Feagles: There's hope for Matt Dodge

NEW YORK -- Since his retirement, Jeff Feagles has heard the same question, sometimes even plea, from fans.

So when he signed autographs at the Broadway play "Lombardi" on Tuesday, Feagles likely heard a few fans ask him the question again -- will he consider coming out of retirement and punt again for the Giants?

The New York Giants' former iron man punter reiterated that he is done and that his 44-year-old body could no longer withstand an NFL season at the level he wanted to punt at. And he thinks Matt Dodge, the kid with the big but inconsistent leg who replaced him, will hold onto the job next year and turn the corner like the master of the "coffin corner" kick did early in his own storied career.

Feagles believes Dodge will learn from his miscues and that the Giants have to stick with their punter after doing so the entire year.

"Well, you got to now," Feagles said. "He is probably going to have to compete this year in training camp. He didn't have anybody competing with him last year and I think he will win out and I think he will be fine."

Feagles was in attendance at the dreaded 38-31 loss to the Eagles when Dodge kicked that final ill-fated punt to DeSean Jackson. Like everybody else at the New Meadowlands Stadium, Feagles knew what Dodge was supposed to do before he punted.

"I just know Tom Coughlin, I know him probably as good as any player on that football team," Feagles said. "Because I was instructed many, many times to do what he wanted to do, which was to kick the ball out of bounds."

Of course, the ball never went out of bounds. Instead, Dodge kicked to Jackson, who completed a stunning come-from-behind victory with a 65-yard touchdown return that not only prevented the Giants from winning the NFC East but eventually kept them out of the playoffs altogether.

The rookie punter's gaffe was one of many last season but it was the most memorable and damaging. Feagles, a master of the directional punt, felt Dodge's pain.

"He did get his angle right, he just dropped the ball inside," Feagles said. "In Matt's defense, it is not as easy as people think it is. I know that one play doesn't make a season but it is unfortunate what happened to him. Talk about learning from one instance, he is going to go into this offseason to learn how to punt the ball out of bounds, I promise you."

Feagles -- who signed autographs with ex-WR Amani Toomer at "Lombardi" (Giants CEO John Mara's son, John Mara Jr., is one of the show's associate producers) -- sympathizes with what Dodge went through during a roller coaster-like rookie season.

"It is a tough transition for anybody that is that young," Feagles said. "We all go through it. My first two or three years in the pros, there were hiccups. You have to kind of persevere through them and they are all learning experiences. But when you play for as long as I did, you kind of perfect the trade."

Dodge might as well have been competing with Feagles' legendary ghost this season. It was an incredibly tall order following in the footsteps of Feagles, who never missed a game, playing in an NFL-record 352 straight in his 22 seasons. Feagles punted for 71,211 career yards.

Dodge, the seventh-round draft pick with the rocket leg out of East Carolina, had difficulties just getting punts off early on. He fumbled a drop, shanked punts and outkicked his coverage at times.

Despite the Jackson fiasco, Dodge did improve as the season progressed, flashing glimpses of his powerful leg. However, he finished third to last in net average with 34.3 yards per punt and the Giants' coverage allowed opponents to gain 535 yards and two touchdowns on punt returns.

In Feagles' final season, the Giants allowed 258 yards and one touchdown on punt returns.

"I didn't think that he would have that much trials and tribulations," Feagles said. "One thing he is going to have to learn is put it all behind him, build on it, learn from those experiences and go into training camp and try to forget them. Your sophomore year in the NFL is not easy either."

The ability to forget and move on is sometimes as big as the execution of a great punt. Feagles helped train Dodge early on last summer and spent some time at training camp with the rookie. He saw Dodge's potential but also knew first hand how challenging the mental aspect of the game can be.

That is why he recommended that the team send Dodge to a sports psychologist.

"I tried to let him know, kind of spilled my guts to him and tried to instill some good practice habits and things that I thought would make him better and I think he did a lot of them," Feagles said of tutoring Dodge early on. "But the biggest part of this game is not only physical but mental."

"I think working with somebody like that would help him and even though you saw what happened through the season, I still got to believe that anything he did with the sports psychologist is going to help him in the future."

Coughlin could've used a shrink this season thanks to the Giants' special teams. The Giants' return game was abysmal at times. After losing returner Domenik Hixon to a torn ACL during the summer, the Giants never found a suitable replacement. Darius Reynaud finished last in the NFL in punt returns with an average of 5.7 yards.

Coverage on returns also struggled at times. Kicker Lawrence Tynes, who made 19-of-23 field goals, was the main bright spot.

Dodge has vowed to work harder than anybody else in the offseason and learn from his mistakes. As the rookie said, he pretty much experienced every high and low a punter could go through.

"I just think that his mistakes overshadowed [his improvement]," Feagles said. "The consistency was always there when I was punting and when you see the inconsistency all the time it is a little bit kind of like, 'Whoa! What is going on with him?' But I saw strides and I think the Giants seem to think the same thing."