Back in 2014, punter Michael Palardy was just an undrafted rookie free agent out of Tennessee hoping for a chance. Thomas McGaughey, then the special teams coordinator for the New York Jets, brought Palardy in for rookie mini camp.
And he didn’t mince words with Palardy.
“He told me, ‘Look, you’re going to get bounced around,’ ” Palardy said Wednesday. “‘You’re going to get cut. But you need to continue to work hard and continue to perservere because at some point, your chance – whether it’s one year from now, two years from now, four years from now – will come at some point.’
“It’s kind of ironic that it’s here with him.”
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Fast forward four years (and somewhere between nine and 10 teams), and he’s finally gotten that chance with the Carolina Panthers, where McGaughey is now the special teams coordinator. After battling throughout the preseason with veteran Andy Lee, Palardy was named the team’s starting punter.
Since then, he’s proven the Panthers made the right choice, especially recently: Palardy is first in the NFL in net punting average the past three weeks (46.9 yards) and ninth over the course of the season (47.4 yards). It’s a testament to his resilience as much as anything else. After all, Palardy said, there’s plenty of other guys like him who haven’t – and never will – get their chance.
“To be honest with you, as a specialist, I don’t think you ever have the confidence that you’re going to get a shot because some guys don’t,” Palardy, 25, said. “There’s a lot of guys out there that deserve opportunities, that are talented enough to play, and they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. For me, it was four years of getting cut and getting told, ‘Hey you’re good enough to play, but not right now.’
“You have to be realistic with yourself, and I’ve taken that reality and I’ve used it kind of as motivation that maybe there is a chance that I will get my real shot.”
Now that he has, though, Palardy is learning all the intricacies that come with the job. Namely that for all the hype about numbers and statistics and decimal points, the only thing that matters truly is winning football games.
Sometimes, that might come at the cost of your punting average. Say your team needs a 35-yard punt to pin the opponent deep in their territory; Palardy recognizes that it’ll screw up his or anyone else’s numbers, but that isn’t what the game is about.
“It’s nice to look at and understand, but you can’t live in your statistics,” Palardy said. “If you’re always worrying about, ‘Oh, I have to hit a ball this distance,’ you’re consuming yourself with too many factors that are out of your control.”
And while Palardy has developed confidence over the first half of this season, it hasn’t been gleaned from any statistics or statbook. It’s been from specific moments, like late last week against the Falcons when he pinned Atlanta’s offense against its own end zone, something he said “fired him up.” Or it comes from his teammates, the other 10 guys on the field with him, protecting him and gunning after his punts.
“Everyone talks about, ‘Oh, his gross (yardage) is this, his net is this,’ but without them, I’m no good,” Palardy said. “Without them, the numbers aren’t the way they are.”
Yes, his teammates have some role in it, but it’s also part of Palardy’s progression. From four years ago when he first set foot in an NFL locker room until now, Palardy has become a defensive weapon. His numbers prove that he’s capable of flipping field position with the NFL’s best. But, of course, that isn’t Palardy’s focus, he said.
“I’m not concerned with numbers,” Palardy said. “I’m concerned with putting the team where it needs to be and putting the team in a good position to win games.”