New York Guardians punter Justin Vogel came up big in Sunday’s victorious debut in spite of the odds that were systematically stacked against him.
One of the XFL’s most dramatic rules changes is designed to make the somber appearance of the punter all the more dreaded. Justin Vogel, nonetheless, soothed the blow for his New York Guardians on Sunday afternoon.
The specialist’s football journey has taken him to football cathedrals in Miami, Green Bay, and now East Rutherford. He made his metropolitan debut on Sunday as a member of the XFL’s New York Guardians. The home team would jump out to a 14-0 lead, but the visiting Tampa Bay Vipers forced Vogel to give them the ball back via punting after upping the defensive pressure.
Vogel would make sure Tampa’s fortunes remained dire on both sides of the ball.
Save for a sixth kick that originated deep in New York territory with the game well in hand, all of Vogel’s punts situated the Vipers inside their own 20-yard line. The Guardians’ defense then earned turnovers deep in opposing territory to solidify their case in an opening weekend win. For example, immediately after a 34-yard punt set Tampa at their own seven, cornerback Jamar Summers needed only 13 yards to score on a recovered fumble. That touchdown was the last tally of New York’s 23-3 win.
Speaking with ESNY after the game, Vogel was simply grateful for another opportunity to kick.
“It was nice to get back out there again,” Vogel said. “It’s been a while. I’ve bounced around a lot, and it’s good to get another opportunity out there.”
Vogel’s five punts inside the 20 ranked as the best in the XFL after week one. He is, ironically, a native of Tampa and previously played with the University of Miami (earning All-ACC honors) before spending a full season with the Green Bay Packers. His lone NFL season saw him set the Packers’ single-season record for net punt average (41.6).
In an apparent effort to encourage attempts on fourth down, the new XFL has instituted rules that indirectly penalize punting. XFL touchbacks, for example, reward the receiving team the ball at their own 35-yard line. Any punt that lands out of bounds likewise set the receivers up at the 35.
Teams apparently took note. Opening weekend saw 18 attempts at a fourth-down conversion, with half of them earning the first down. The Guardians themselves went 1-for-1, with tight end Jake Powell earning a 15-yard reception with four yards to go. That attempt, which came just beyond midfield, led to their first touchdown of the afternoon.
Vogel had no qualms about the XFL’s modified special teams rules, calling the new regulations “interesting”.
“Not being able to pin them out of bounds is a bit tougher for us (as are) the touchbacks going to the 35,” he said. “You really have to focus in hard. You can’t be as aggressive as you can be in the NFL.”
Vogel said the key is finding new “aiming points.”
“Instead of trying to aim for the five-yard-line, I aim for more like the ten. You can’t risk it going into the end zone.
“In the NFL, I really excelled with the low touchback rates and (getting the ball) inside the 20. That’s what the scouts, the coaching staff, saw in me, so I’m just glad I was able to execute what I was good at.”
Members of the Guardians’ defense took note of Vogel’s contributions to the cause.
“Justin made some amazing punts today that put us in great field position,” linebacker Ben Heeney said. “(Special teams) did their thing out there. (The win) was an effort in all three phases.”
Vogel and the Guardians (1-0) return to action on Saturday afternoon on the road against the DC Defenders (2:00 p.m. ET, ABC).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.