Everyone knows that the Browns have one of the best punters in the NFL with veteran Britton Colquitt who was named second alternate to the Pro Bowl last season.
And at kicker? That is where Cleveland has struggled in recent years.
The answer was supposed to be Zane Gonzalez who was drafted in the seventh-round of the 2017 NFL draft. Gonzalez broke the career record in college football for field goals with 96 and owns the record for most points with 468. But he struggled with the Browns. In the second game against the New Orleans Saints in 2018 he missed two FGs, two PATs and then missed the potential game-winner in the final seconds. The week before against the Pittsburgh Steelers, his final FG attempt was blocked. Ultimately, the Browns could have begun the season 2-0-0, but instead found themselves 0-1-1. The day after the Saints fiasco, Gonzalez was cut.
Cleveland then signed Greg Joseph, an undrafted rookie who had been cut in Miami Dolphins camp. Joseph completed the year going 17-20 on FGs and 25 of 29 PATs. The Browns seemed to want a bit more production out of their field goal team and drafted K Austin Seibert out of Oklahoma in the fifth-round of this year’s draft. Siebert shined at this year’s Senior Bowl. One of these two will become the franchise’s kicker this year.
GM John Dorsey has placed an emphasis on making the special teams unit better this upcoming season. The Dallas Morning News ranks every NFL club’s special teams units annually, and last year ranked the 2018 Browns number 30 (of 32 teams).
Now that Dorsey has provided excellent competition at the kicker position, he looked at a battle at punter as well. Not that the Browns are unhappy with Colquitt. But when a professional athlete thinks that his job is on the line, many times that single player will elevate his game and get to another level he didn’t realize was inside of himself.
Years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs had future Hall of Famer Morten Andersen as their kicker. Management brought in a young buck by the name of Lawrence Tynes as camp fodder, but Tynes ended up winning the job from the highly-acclaimed veteran. Years later, Tynes would win two Super Bowls with the New York Football Giants.
So with the kicker competition set, Dorsey brought in University of Arkansas Pine-Bluff punter Jamie Gillan as one of the team’s Top-30 player visits on April 10 to tour the facilities and have dinner. Next, he was signed to a training camp contract to compete for the starting job.
Who exactly is Gillan? Why is he the beholder of one of the most awesome nicknames “The Scottish Hammer.”
Gillan was born in England, but grew up in Scotland because his father is a member of the Royal Armed Forces. Equipped with a copious Scottish accent, that part of the nickname falls into place, but what about that “hammer” bit? His high school coach gave it to Gillan after he reeled off an 80-yard punt in a game.
Oh, and get this: Gillan (6’-2”, 207 pounds) attended the same Maryland high school as Dorsey.
The game of football is full of rugby-style punters these days, and yes, Gillan is a former soccer and rugby player. And because of this, he enjoys contact. He is also a kickoff specialist and enjoys contact there, too.
He came to the United States at age 16 after his father became employed at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Lexington Park, Maryland. As a former rugby player in England, he witnessed his very first American football game at his new high school. Although the game itself was foreign, the kicking aspects were not. After several games, Gillan told Leonardtown High School head coach Brian Woodburn that he could kick better than the horrible job their kicker was giving his team.
At a meeting set up with Woodburn the following day, the high school coach gave out instructions such as to boot a spiral, launch a punt end-over-end, torpedo style, kickoffs and then attempt some field goals. After beginning at close range, once he started nailing the longer FGs with consistency, all of the kicking functions with the squad were suddenly his.
He was playing soccer on the high school team at the same time, and on one particular Friday night finished a game with the varsity soccer team in early afternoon and then was rushed to the football field for that sport’s evening game.
The Rugby Star off to College
Gillan was courted by several NFL teams to sign as an undrafted free agent and ultimately chose the Browns. He also had a few colleges interested in him to kick from them out of high school. How he ended up at Arkansas Pine-Bluff has its own odd story. He explained it on the Houston Texans podcast “TexansWire” in April:
“I had actually been contacted by Boise State but didn’t sign any papers. A friend of mine was working for a gym and saw that Arkansas Pine-Bluff had posted on Facebook they were looking for a punter after their punter de-committed. My friend put my film on their website and they called me that night and offered me a full scholarship three weeks before camp. The way I approach life is attack every situation as it is being presented to you. I went home and told my mum and dad that I had accepted a scholarship with a school in Ar Kansas. Then we got out a map to find out where Ar Kansas was.”
Having played soccer all his life and then his devotion to the game of rugby definitely brought some kicking experience to the game of American football. But both of those sports have different styles of kicking, and sometimes off a tee which neither of the other sports even consider.
“The transition from soccer or rugby to football was weird. I was a rugby kid all around and just wanted to play rugby. I thought it was going to be simple as kicking a ball somewhere, but it is so much more with punting, kicking and kicking off a football. All of that I had to learn in college. Once I got to my sophomore year at APB I started to do some research about punters. The only thing I was missing was my flexibility at the time. And with the NFL teams that talked to me since graduating there was only a few tweaks. They actually like the way I have been doing it.”
Gillan just assumed his future would become as a professional rugby player. He loved the sport and loved the contact. In that game, more and more players are donning some sort of protective padding to areas such as elbows and knees, and recently even wearing headgear, but mostly the entire body is uncovered.
“Anyone who has played rugby with me knows that I have quite a fire inside me as far as tackling. I may not be the biggest guy on the field but I hit like I love it. And now with having to be on a certain diet and weight lifting, I am not the smallest guy on the field either. If push comes to shove and I have to make the hit - absolutely. I have a full football helmet on my head now. I have never had anyone return a kick for a touchdown in the four years I was in college. I will put my body on the line.”
At the 2019 Coach Zauner’s College Senior Combine held in March, Gillan was named the best punter. This link displays his highlights:
Colquitt vs. the Hammer
For comparisons, Gillan averaged 43.4 yards a kick for Arkansas Pine-Bluff, which is a D-1 school. Colquitt averaged 45.4 yards per punt last year and has a 45.5 career average over 10 seasons.
Colquitt is 34 years old while Gillan is 21.
Gillan had 27 drops inside the 20-yard line last year while Colquitt dropped 32 of 83 punts inside the 20 in 2018.
In 2018, Gillan was 20 of 29 FGs with a long of 52-yards, and was a four-year kickoff specialist. Colquitt just handles the punter position.
And Colquitt himself has booted a 79-yard punt in a game but has never been bequeathed with a cool kicker nickname.
Why the Browns?
After a solid showing at his pro day last month, he was contacted by 20 NFL clubs to sign as an undrafted free agent after the draft. He narrowed it down to the Browns and the San Francisco 49ers. Both clubs had sent FedEx packages of NFL footballs to him previously. He had four balls and literally destroyed three of them as each one was coming apart at the inner seams.
Both Cleveland and San Francisco gave him actual tryouts. He chose the Browns because of two things: special teams coach Mike Priefer, and Colquitt. Gillan knew of Colquitt’s experience, technique and fundamentals and if nothing else, could train from one of the league’s best while at the same time trying to display his job interview to the rest of the NFL coaches if Cleveland does not become his new home. Gillan developed a bond with Coach Priefer.
An unexpected injury has kept Gillan off the field during the rookie minicamp, but the Browns seem patient to wait and see what the Scottish Hammer can do once he is completely healthy and performs in actual preseason games.