I’m not joking.
I’m so excited to see Blake Gillikin vs Nolan Cooney in camp. They are both super talented, young, and hungry for a roster spot. Blake Gillikin has been on the team for the past year, but the Saints brought in Cooney for a reason. Gillikin isn’t safe just because of the time spent on the team. The only thing that I know, is that the Saints need to find a good punter. The New Orleans Saints have been spoiled with great punter play for the last 12 years. Morstead has consistently been one of the best punters in the NFL for a long time. The Saints haven’t had to worry about that position in forever, so I’m excited to see their approach. Also, due to the success of Drew Brees-led offenses fans may not know exactly how important the position is.
Let’s take a look back at how good Morstead was at pinning the opposing team inside the 20 yard line during the last 4 years:
2020 - 37% of punts inside the 20 (league average 36%)
2019 - 48% of punts inside the 20 (league average 39%)
2018 - 35% of punts inside the 20 (league average 38%) - worst defensive finish
2017 - 43% of punts inside the 20 (league average 36%)
Pinning the opposing offense inside the 20 is an important advantage to give your defense. As we can see, the only year during the last four years of Saints success that Morstead has finished below league average of % of punts inside the 20 was 2018. That also happened to be the year that the Saints defense gave up the most yardage in the same time frame.
Now that we have some context to what the Saints are used to, let’s take a look at the two players that we will see in this competition.
Blake Gillikin has the advantage as he has been punting for longer, and has been on the Saints roster learning from Morstead. Gillikin has been focused on punting and kicking for a long time, as he was a letterman for three years in high school. He was a 5-star punter and kicker during his senior season. At Penn St, Gillikin finished with a 43.03 yards per punt, which is the 8th best in the Big Ten since the year 2000. He is the only Nittany Lion to finish with at least seven 65-yard and at least four 70-yard punts in a career. During his senior season at Penn St, he landed 52% of his punts inside of the 20. He was selected All-Big Ten honorable mention by the conference coaches and media.
Our very own Chris Dunnells asked Thomas Morstead about Blake Gillikin after we learned Morstead’s time in New Orleans was coming to an end.
I specifically asked Morstead about if he talked to Blake Gillkin, and he said he left Blake a voicemail and told the team he has the utmost faith in Blake.— Christopher Dunnells (@ChrisDunnells) March 4, 2021
Morstead said he thinks Blake can be great for the team. Hopes the fans are patient.@thomasmorstead is just the best.
Morstead seems to have the confidence in Blake Gillikin to come in and perform for the Saints this year.
Nolan Cooney was a three sport player in high school. He was a great baseball, soccer, and basketball player for years. During his junior year of high school, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had to have surgery and two months of chemotherapy. During the time he couldn’t play for his school, he decided to explore kicking, and went to a kicking camp. During an interview with ESPN, Cooney gave credit to his soccer background and YouTube for helping become a natural talent at kicking. During the Summer, he was named the top prospect at the Ray Guy prokicker.com Regional combine, despite never playing football in High School to that point. He kicked at a new school during his senior year, and ended up walking on at Syracuse. He held for kickers and learned behind current Atlanta Falcons punter Sterling Hofrichter for a few years until he got his chance.
His one year of punting at Syracuse was incredible. Despite punting an absurd 74 times that season, he maintained an average of 44.8 yards per punt. Out of those 74, only 3 of those were touchbacks. He downed 24 of those inside of the 20. I will personally give him a pass for the low percentage because of how awful the Syracuse offense was and him not really having the chance to get that number higher (could also be a factor in his low touchback number.) He was named an All-ACC and All-American punter in his one season.
As a holder, Syracuse kickers hit 86% of field goals and 98% of extra points.
I truly have no idea what’s going to happen when both of these players hit the field during training camp, but I could not be more excited to find out.
Who do you want to win the battle? Let us know your thoughts in the comment. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @DillySanders.