The term “weapon” is generously applied to describe offensive skill plays and occasionally used on defense as well.
Dolphins punter Brandon Fields is an asset of a different kind, but the term still applies.
“He’s a huge weapon,” kicker Caleb Sturgis said of Fields. “When you can turn the field like that, you’re going to put yourself in good position.”
It’s certainly never a good sign for a team to see its punter on the field, but when the situation arises, there’s arguably no one better in the league than Fields.
The Michigan State product entered the weekend as the NFL’s leader in gross punting average, a simple measure of how far beyond the line of scrimmage the ball travels. Fields is the only punter whose average is more than 50 yards.
At 6-5 and 249 pounds, Fields is one of the biggest punters in league.
That size, combined with the proper form and attention to detail, can send the ball soaring.
“Obviously my size helps — me being tall, obviously, heavier than some of the other guys, and a lot of it is technique,” Fields said. “If all that mattered was how big you are, a lot of the linemen would be crushing the ball.”
Sturgis, whose rookie leg is nothing to sneeze at, said he was in awe the first time he saw Fields punt in person.
“The noise it makes is almost unreal,” Sturgis said. “It just explodes.”
But a bigger source of pride for Fields is net punting, which subtracts yardage for returns and touchbacks. Fields’ net average of 44.0 yards also leads the league.
“I want to try to lead the league in net punting,” Fields said. “That’s the ultimate of where the ball ends up. But that’s a combination of myself and my cover guys.”
The seven-year veteran has spent his entire career in Miami, and his gross and net averages have improved year-to-year almost without fail. But despite career bests in both key areas, Fields isn’t ready to say that this is his best season.
“I would say I’ve been doing well, but I haven’t been perfect out there.”
Fields credits his insatiable drive to improve as the reason he has become one of the best in the business. And although specialists are often thought of as separated from the rest of the team — they often spend huge chunks of practices on their own — Fields equated his work and improvement to that of any other play on the team.
“None of the guys here are here because they sit on their butts and do nothing,” Fields said. “Everybody is working on their craft, one way or another.”
Children don’t exactly covet posters of punters or dream of delivering six-seconds of glorious hang time in the Super Bowl, so, predictably, Fields’ realization that punting was his primary craft came gradually.
Although he punted in high school, Fields also played linebacker and was a “pretty good” pass-blocking offensive tackle. He was quick to remind reporters that “a lot has changed since then,” almost sensing an upcoming wave of jokes about being the solution to protecting Ryan Tannehill.
Fields abandoned blocking responsibilities and specialized while at Michigan State, and it’s certainly been a wise career move. Fields is signed through the 2016 season on a contract that’s worth north of $14 million.
So what’s left to work toward?
As far as personal goals, Fields said he wants to get to his first Pro Bowl. He came up short of that distinction last year, despite leading the league in gross punting average and winning the position’s online fan vote, which accounts for one-third of the total selection process.
His three-yard improvement in net average from last year, however, could finally send him packing for Honolulu at season’s end.
In the meantime, he is content to flip field position for a winning team and pin opponents deep in their own territory, which he said is the most satisfying feeling a punter can feel.
“When the defensive guys run onto the field, they’re hyped up,” Fields said. “That obviously feels good, knowing that I’m contributing to the team.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Adam H. Beasley contributed to this report.