CINCINNATI — Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said Drue Chrisman’s final punt of the 2022 season wasn’t the deciding factor in the decision to go out and draft some competition for him, but it was a position the organization felt could be improved.
Chrisman had his ups and downs as the team’s punter for the final 10 games, including a line drive punt in the AFC Championship that resulted in a long return for the Kansas City Chiefs and helped set them up for a game-winning field goal.
The former Ohio State punter said Simmons made it clear there would be an open competition this year after the Bengals selected Michigan punter Brad Robbins in the sixth round of the NFL Draft last Saturday. And, much like battling with veteran Kevin Huber last year brought out the best in him, he believes the same will be the case now.
“This is really my third competition, going into my third season,” Chrisman said. “Obviously I didn’t get to participate the first year but I think going through it last year, understanding what it’s going to look like for the team, I think that bodes well, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to do your best.
“You’ve just got to focus on your job and try to be the best punter you can, and high water makes all boats rise, so you almost look forward to it. I never really had competition in college, and I feel like I became a better punter having the competition last year with Kevin.”
Chrisman, who is from Lawrenceburg, Ind., had signed with the Bengals in the offseason ahead of the 2021 season but broke his hand before his anticipated training camp competition with Huber. He spent the season on and off the practice squad and remained there through the first 10 games of 2022 until he made his NFL debut Nov. 20 against Pittsburgh.
The job was his from that time on, and he was officially signed to the active roster in early December. He averaged 47.8 yards per punt during the regular season, including 13 inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and two touchbacks.
“Darrin was pretty clear,” Chrisman said. “He doesn’t beat around the bush. So it’s good to have Darrin and he’ll be pretty clear what to expect. He called me after the draft, kind of just laid out what it’s going to look like. He said it’s pretty much an open competition, may the best man win, and I think that’s as good of an opportunity as I could ask for.”
In drafting Robbins, the Bengals will get a look at a punter who ranked second in college football for best hang time and also had experience holding for third-round draft pick Jake Moody at Michigan.
“I feel very good about Brad,” Simmons said after the Bengals drafted Robbins. “He brings something different that we haven’t had here in a bit. He’s a hang-time guy. … I think this guy gets the ball up in the air really well. Obviously, there is something to playing in this climate ... that does matter to me some. He’s obviously played a lot of big games at Michigan. … I feel really good about the other half of his job, which is holding. He’s very well-rounded, he’s mature, and I like the fact that he can get the ball up in the air for you.”
Chrisman didn’t have as much experience with the holding aspect of his job, and that final punt in the AFC title game was a clear sign he needed to work on hang time.
The 25-year-old said he took a little time off after the season to unwind, then went down to Alabama for about a month to work with his kicking trainer and went to the gym every day while he was there. He’s been working to get in the best shape as possible – bigger, faster, stronger – because all of that will translate over to punting as much as any other position.
“There’s three phases of (punting),” Chrisman said. “There’s direction, distance and hangtime. Especially at this level, I think hangtime is at a premium with some of these dangerous returners, so that’s something we’ve been working on, and something I’ve been focusing on this offseason as well.”
Chrisman was familiar with Robbins from his final two seasons at Ohio State when the two matched up against each other in the big rivalry game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines. He looks forward to a little rivalry competition of their own in camp.
“I know Big Ten guys pretty well,” Chrisman said. “We have a good relationship. I texted him right after the draft and said congrats, looking forward to the competition.”