When the Texans signed punter Cameron Johnston to a three-year, $8 million contract, it was a sound investment.
Especially for a team that has struggled to move the football consistently.
The Texans’ faith in the former Australian rules football player has been justified. He ranks third in the AFC with a 42.7 net average and is fifth in the NFL. He has a 46.4 average and ranks second in franchise history in net average through 10 games.
Johnston leads the NFL with 55 punts and 2,554 yards and is called on frequently to punt since the 2-8 Texans have the lowest scoring offense in the NFL.
“I’ve just tried to be as consistent as possible this season,” Johnston said. “I think the punt coverage has been incredible with guys outside, A.J. Moore, stuff like that, Tremon Smith, they’ve been really, really good. (Jon) Weeks has had a great year snapping. I think you’re just trying to be as consistent as possible in the remaining games.”
Although used so often, Johnston has shown no signs of fatigue.
“Yeah, no, we’re good,” he said. “The leg’s feeling fine, yeah.”
Johnston had a punt ricochet against the Tennessee Titans off the returner’s leg that was recovered by Smith.
“I think you just practice throughout the week what you’re trying to do in the game,” he said. “That’s a tough one, to hope that the returner gets in the way. I think you’re just trying to put it in the consistent area, and then a guy like Tremon knows where the ball’s going and he can jump on it quickly. I think you’re just trying to practice it all week, and if that comes in a game, it’s super helpful.”
Before Johnston emerged as one of the top punters in the NFL, Johnston had to accept that it was time to walk away from the sport he grew up loving.
After being drafted by the Melbourne Football Club and playing sparingly for the Casey Scorpions, an affiliate lower division team, Johnston was delisted by the club at the age of 19. He decided to take up American football in 2012.
Mentored by prolific coach Nathan Chapman at Prokick Australia, Johnston listened closely and went from a novice with minimal knowledge in 2012 of how to punt a football to earn a scholarship to Ohio State where he became the Big Ten Conference Punter of the Year and a finalist for the Ray Guy award.
Now, Johnston is interacting with first-year special teams coordinator Frank Ross.
“He’s great,” Johnston said. “I’ve loved every minute working with him. I’ve learned a lot. I felt like I’ve gotten a lot better as a player, as well. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped the group out tremendously, as well. I think the players really gravitate toward him in that group, as well, in the special teams room. He’s done a really good job with it.”
At 5-foot-11, 194 pounds, Johnston is packed with muscle and delivers soaring punts. He never seems to get tired.
“He puts on a show out there for sure,” Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn said. “Punting and his leg strength, he's got that Aussie strength. So, it's fun to watch.”
Signed to a contract that includes $3 million guaranteed with a $1 million signing bonus, Johnston had a 46.7 average last season. Instead of being retained with a restricted free agent tender after a 41.87 net average the past three seasons, Johnston hit free agency. Texans first-year general manager Nick Caserio moved quickly, reaching a fast agreement with Johnston to join the AFC South franchise and replace Bryan Anger.
“That’s the goal,” Johnston said. “You want to get to the second contract and just keep playing well. Every year you get to keep playing is an amazing thing. I just want to keep getting better every day.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.