GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tim Masthay lets his eyes drift downfield to the end zone, to the goal posts, past the security personnel and the photographers. He eyes the first row of fans, though they're so far away they have indistinguishable faces.
This is his target. The kickoff return guy does not know this. He just sees the Green Bay Packers punter getting ready to kick off, so the returner is at the 5-yard line. But Masthay has flipped a switch.
"I have like an animalistic aggressiveness on kickoffs," said Masthay, a former University of Kentucky standout. "One of the things I tell myself when I go back there is, 'Lick your chops now. Get really excited. Go try and destroy this ball.' So I do give a glance to the stands before a kickoff, because that's where I want to hit it. I don't always do it, but that's my attitude anyway."
Punting and kicking off is a double duty not common in the NFL, although it is not unheard of. Two of Masthay's off-season training buddies, Pat McAfee of the Colts and Thomas Morstead of the Saints, also kick off in addition to their punting duties. So does Tampa Bay's Michael Koenen.
What is exceptional is Masthay's all-out aggressiveness for the role. After considering him for the job for two years, Packers coach Mike McCarthy finally decided to give Masthay some of the kickoff responsibilities in the opener at San Francisco. By Week 2 against Washington, Masthay was pushing four of his kickoffs beyond the end zone in Lambeau Field for touchbacks with an exclamation point.
The wind was quiet. That was all off Masthay's leg.
"He's always had the talent," said McAfee. "I'm just excited to see him out there doing it."
Masthay and the Packers will be in Cincinnati on Sunday when Green Bay visits the Bengals.
Masthay kicked off in college at Kentucky and has always been good at it, but his only previous kickoff in the NFL was in a preseason game in his rookie season in 2009, when he was in training camp with McAfee and the Colts.
"Me and him were in competition for the job," said McAfee. "He was better than me, actually, I'm going to be honest. He was better than me, but they drafted me and so I got picked over him. But he's been so talented in these kickoffs and punts for so long, I don't know if it's about time he's doing it — Mason's been really good at it — but I'm happy Tim's getting an opportunity."
When Masthay landed in Green Bay in 2010 and fought for the job in training camp, he also boomed a 60-yard punt early. The leg strength was there. But Green Bay considered him as a punter only. Now, after three years as Green Bay's reliable punter, McCarthy said in his coach's show that he wanted to give kicker Mason Crosby the chance to concentrate on field goals and quickly added that Masthay is just too good at kickoffs to not use him. An errant mis-hit by Masthay aside, the Packers have gone with Crosby and Masthay on kickoffs in the first two games.
"We may use either one of them (Masthay or Crosby)," said special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. "Tim will be the first guy at this point. I like the way he started the (Washington) game with the touchbacks. He's done a good job with it."
Masthay does not look at this new kickoff assignment as just an added responsibility.
"Oh, I want kickoffs," said Masthay. "Nothing to take away from Mason; Mason did a good job for six years. And I'm sure, even though I haven't been told this, I'm guessing I'm on a relatively short leash. If I were not to perform well, they've got Mason and they know Mason can do it.
"But kicking off is really fun to me."
Punting is much more sophisticated, said Masthay. There's a heavier emphasis on direction, a need to recognize the look from the opponent and then there's catching the snap and dropping the ball. It's a lot.
"Kicking off is like, man, this is fun," said Masthay. "Nobody is coming at me, I'm just teeing this ball up, it's not moving. And my whole goal is to hit it as high and far as I can with a little bit of directional integrity to it. I just really enjoy it."
Masthay does not worry that the extra kick work will affect his punting. In fact, he thinks the opposite — that the increased involvement will establish a rhythm for him.
So when he hit a 23-yard punt in the fourth quarter against Washington, that was not leg fatigue, he explained.
"That was more of a reaction I made to a guy flashing on the right side," said Masthay. "If I hit it straight ahead, it might have got blocked. Or I might have reacted too dramatically. I will see that on film, whether I made a good or bad reaction."
Training with Morstead and McAfee only whetted his appetite for the job. McAfee was a field goal kicker first and always had the leg strength for kickoffs. Masthay hoped at first maybe he would do this in a pinch. Then he started to believe he could really win this job.
"I've been training this whole time, hoping that I might get a shot," said Masthay.
The training has included a detailed workout regimen from strength and conditioning coordinator Mark Lovat that focuses on "the pillar," the athlete's body from the shoulders down to the hips. It also includes work on the posterior chain muscles of hamstrings, glutes and lower back — and that means plenty of squats.
"I believe squats have always helped me," said Masthay. "When I'm squatting consistently, that's when I feel strongest. I've also always felt that having hamstring length helps, because it kind of gives you more leverage to a kick and punt. And then some of it is just innate, what God gave you."
Masthay is known for being a workout warrior in the Green Bay locker room, and that also helps him. He will — as he did against San Francisco — make the tackle.
"Tim just has that raw strength," said McAfee. "He's one of those country boys from Kentucky. He's got a tattoo of a soccer player on his arm. He's just a super strong guy and his athleticism takes over. I don't know what that off-season program does for him, but he's just a freak.
"It would be tough to be respected by the peers in your locker room if you're kind of soft. I think Tim and I have that mind-set. It's not the old days where the kickers are kind of flaky. We want to earn the respect of our teammates, and to do so you've got to work hard and be willing to make tackles."