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Two-step punting approach working for Packers' Ryan

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The two-step delivery Green Bay Packers punter Jon Ryan adopted this year is paying early dividends.

Ryan called his performance Saturday in the Packers' 13-9 preseason win at Pittsburgh the finest of his young career.

"I felt more comfortable out there on Saturday night than I did at any time last year," Ryan, a second-year player, said Tuesday. "With preseason, that was my 21st game (since last year), and I think that was probably my best game that I've punted so far."

Ryan punted six times for a lofty average of 46.8 yards. He had three kicks of at least 50 yards.

Although Ryan had a solid rookie season, ranking in the top 10 of the league with an average of 44.5 yards, the Packers weren't satisfied with his inconsistent hang times.

Special teams coordinator Mike Stock recommended after last season ended that Ryan change his delivery from three steps to two steps.

Ryan, 25, had been a three-step punter since he was seven in his native Canada.

"I was behind what he was telling me. He said it was going to help me," Ryan said of Stock. "So, I said, 'Let's do it.' I went home and started working on it within a week and started working on it every day. I went through those quick steps and committed it to muscle memory."

Stock sent videos of two-step punters Brad Maynard (Chicago) and Jeff Feagles (New York Giants) for Ryan to watch at his Regina home early in the off-season.

When Ryan returned to Green Bay in March, he watched tapes of other kickers with a similar delivery to pick up additional pointers.

Going with one less step is designed to get the ball off the strong-legged Ryan's right foot quicker and reduce the risk for a blocked punt.

"As training camp came around, I was comfortable with it," Ryan said.

Ryan, though, unconsciously reverted to kicking with three steps on the first day of camp July 28.

He had a similar relapse on his first punt in the game Saturday, which went only 37 yards.

"He cheated a little bit," Stock said. "He was closer to three (steps). A small three, but it was there. He led with his left foot."

Stock has been encouraged by the results from the radical alteration made by Ryan.

His net average Saturday was 38.2 yards, considerably better than the 35.7 he averaged last season.

Stock wouldn't say, however, that Ryan has retained his job for the upcoming season.

The Packers signed undrafted rookie Ryan Dougherty early in camp to provide competition.

"I'm seeing better, but still, he needs some work," Stock said of the incumbent. "We're still working on the basics. We're still working on the footwork. He's not out of the woods yet. That muscle memory is hard to replace."

BACK PAINS: Linebacker Nick Barnett and cornerback Al Harris dropped out of the first of two practices Tuesday with back problems.

Harris appeared to aggravate a lower-back injury as he broke up a pass in the final five minutes of the morning practice.

Recurring tightness in the back kept Harris out of the game Saturday.

Barnett was on the field for only a short time Tuesday morning before leaving.

"His lower back tightened up on him," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He was here for the jog-through at the beginning of practice, and I sent him (to the team's Lambeau Field facilities) for more rehab."

Both starters returned to practice Tuesday night. McCarthy made mention of an impromptu bowling outing for the team Monday night as a possible contributing factor for the back issues.

"Now, I've got two guys with lower-back problems. I don't know how smart that was," McCarthy said. "(But) it was a good team-building event."

Tight end Donald Lee also dropped out of the morning practice when his back locked up, McCarthy said Tuesday night.

Lee was limited to early drills in the night practice before receiving treatment.

ON HOLD: Stock is experimenting early in camp with a number of different players in the role of holder on extra-point and field-goal kicks.

Ryan held the job last season and would continue to do so if he remains the punter.

Receiver Ruvell Martin and No. 2 quarterback Aaron Rodgers also have taken reps in practice.

Third-string quarterback Ingle Martin worked on holds after the morning practice Tuesday.

"I don't know who's going to make the team. So, we're utilizing everybody we can," Stock said. "We're not starting over again, because once the (final roster) cut is made, we're going to play a game. It's too late to start training a guy under those conditions."

Ryan had been holding for both incumbent kicker Dave Rayner and rookie challenger Mason Crosby in the first week of camp.

Since last week, however, Ryan was exclusively Crosby's holder in practice, with Rodgers holding for Rayner.

The assignments changed in practice Tuesday night, with Ryan holding for Rayner and Rodgers for Crosby.

Second-year cornerback Will Blackmon, who's competing for the nickel-back spot on defense, is expected to get a long look on punt returns this week.

Stock said veteran cornerback Charles Woodson, who was the primary punt returner last year, would probably have a cameo role this season. The coaches want to keep Woodson fresh on defense.

"We're going to pick and choose when," Stock said.

NOTES:Marquand Manuel was back as the starting strong safety, a day after he was demoted for a portion of practice in favor of Atari Bigby. "He's had a real good camp," McCarthy said of Manuel. "It's just we're trying to create as much competition as possible across the board." ... RBs Vernand Morency (knee), P.J. Pope (knee) and DeShawn Wynn (quadriceps) remained out Tuesday. DE Aaron Kampman, T Chad Clifton, TE Bubba Franks and WR Robert Ferguson were rested during the early practice. All returned for the night session.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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