The kicking fraternity can be quite small, and for Chad Ryland and Bryce Baringer that has certainly been the case. The pair first hooked up while competing at the Kohl's Kicking Camp and they've been connected ever since. After the Patriots selected both in the recently completed NFL draft, the tandem hopes to continuing working together.
Despite the similarities in their backgrounds, their roads to Foxborough took on very different paths. While Ryland immediately earned the kicking job at Eastern Michigan before finishing at Maryland, Baringer's playing time wasn't initially available.
"When we came here as a staff in 2020 we were wondering who were going to be our specialists," Michigan State special teams coach Ross Els said. "We heard he was not invited on the team the previous year and now he's back on the team. He had a heck of a leg and just needed some time to develop. He's kind of a rags to riches story. He just grew and worked extremely hard."
He first attended Illinois but redshirted after never getting a chance to show his ability. He transferred to Michigan State in 2018 but evidently didn't impress the coaches enough to warrant the job moving forward. He was assigned videotaping duties in 2019 and wasn't officially part of the team, but things soon changed shortly thereafter.
"He was constantly told he wasn't good enough," said Jamie Kohl, director of Kohl's Kicking Camp. "He got told he wasn't good enough at Illinois. He was told he wasn't good enough at Michigan State. He had to be the video guy before he really got his shot.
That changed when Els arrived as part of Mel Tucker's staff in East Lansing. Baringer impressed and continued to improve.
"One of the unique things about Bryce is he wants to know what's going on around him – his protections, when he has time, where the pressure might be coming from," Els said. He still learning and growing and asking a ton of questions.
"First thing you'll notice is he's calm, cool and collected. He does not get rattled. Something happens and he wants to know why. You have to have that out of specialist. You don't want to panic. Bryce can handle the good with the bad because he's pretty even keeled."
Even after a couple of excellent seasons with the Spartans as their primary punter, Baringer still had to convince some scouts that he was worth further development.
"He was a hard sell to get to the Senior Bowl and the Combine," Kohl explained. "I knew at the Senior Bowl he'd have every opportunity to do what he can do. Same thing at the Combine. He had one of best performances for anyone over the last 10-15 years. I basically told them what he was at Combine is who he was; just a dude that when other good players got out there with him the other guys say that guy is better than me."
That was the case over his final three seasons with the Spartans, where he averaged 49 yards per punt in 2022, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors, Big Ten Punter of the Year, first-team All-America and a spot as a Ray Guy Award finalist.
As for his performance at the Senior Bowl, Kohl wasn't exaggerating. Jim Nagy, the Senior Bowl executive director, said NFL scouts were gushing about Baringer's big leg.
"Talking to guys around the league, and special teams coaches, they felt like Bryce had the best leg of any of the punters," Nagy said. "He had a couple of days down here where he was absolutely booming the ball. And with some of the Zebra Technology we have, with the [tracking] chip balls and everything, his hang time, distance, he was kind of the talk of the week."
Like Ryland, Baringer is very committed to his craft. Kohl said his ability to operate in poor weather conditions taught him various techniques in order to deal with wind and snow, and as a result better prepared him for the NFL, where the Patriots made him one of their sixth-round picks (192nd overall).
One of the knocks on Baringer heading into the draft process was his hang time, which was somewhat inconsistent at times. Kohl said that was more by design due to the weather and how the Spartans coaches wanted him to execute.
"He had to adapt to terrible conditions at Michigan State," Kohl explained. "They wanted him to get rid of the ball very quick, and the college ball has less of a sweet spot than an NFL ball and some guys really struggled with that. He was highly productive with what they wanted, but sometimes that translates and sometimes it doesn't.
"It's like playing the golf course. Bryce was easily able to pull out different golf clubs depending on the situation. He showed great hang time with distance and direction when asked to. I see him fitting right in with what the New England way is. He's very smart. He reminds me of a mechanical engineering mind. That kind of attitude I think will be highly embraced in New England."
Kohl also said when Baringer was on the road with the camp he displayed tremendous hang time, offering videos of kicks with times ranging between 5.3 and 5.5 seconds.
"That's hard to do," Kohl said. "Not too many of these guys can do that. The guys at Michigan State, given the poor weather, didn't ask him to do that and I think that's what led to some of those questions. But he's worked on his techniques and showed everyone what he could do."
The one area where Kohl believes Baringer will need to work on is his plus-50 punting. He struggled to change speeds at times and occasionally was guilty of outkicking his coverage and delivering too many touchbacks, recording 42 on 109 attempts over the last two seasons.
"He's really tried to address that," Kohl admitted. "He is working on flip-flop kicks where the ball goes end over end and bounces either straight up or backward. I think he's gotten more comfortable with those, but he hasn't totally mastered it. But he will home in on whatever it takes to be successful."
Baringer and Ryland worked together at the Senior Bowl, where Baringer served as the holder throughout the week. As luck would have it, both wound up in Foxborough, and Baringer figures to supplant Jake Bailey as the punter with only Corliss Waitman currently on the roster as competition.
"They both just have that winner mentality. Those two guys are extremely focused," Kohl concluded. "Bill brought them in for a reason. I don't know Bill Belichick extremely well but everything I do know of him I think he'll appreciate that focused nature.
"You guys got two really good ones."
Patriots Draft Pick Profile
Hometown: Waterford, Michigan
Selected: 6th round, 192nd overall
Strengths: Huge leg with the ability to flip the field. … Good timing in his mechanics. … Plus-athleticism allows him to handle off-target snaps. … Shows the ability to execute on directional punts.
Weaknesses: Often outkicks his coverage. Had two kicks returned for touchdowns in 2020. … Below-average in terms of hang time. … Hasn't shown the consistent ability to take something off his kicks to avoid touchbacks.
Personal: Attended Notre Dame Prep (Mich.) High School and earned letters in golf, soccer and basketball as well as football. … Originally attended Illinois before transferring to Michigan State after redshirting in 2017. … Named Big Ten Punter of the Year in 2022. … First-team All-American and Ray Guy Award finalist. … Attended Senior Bowl. … First-team All-Big Ten. … Recipient of the United States Marine Corps Distinguished Athlete award. Twitter handle is @bryce_bin18.
Comparable NFL player: P Thomas Morstead, Jets – Morstead similarly fought his way onto a college roster before enjoying a solid NFL career.
By the numbers
|2017: Redshirted at Illinois
|2019: Did not play
|Combine Average for Position
|40 Yards: 5.0
|Vertical Jump: na
|Long Jump: na
What they're saying …
"Baringer was clearly the best punter prospect this year and is experienced in poor weather." – NFL.com's Eric Edholm
View photos of Patriots sixth round pick, punter Bryce Baringer in action at Michigan State.