|Zoltan Mesko has increased hang time on his punts, maxing out at 5.1 seconds. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
Mesko hangs tough
Punter puts foes in bad position
FOXBOROUGH - Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko can make a rather mundane punt sound like a poetic process.
In breaking down his technique, Mesko talks about aerodynamics and mechanics, and by the time he is done, he sounds like an engineer.
“One of my favorite classes in college and in high school was physics,’’ Mesko said. “I do pay attention to how things mechanically and biomechanically work together.
“In the end, there’s a science and there’s an art. There’s the science and how your levers function the best. In the end, you put in the work and it’s kind of like a feel and you get into your groove.
“You don’t want to be too robotic with anything.’’
On the punt team, everything begins with Mesko, said special teams captain Matthew Slater, and this season, that has led to positive results.
“As Zoltan goes, so the punt team goes,’’ Slater said. “Zoltan has really worked hard and is very serious about the way he approaches his job as far as getting us in good position to cover down on those returns. He’s been doing a great job of that all season.
“As a punt team, it takes all 11 of us, and Zoltan’s job is just as important as anyone covering down.’’
Mesko has been called by some the most interesting man in the NFL, and he gets an occasional laugh with his celebrity impressions. But the second-year punter takes an academic approach to his job.
“I don’t take myself seriously, but I take what I do seriously,’’ Mesko said. “I pride myself on my work ethic, but as far as when it’s time to let loose, I think mentally you need to relax and recharge.’’
As the Patriots prepare for their 12th game of the season, against the winless Colts Sunday, Mesko is stretching his limits. The hang time on his punts has increased steadily, maxing out at 5.1 seconds.
As a result, the punt team put together one of its better performances in last Sunday’s 38-20 victory over the Eagles. The Patriots punted three times and pinned the Eagles inside the 20 on all three.
With a high-scoring offense, the chances to punt vary from week to week, but when the punt team takes the field, it is hoping to help out the defense as much as possible.
“It’s a lot of one-on-one battles or two-on-one battles,’’ Slater said. “There’s a sense of urgency with that play because it’s a big momentum swing if you allow it to be. We have to take a sense of urgency on every kick and know it’s a potential game-changing play.
“There’s no do-overs. It’s a one-down play and it could either kill you or help you field-position-wise. I think we’ve been doing a pretty decent job this year.
“There’s always room for improvement. We just have to keep getting better each and every week.’’
The extra time to race down the field can make a difference, according to linebacker Tracy White.
“Our coverage unit is pretty fast, so it helps us against good returners,’’ said White. “When you get it high and have the distance, it helps us out that by the time the ball gets down there, we’re surrounding him.’’
Mesko keeps an eye on his hang time while also taking into account game plans as he prepares week to week.
“You usually say you’re getting into your groove and into your midseason form, but I feel like ever since training camp my hang times have been pretty consistent,’’ Mesko said. “You do have to stress that depending on the looks that they give you, it’s all a trade-off in the end. Sometimes you want to get a little more distance and sometimes you want to get a little less, all based on the looks they give you.’’
Mesko, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Patriots out of Michigan last year, injured his knee earlier this season, but was able to continue playing - something that was noticed by his team.
“I thought he showed a lot of toughness,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “His knee got banged up there, he played through that and performed well. He’s earned a lot of respect around here.’’
With each game, Mesko said, he is learning, and it is all helping him do what is asked of him week after week.
“The second time around, it’s a lot easier, but not even more so physically but mentally,’’ Mesko said. “It’s all mental at this point.
“You’re not going to get much stronger in the NFL, because you’re already maxed out by your senior year in college as far as what your physical abilities are going to give you.
“It’s more of a mental game and how much work you put into it and how much you focus on technique.’’