Ole Miss punter Mac Brown is ready to let it rip this season.
Did y’all say Mac Brown hype video?— Grayson Weir (@GsonJW) August 20, 2020
Because, Mac Brown hype video pic.twitter.com/1sDVjdCSP6
Entering his redshirt senior season, nothing has been ordinary. This offseason has been an adjustment period for everybody as the COVID-19 global pandemic presented an unusual set of circumstances that sent ripples across the college football atmosphere. For Brown, however, the time off was beneficial and productive.
“Over quarantine, a lot of us were able to go home and get to work,” Brown said. “I was able to go back to Minnesota and work with my coach. I trained a lot, ate healthy, and did the things I needed to do to be the best that I can be. I think that quarantine actually helped me out a lot. I was able to focus in on the things that I felt I could improve on from last season.”
Shortly before the world came to a halt, Ole Miss hired Lane Kiffin as its next head coach and saw turnover with the entire coaching staff. That change saw the addition of special teams coach Blake Gideon, who started 52 games at safety for Texas from 2008-2011 and has worked his way up the coaching ranks after a short stint in the NFL. Gideon led the same group at Houston in 2019 and was efficient. His punters averaged 43.6 yards per kick last season, good for second in the NCAA. Brown has high praise for his new coach.
“Coach Gideon is great,” he said. “He has a great resume and he was a great player at Texas. From a player’s perspective, it’s been nice to have him be there and understand what happens in big games, and how to bounce back from it. He’s very smart and he knows exactly what we need to do. He’s laid out a little map for us to follow and we plan to execute that exactly how he wants it.”
Brown had a strong 2019 season and averaged 44.3 yards per punt to finish ranked No. 21 in the nation at the end of the year. 12 of his 57 punts traveled more than 50 yards, 17 landed inside the 20-yard-line and 16 were fair caught— that’s more than 50 percent of his kicks without a return. He was amongst the SEC’s best punters and was nominated to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award after four games, an honor he could very well win in 2020.
While the numbers are impressive, he did so while kicking out of his natural style, which makes it even that much more masterful. Having grown up as a traditional-style punter, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Brown was asked to rugby kick under Matt Luke.
“I, personally, was not a big fan of the rugby kick,” Brown said. “That was a tough transition, but you do what your coach tells you to do to the best of your abilities and that’s what I did. I wish I would have had four years of (kicking) the way that I’ve always trained how to kick.”
With a rugby kick, the punter rolls out to his strong side before kicking the ball. As a result, he is holding the ball longer and allows an extra pause for his coverage men to get downfield. Brown didn’t have the best hang time last season, but did a good job driving the ball, so the coaching staff asked him to switch up his technique.
With Gideon, the style doesn’t matter so long as it comes naturally and breeds results.
“He wants us to kick the ball the way we kick the ball,” Brown said. “I’m happy about that”
Brown will not roll out in 2020 and will return to his natural style. In doing so, he is trying to hit consistent, good balls that stay out of the end zone. Of his 57 punts last season, six went for touchbacks. In 2020, the Minnesota native wants that number to be nonexistent.
“My goal this year is to put zero balls in the end zone,” he said. “[I want to put] as many balls inside the 20-yard-line as I can and flip the field. Just turning over balls and keeping them away from those dangerous returners. The SEC is filled with great returners. So the best thing I can do is keep it away from them, get a couple of good rolls and hope for the best—hope that I don’t have to make any tackles.”
If he is forced to make a few tackles, noted bad boy (he was once penalized for a block before the waist) Brown is no stranger to laying the lumber and made four solo stops last fall. He and the rest of the special teams group is full of energy.
With a new coach, a new season and a few new faces, Brown and his fellow specialists are putting extra emphasis on preparation before Ole Miss hosts Florida on Sept. 26. It has been a short and modified fall camp, but Brown believes the group is prepared, and getting more involved in team and game situations during practice has attributed to the readiness.
“This camp is showing how hard we’re working,” he said. “Special teams is a huge part of the game and we can make a difference on the field. We’re putting points on the board and trying to flip the field as best we can.”
2020 is going to be a crazy and uncharted year for everybody. Games that may not have looked close on paper will end up going down to the wire and every single play will count more than ever. Especially special teams.