Player Interviews

Is Alex Kinal the Next Darren Bennett?


The Mike Scifres era is almost certainly over. One of the greatest punters in Chargers history, Scifres, 35, finally started to show his age in 2015. The Chargers ranked No. 30 in net punting average, thanks in large part to Scifres’ shorter kicks (45.3-yard average, his second worst total since 2009) and dwindling hang time.

There’s also the fact Scifres is in a contract year and set to earn more than $3.5 million, a huge number given his position and productivity.

Who will the Chargers turn to fill Scifres’ mismatched shoes? One intriguing candidate is Wake Forest punter Alex Kinal, who met with team scouts during Senior Bowl week.

“I really enjoyed it; it was really intense,” Kinal told me of his time in Mobile, Ala. “I got here on Sunday [Jan. 24] and it was constant interviews, constant meetings. [We were] meeting with coaches, getting used to new players and meeting new players. Overall it’s a really good experience.”

Kinal is an intriguing prospect. Last season, he led the ACC in net punting average (41.3) and punts inside the 20-yard line (32). He finished his college career with 337 punts, the most by any player in NCAA history.

That kind of résumé screams experience, although that descriptor doesn’t really apply here. Kinal is an Australian import who grew up playing Aussie rules football. He didn’t even think about playing American football until he was 20 years old, when he put together a quick highlight reel and sent it to some American colleges. A short time later, he was breaking records for the Deacon Demons.

The transition was not as difficult as it sounds, according to Kinal.

“We play Aussie rules football and that’s how we pass the ball,” he explained. “If you’ve got a strong leg, you’ve got a strong leg.”

Chargers fans are familiar with how effective an Aussie rules punter can be in the NFL. Scifres’ predecessor, Darren Bennett, was one of the first Australian players to make the jump. Bennett introduced the now commonly used “drop punt” to pin opponents deep in their own territory and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s despite playing only half that decade.

“I know [Bennett] was one of the first guys that came over,” Kinal said. “I haven’t had a chance to watch him a lot, but I understand he was one of the first guys that came over and kind of introduced us to the sport.”

Asked if the drop punt, which is an offspring of Aussie rules football, was a key reason he was so successful in consistently pinning opponents deep, Kinal said: “100 percent.”

If the Chargers believe Kinal can be Scifres’ successor, the question becomes when or if Tom Telesco pulls the trigger on draft day.

Kinal should be available in the seventh round. If the Chargers are certain he’s their guy, Telesco could take him in the sixth round just to be safe. There’s also a chance Kinal could be available in undrafted free agency, but then it becomes a bidding war between the Chargers and 31 other teams.

It’s not clear exactly what will happen, but Kinal will be watching anxiously.

“Honestly, right now, I can’t really tell you [if I’ll be drafted],” he said. “I’d like to go … that’d be a good thing. I’m hoping to prove myself [during Senior Bowl week] enough to get a shot at the Combine and just go from there. I’ll talk to some teams, hopefully impress them and see how it turns out.”

About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

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