Whenever LSU’s Jamie Keehn needs a tip or two on the finer points of punting, all the help he needs is at his fingertips on his cell phone.
He can choose between former LSU punters Donnie Jones and Brad Wing, who are with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, or he can put in a call to New Orleans Saints’ Pro Bowler Thomas Morstead.
Kickers and punters are members of a close-knit fraternity and Keehn, an Australian who has been playing football for only three years, was quickly welcomed into the fold.
Keehn, who is still learning the nuances of the American game, certainly doesn’t mind reaching out — and they don’t mind helping when they can.
“If you stop learning, you stop winning,” he said. “I think anyone will agree with you, that’s any sport.
“You’ve got to be learning, whether you’re the best in the world or the guy that knows nothing and is just starting out,” Keehn said. “You have to always be willing to learn stuff and listen to what people are saying.”
Keehn is certainly listening.
After averaging 43.7 gross yards per punt in 2012 as a backup to Wing, Keehn dipped a little to 41.0 last year.
But through four games this season, his 46.5-yard average ranks second in the Southeastern Conference and 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
He moved into the top 10 nationally in averaging 51.1 yards on eight punts in LSU’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State. Five of the eight traveled 50 yards or more — including boomers of 62, 60, 58 and 56 yards.
Keehn bounced back in a big way after his first punt went only 40 yards and was returned 21 yards to set up State’s offense, which needed to drive only 51 yards for a touchdown on its first possession.
“You never like that as a punter or coverage team,” Keehn said of the return, the longest of the season by an LSU opponent. “I have to put that on me. I didn’t put it outside the numbers. A bit more hang time, it would have been a different result.
“So the next punt, I came back and made the adjustment,” he said of his 56-yarder that forced the returner to make a fair catch. “It’s all about the next one, whether you have a great one, bad one, whatever.”
Short kicks have been few and far between this season for Keehn after a rough season opener against Wisconsin.
That night, he had four kicks under 40 yards — including a 19-yarder on his second punt. But he made an adjustment and launched a career-long 64-yarder that bounced out of bounds at the Wisconsin 17.
Keehn has become adept at helping flip the field and becoming an effective weapon for the Tigers defense, pinning opponents deep in their own territory on several occasions.
Of his 25 punts, seven have been returned for a total of 40 yards to produce a net of 44.1 yards per kick. Thirteen kicks have been downed inside the 20 with only one touchback and he has 11 punts of 50-plus yards (one more than all last season) — including three of 60 yards or more.
“The confidence is there,” Keehn said. “I’m comfortable every time my number is called, and I’m more than happy to go out and help my team in whatever way I can.”
Even though he’s new to the sport, Keehn knows field position is as important as dropping the ball on his right foot and kicking it as far as he can.
His 62-yard punt against State was a prime example. Kicking from the LSU 38, he caught one flush and the ball wound up deep in the end zone.
“That one, I just got under it,” he said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew I absolutely smoked it. I’d like to have that one back; we don’t like touchbacks.”
As a result, he vowed to work this week on punting that can provide better field position for the Tigers defense even though he can hardly be blamed for blasting one into the end zone from 62 yards away.
“I’ve only been punting for three years, so I’m learning every day … every day at practice,” Keehn said. “Whether I hit good ones or a few bad ones, I’m always trying to improve every little bit I can.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.