by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago
Former AFL player Saverio Rocca left Australia last year to take a chance on being an NFL punter. Known for his booming kick, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie and began training with them. He was up against five year veteran punter Dirk Johnson. The two were competing for one spot on the Eagle squad. Whoever performed best through training camp, two exhibition games was likely to get the gig.
Johnson, 32, averaged 42 yards on six punts against Baltimore and Carolina with a 37.3-yard net average (punting yards minus return yards). More significantly, he placed four punts inside the opposing 20-yard line. Johnson himself admitted to struggling last season, partly due to hernia surgery in 2005. However, he recovered and regained his fitness, reporting to this year's training camp in the best shape of his career. However, the Eagles were taking no chances and signed Rocca. At 6'5" and 265 pounds, Rocca certainly has the build for NFL.
Rocca, 33, got off to a rocky start at the training camp, but has improved as he learned the art of punting and handling an American football, which is smaller and has more pointed ends than an Australian football. He averaged 49 yards on seven punts with a 39-yard net in the first two games and placed one kick inside the 20. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder also boomed a 65-yarder vs. the Ravens. As a full forward in Aussie Rules, such a kick would often result in a six-point goal. It is such long kicking to which Rocca most easily adapted. He no longer has to worry about kicking short to a teammate as he would back home if the need arose.
He had less success as a place holder for several field goal attempts by David Akers. The first attempt failed due to a low snap from Jon Dorenbos which sent the ball skittering along the turf. Rocca retrieved the ball but his pass was incomplete. The next attempt started well enough but Rocca didn't position the ball with the laces out. Third time the charm as they say, and so it was as the snap was perfect, Rocca placed the ball laces out and Akers' field goal tied the scores at 3-3.
Last week Rocca was informed that he had won out over Johnson as the Steelers punter. He has gone from $800 a week as a trial rookie to $285,000 a year.
Rocca played 257 games for the Collingwood Magpies and Kangaroos and kicked 748 goals. His younger brother Anthony played one season with the Sydney Swans before joining Sav at Collingwood. Anthony is still kicking goals for the Magpies.
Source: pressofatlanticcity.com, courierpostonline.com, ed. notes
Article last changed on Friday, September 07, 2007 - 1:44 AM EDT