As Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata drew a huge crowd around him at Eagles rookie camp last week, there’s a different Australian on the roster who actually has a chance to play this year.
Not long after Mailata’s giant circle of reporters dissipated, just a few met with punter Cameron Johnston at his locker. The Australian and former Ohio State punter appears to be the guy after Donnie Jones left the team.
Is he ready for that?
“Yeah, that’s the ultimate goal,” Johnston said. “This time of the year, you’re just trying to work every single day to be ready for that opportunity.”
Johnston, 26, was with the Eagles last offseason but released at final cuts, making way for Jones to keep his spot for the fifth year in a row. After getting released, Johnston went back to Columbus, Ohio, and worked on the things he learned from his time with the Birds and worked on the things special teams coordinator Dave Fipp stressed. He's the only punter on the Eagles' 90-man roster.
It won’t be easy to follow Jones as the Eagles’ punter. After all, Jones is probably the best punter in franchise history and during his five-year stint in Philadelphia was one of the best in the league.
“He was a great punter,” Johnston said. “It was big to be able to learn from him, the punting and the holding and just the tips that he had. He had that long of a career and being that successful, you try to learn as much as you can.”
The holding aspect of Johnston’s job shouldn’t be overlooked either. He spent three years holding for the Buckeyes, but the Eagles have a new kicker from last offseason. Jake Elliott came in after Caleb Sturgis’ injury and won the job. All three specialist positions are held by new owners.
The goal for Johnston is consistency. He knows the best specialists in the NFL are — more than anything else — consistent. In his eyes, that’s the key to sticking in the NFL.
Johnston definitely has some talent. During his senior season at Ohio State, he had a 46.7-yard average, good for first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation. He also set Buckeye records for punts inside the 20 in his career (109) and in a season (31 in 2015). His career average of 44.9 yards per punt is second in Ohio State history.
It was sometime during those four years at Ohio State that he realized the NFL was a real possibility.
“When I first moved to an American college, it was just trying to play for Ohio State and do the best you can there and try to win some games,” he said. “And during your time there, you kind of see this as an opportunity and the ultimate goal at the end of it.”
Johnston is from Geelong, Australia, but his tape reached Ohio State special teams coach Kerry Coombs in the summer of 2013. Johnston, an Australian Rules Football player, had trained at Prokick Australia, based in Melbourne.
When asked about fellow Aussie Mailata, Johnston said he was excited to see the big guy get drafted and is happy for his opportunity.
For now, though, it seems like Johnston’s own opportunity is a little closer.