Donnie Jones getting his kicks this season

Posted: December 05, 2013

THE IDEA FOR David Wing was to kick his son Brad into the NFL, not out of it. That's why he moved the kid from Australia in his teens, that's why he schooled him over and over again on the nose-down technique used to punt a ball in Australian Rules Football.

The problem was chance. And circumstance. As the kid grabbed attention, both good and bad, as a kicker for LSU, the father honed his craft with offseason sessions on a field in Baton Rouge - the same field Donnie Jones, already a punter in the NFL, used to hone his considerable skills.

"He could hit that punt on a rope," Jones said yesterday in the Eagles' locker room.

So, as they worked out together two summers ago, Jones asked the father for a quick lesson. David Wing worked with him for 2 hours, gave him refresher tips as the summer wore on, all the while a little uneasy about the process.

"His dad was always saying, 'Well, I don't know how long I can help you,' " Donnie Jones recalled. "Because someday you'll be Brad's competition.

"Kind of ironic, huh?"

Yeah, although the old man might have a different adjective. Because Jones signed with the Eagles in the offseason. And then the kid was invited here after he wasn't drafted. And so the two - separated in age by a decade - competed for the lone punter's spot over the summer, and now the kid is, well, back punting with his dad, waiting for his next opportunity.

It's simplification to say Jones got it because of the kick. Maturity, experience and a predisposed appreciation of his work by Eagles general manager Howie Roseman played into it. What is not simplification, however, is the effect of that added tool during the Eagles' four-game winning streak and, really, throughout this season.

"We hit the rugby punt, because I know I can control it," Jones said. "I can place it in a spot, won't hit it as far, our guys will have a better chance to get down there and cover it. You sacrifice distance, but who cares? If I could kick it 40 yards every time and have them fair-catch it, I'd do it. Now somebody from the outside looks and says, 'He's only averaging 40 yards.' But what matters is the end result."

Against Arizona on Sunday, Jones landed seven of his eight punts inside the 20. It was the third-highest single-game total since the NFL began recording such statistics in 1976. Jones has placed 29 punts inside the 20 this season, two shy of a franchise record set by Jeff Feagles in 1993.

Of his last 28 punts, only six have been returned.

"That's why special-teams tackles are down," Colt Anderson quipped.

"That is a huge part of why we had some success in the game against Arizona," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Because that drive start, with Donnie putting it inside the 20, is really unbelievable. He's as big of a reason for us to have some success defensively as anybody."

Jones' net for this season is actually 41.3, which, if he maintains it, would be the highest in Eagles history. On Sunday, Arizona's average starting point was its 19-yard line. Some of that, as Jones pointed out, is because the offense rolls up yards even when it's not scoring. Some of it is simply bad decision-making, such as when Cardinals returner Pat Peterson allowed a third-quarter punt to bound past him and travel 69 yards to his 17.

But the kick, which has rapidly gained popularity among coaches because of the control it affords, has been integral. Especially in the hands of the 33-year-old, 10-year veteran, who was once deemed by some as a guy whose numbers were inflated by punting for dome teams much of his career.

"I was really excited to sign here because of that," he said. "You get that stereotype of 'He's an indoor punter.' It was a chance for me to go out and punt under any condition. Not necessarily to prove people wrong, but to show that in any situation you would be a good player."

For Jones, that test is still incomplete, with two more outdoor games here. But the tool he acquired during those warm days in Louisiana two summers ago has thus far proved not only weather resistant, but perhaps even weather friendly.

Brad Wing and his dad sure hope so. Because now, Donnie Jones' success can open doors for them.

"I still talk to Brad today," Donnie Jones said. "I just talked to him last week. And he's a pretty good sport about everything. He said, 'That damn Aussie punt, I can't believe my dad taught you that.'

"It's strange how things work out. Because it's been a huge asset for us. I'm really thankful to them."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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