Cameron Johnston’s Leg Up is All Relative
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Cameron Johnston has a pretty clear path to the Eagles' punting job but the 26-year-old Aussie understands that things can change very quickly in the NFL.
"Just because I'm the only [punter on the roster] today doesn't mean they can't bring someone else in," Johnston correctly asserted when talking with 973espn.com after the Eagles' rookie minicamp last week.
Johnston, an Ohio State product, nearly beat out veteran Donnie Jones as a rookie last year and this time around Philadelphia believed it was time to pull the trigger, essentially nudging Jones toward retirement, a decision since reversed by the one-time Pro Bowl punter.
Whether Jones continues his career elsewhere remains to be seen but Dave Fipp is preparing to shift from the consistent, albeit aging, veteran to the younger option with the much more powerful leg.
Many observers believed Johnston did enough to knock out the champ last August and Fipp seemed to be preparing for the regime change by allowing Johnson to handle all the holding duties in the preseason, an underrated aspect to the job that a lot of fans simply don't think about, at least until there is a mistake.
Ultimately, the Eagles stuck with the status quo because Jones was the more consistent option from day to day in practice, a decision validated by the team's Super Bowl LII championship.
“I was just grateful for the opportunity,” Johnston admitted. "There were still things I needed to work on."
Johnston returned to Columbus to work on his craft and the Eagles had his name at the top of the Rolodex, bringing him back in early January on a futures deal.
"I went back out to Ohio and used the football facility at Ohio State and kicked up to three times a week," Johnston explained. "It was about fine-tuning and working on the little things you need to do to be successful."
Form the Eagles' perspective there is always a balancing act when it comes to building a roster and Howie Roseman believed it was time to get younger and perhaps more importantly, cheaper, at the position. Jones would have counted just under $1.9 million against the slary cap had the Eagles brought him back this while while Johnston is scheduled to make under $500,000, not insignificant for a team with under $1M in cap space.
In turn, you do probably take a bit of a consistency hit at least early on but Johnston obviously has the bigger upside two to three years down the line and now feels far more comfortable with his surroundings.
"To be able to learn last year and now know what to expect, it makes a huge difference," he admitted.
The larger issue becomes handing a job to a young, unproven player who has never kicked in a regular-season game without any real competition but Johnston understands how fluid things can be in the NFL.
"Look around the league. Change can happen pretty quickly," Johnston said. "What you learn is that it’s all about consistency. I want to be the most consistent punter I can be."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on Paxton Lynch's "relaxing" days in Denver being over at GetMoreSports.com.