The game of football is comprised of three phases: offense, defense and special teams. One of those phases, special teams, is often overlooked by the average fan. Specifically, the importance of a good punter can often be overlooked. The Cincinnati Bengals had one of the most valuable punters in the National Football League in 2012, Kevin Huber.
The Cincinnati native Huber has played in every Bengals game since his selection in the 2009 draft and enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2012. His 2012 gross (46.6 yards) and net (42.0) punting averages set new Bengals club season records. (The formula behind net punting average is: Total punting yards, minus 20 yards for each touchback, minus opponent punt return yards, divided by attempts plus blocks.) In addition to the single-season records, Huber's career averages of 44.0 gross and 38.9 net both rank first in club history.
One other area where Huber excelled in the 2012 season was pinning punts inside the five-yard line. Huber led the NFL with 11 punts downed inside the five-yard line in 2012.
He saved one of his best performances for the most important game of the season. In the December 23 playoff-clinching win at Pittsburgh, Huber averaged 52.7 yards on six punts (48.3 net), including four punts inside the 20 with one out of bounds at the Steelers two-yard line. In a low-scoring game where field position was at a premium, Huber was arguably the most valuable Bengals player in the game.
Huber admitted that pinning punts deep in opposing territory was something he stressed prior to the 2012 season.
"Last offseason I put a big emphasis on being more aggressive with that specific hit, getting it down further and getting a little more hang time," said Huber. "We put a big emphasis on our gunners and our coverage guys to get down there. They worked really hard in practice and in the offseason to get in the right position and just to know what to expect, what kind of hit I was going to have and the bounce it was going to take."
One thing that has helped Huber become the player he is today is the continuity of his coach and long snapper. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has been with Huber since day one and other than five games in his rookie year of 2009, long snapper Clark Harris has snapped every punt to Huber.
"Having Clark here the whole time has been huge," said Huber. "I know what I'm going to get from him. If he has a bad snap, I know where it's going to go. I know I can trust him in front of me and I'm not training new guys every year. With Darrin, I know what he expects of me, and he knows what I expect of him as far as helping me out when I need it. I know what he wants on game day. Having that continuity these past four years has been huge for me."
Huber's net punting average has improved every season he has been a Bengal. In 2009, his net average was 36.3, 38.2 in 2010, 39.2 in 2011, and the aforementioned club record 42.0 in 2012. He also boasted a career-high 33 punts inside the 20 out of his 76 total punts (43 percent) and had only seven touchbacks in 2012.
Huber is only the second player drafted by the Bengals who grew up in Cincinnati and attended both high school and college in the Queen City. He attended McNicholas High School before enrolling at the University of Cincinnati. The first such player was RB Clem Turner, a fourth-round draftee in 1969 who went to Woodward High and then UC.
While at UC, Huber was a three-time all-league selection and led the nation in net punting average in both 2007 and '08. As a junior in 2007, his 46.9-yard gross average made him the first UC player to win the official national punting title.
Huber has enjoyed an incredibly rare commodity for a professional athlete to be able to play in his hometown and on March 8, 2013, he signed a five-year contract extension to ensure that he will be in Cincinnati even longer.
"It was great to get it (the contract extension) over with so it's one less thing on my mind," said Huber. "To be able to stay here and play in front of my family and friends, it was a huge thing to get that done and taken care of. I love playing for the Bengals and I hope to play here for a long time."