the heat from Bill Belichick?
Mesko was a big improvement over Chris Hanson, who was statistically the worst punter in the NFL in 2009, but the lefty from Michigan probably didn’t earn any bonus points from the coaching staff after he said Patrick Chung was responsible for calling for the fake punt against the Jets. Is that the worst crime in the world? Nope, but players have been benched for saying the wrong thing to the media — most recently, Wes Welker.
At the very least, Mesko probably got a call from someone in the coaching staff. At the worst, the Patriots might bring in an extra punter to push Mesko for his job, but that’s an extreme conspiracy theory.
Mesko had a good — not great — rookie season. He was 19th in the league with a 43.2-yard average, tied for 13th with a 38.4-yard net, and opponents averaged 7.2 yards per return, which gave the Patriots the sixth-best coverage unit in the NFL. Bottom line, he did enough to keep his job.