Seattle Seahawks rookie Michael Dickson turning NFL punting into an attacking weapon


By Mark Douglass

Posted

September 08, 2018 05:55:14

He’s still to lace up a boot in a NFL regular season game.

Yet Australia’s Michael Dickson has already been touted as a rookie of the season; “a trick shot artist who can completely change a game”.

Some achievement. Especially when he plays as a lowly punter, arguably the least glamorous role in American football.

Punters are responsible for kicking the ball as far as possible to gain a territorial advantage when other plays have been exhausted. The least worst option.

They might kick the ball a handful of times a game. They never score, and rarely even tackle. More often than not they are largely inconsequential to the result of the game.

Dickson, however, is different.

He is a “phenomenon”, according to one NFL analyst, with an “insane and unique” technique. A player ready to redefine the punting role.

“I’m definitely surprised by the hype,” Dickson told the ABC. “I felt like I was doing the same stuff in college and that’s always been my standard.

“I just want to keep doing what I normally do and not try to think too much into the hype.”

Making the ball do the work

What comes normally to Dickson is far from usual in American football.

Yes, he has a booming boot capable of kicking spiral punts in excess of 70 yards. But he’s also demonstrated incredible accuracy and an ability to make the ball float in the air, making it harder to catch cleanly.

And, vitally, an uncanny knack of manipulating the ball to bounce in advantageous directions.

Dickson honed his talents at ProKick Australia, an organisation set up by former AFL player Nathan Chapman to transition Australian footballers to the American version of the game.

“There is a way to be able to kick the ball and make it turn where you want,” Chapman said.

“It is unpredictable, but there are some kicks you can do inside the 10 where you can get it to bounce backwards or bounce sideways.

“Dicko’s had a good, solid start and is confident enough to go for some of those kicks that allow that to happen.”

Australians like Dickson travelling to the US college system, via ProKick, on a sporting scholarship save thousands in tuition fees that way.

The lucky — or most talented — few can reach the rarefied air of an NFL contract. For Dickson that outcome was never in doubt.

The one they wanted

The Seattle Seahawks closely followed Dickson’s decorated college career, which ended with an MVP performance for the Texas Longhorns in the Texas Bowl.

Quarterbacks are supposed to win MVP awards, not punters.

Most are overlooked in the draft, viewed by NFL teams as not being important enough to waste a valuable pick on. Yet Seattle swooped in the fifth round to take Dickson because of his game-changing qualities.

“What he has shown us so far is stuff that we’d never seen,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.

“We’ll see how it goes and if any of it fits into our game to allow us to do different things, I don’t know that yet.

“But he has tremendous versatility and he has an upbringing as a kicker that we’ve never seen, none of us have ever seen before. So it’s really fun.”

Making himself at home

In Seattle, there’s an unbridled giddiness in the voices of local commentators at the mention of the Seahawks’ new recruit. Dickson is feeling the love from his new teammates, too.

In his third preseason outing against Minnesota, he delivered a monster 56-yard punt which landed and broke sharply out of bounds. The response was a spontaneous show of emotion and excitement from the Seahawks bench, most of whom swamped the young Australian as he left the field.

That kind of reaction is usually reserved for the wide receiver who claims a match-winning touchdown.

“To get any sort of juice out of a team, to get any sort of excitement [out] of the team is the best feeling that I could ask for,” Dickson said. “It means a lot getting their recognition.”

A talent schooled in the AFL

As with most Australian punters who’ve come before him, Dickson learned his skills playing Aussie rules. The combination of hand-to-eye-to-foot coordination he developed on the AFL field helped him transition quickly to his new role.

“I would love the spirals that the guys would hit. The Darren Bennetts, the Anthony and Sav Roccas just hitting a spiral,” Dickson said.

“I’d always try and replicate that playing Aussie Rules just warming up, having a shot on goal and trying to see how far I could hit a spiral.”

He tried to break into the AFL but went undrafted after a stint in the Sydney Swans academy playing alongside current Swans star Isaac Heeney.

“We’d always play at the SCG and out at Blacktown and he’d kick out for us at fullback. As a 13, 14-year-old he’d kick them 60 metres, and it was like: ‘how’s that possible for such a young fella’,” Heeney told the ABC.

“You look at him now. His kicking is ridiculous.”

‘There’s some magic going on’

Dickson is leading a new wave of Australians who are taking a punt on a career in American football.

“He’s got the ability to do things that American punters can’t do at a certain level. He’s certainly utilising all the skills that he’s got being brought up in an AFL world,” Chapman said.

“He’s got a great amount of rhythm. He’s got a lot of power. From a fan [or] coach perspective that’s exciting. And it looks like there’s some magic going on.”

There are four Australians, including Dickson, who’ll begin the season as the starting punters in the NFL. At least 60 more are plying their trade in college hoping to make the leap into the big time in the years to come.

According to Chapman, many of them have the ability to produce the kind of plays that Dickson is now being lauded for.

“The next few years is going to be pretty exciting because I think the NFL is in for a real change,” he said.

“There’s going to be a few more dynamic players in the punt position, creating a bit more mayhem and chaos for the punt returners.”

Seattle and Australian NFL fans will be looking out for some of that mayhem and chaos when Dickson debuts for the Seahawks against the Denver Broncos on Monday morning.

The Broncos punt returners, however, may not be quite as thrilled at the prospect.

Topics:

american-football,

other-sports,

sport,

australian-football-league,

united-states,

sydney-2000





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