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Tupa: Career Year For 16-Year Vet

Punter Tom Tupa warmed up before a mid-week practice late last month by punting balls to kicker John Hall, who was nursing a groin injury at the time. Hall was shagging Tupa's punts about 45 yards downfield when Tupa blasted one particular kick.

Hall's mobility was limited because of his injury, so he simply turned and watched the ball sail over his head the same way an outfielder in baseball watches a towering home run fly into the stands.

That moment exemplified the type of year Tupa is having in his first season with the Redskins. The 38-year old continues to impress and is having one of the best seasons in his 16-year NFL career. He ranked first in the NFC with a gross punting average of 44.7 yards per punt after Week 11 and is garnering serious consideration for the Pro Bowl.

"I feel happy with the way I've been producing," Tupa said. "I want some more wins, obviously, as anyone else would. It's only the half-way point, so hopefully we'll get things going and pick it up towards the end."

Added head coach Joe Gibbs: "He exchanges tons of field position. I feel like if you can punt the ball like that and cover it, that's a big part of keeping people from going a long ways. If our defense can keep playing the way it is playing, it makes it tough for people to go a long way and score points. Tom has been absolutely outstanding and certainly impressive. He is as good as I have seen."

Tupa's 70 punts through 10 games were the most by any punter in the NFL, as were his 22 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Starting with this Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tupa and the Redskins will likely face a series of cold weather games. That will make punting more difficult down the stretch.

The 6-4, 225-pounder realized that the Steelers game will be a challenge, as will all games in December, as the weather gets colder and more unpredictable.

"We've got a lot of bad weather games coming up, so it's always harder at the end to hang in there," Tupa said. "We'll do our best and see what happens."

Washington has struggled to score points this season, and as a result, good special teams play has been essential for the Redskins to stay in almost every game. No one appreciates Tupa's contributions more than special teams coach Danny Smith.

"He's done a great job," Smith said of Tupa. "He's a veteran punter, and it's fun to be around those kinds of guys. He knows what he's doing. He plays within the scheme of things and what we're trying to get done."

Winning the field position battle has been a focus for the Redskins all season, and Tupa has been instrumental in that fight. He says that the struggles of the offense, however, don't cause him to feel extra pressure.

"I don't think about it that way," Tupa said. "I just think about performing well every time I go out there. A big part of our special teams plan is obviously field position. That's what I'm thinking about, and everyone on special teams is involved in that."

Against the Eagles in Week 11, Tupa had his best game of the season. He punted five times for an outstanding average of 53.8 yards. His longest punt traveled 61 yards and perfectly rolled to a stop on Philadelphia's one-yard line. Another punt barely missed resting at the one and brushed the goal line for a touchback.

Tupa was also a standout in the Redskins' 17-10 victory at Detroit in Week 9. He tied a career high with nine punts for an average of 47.9 yards. Three of his punts were downed inside the Lions' five-yard line by wideout James Thrash, and two more were placed inside the 20 as the Redskins controlled the field position struggle for most of the game.

Gibbs praised Tupa for his contributions after the Week 9 contest, saying, "When you punt the ball like that, and you can run the ball well, and if you're defense plays well, there is a formula there that you try to go with. I know I was affected by the field position as the game got underway."

Tupa signed with the Redskins this offseason as a free agent and the acquisition has paid off. While Tupa averaged 44.7 yards per punt through 10 games this season, the Redskins averaged only 40.2 yards per punt in 2003.

Tupa spent the last two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including their Super Bowl season in 2002.

For his career, which includes stints with seven teams including the Redskins, Tupa has twice finished with a gross punting average greater than 45 yards (with a minimum of 60 punts). He averaged 45.8 yards per punt in 1997 with the New England Patriots and 45.2 yards with the New York Jets in 1999.

Punters and kickers, perhaps more than any other position, pay close attention to the stadium in which they are playing. Tupa said he likes punting at FedExField, and his performance this season affirms that.

"This year it has been kind of windy," said Tupa, who spent three seasons with the Jets in notoriously windy Giants Stadium. "We've been unlucky with the weather [at home] for the most part. But I like the stadium. It's a true wind. It's not going to swirl. You know the direction it's going and you know it's going to stay that way. You don't have the corners open or anything like that."

As for the Pro Bowl, an invitation this year would be Tupa's second. His 1999 campaign with the Jets earned him a trip to Hawaii.

While Tupa admitted a Pro Bowl nod would be nice, he said he's more focused on winning games and surviving the winter weather in the NFC East down the stretch.

"The Pro Bowl comes at the end," Tupa said. "Like I said, it's still early."

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