Braden is the Mann in the Jets' kicking game
Braden Mann always was a natural as a kicker. But long before he snapped off 60-yard punts, he snapped countless boards of wood in half.
The Jets rookie’s first sport wasn’t football. It was Taekwondo. Mann began training when he was 3 years old.
"I got really serious about it," he said. "I did it really consistently and really hard."
Mann was so serious that he is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo and competed in the sport at the highest level in grade school and in more than one Junior Olympics. He took home bronze medals in the Forms Competition and Sparring.
After about 10 years of training, often seven days a week, Mann gave up Taekwondo and put all of his focus into football. But all those years of working on and perfecting every angle kick imaginable, and developing incredible strength and flexibility in his legs, helped Mann become one of the best punters in the world.
"It helped me with lower-body control and coordination," he said. "It allows me to make some adjustments on the move in a game. If something doesn’t go right, I can always try to get myself out of it with my lower body, my leg speed and lower-body athletic ability.
"From the age of 3, I was always constantly using my legs. That’s not something that a lot of kids do, so I think that allowed me to help myself a little bit through high school and college."
As a junior at Texas A&M, Mann set an NCAA record with 14 punts of at least 60 yards. He boomed an 82-yard bomb against Kentucky and punts of 73 and 69 yards against Clemson.
Mann’s 51.0-yard punt average in 2018 established an NCAA single-season mark and made him a unanimous All-American.
The Jets took Mann in the sixth round in what appears to have been a strong first draft class for general manager Joe Douglas. He has performed well for the Jets, who hope to secure their first win on Sunday against the Raiders.
Mann has done all of the punting and has kicked off 21 times. He leads the NFL in punts (56) and yards (2,525), averaging 45.1 yards. His 60-yard punt in Week 8 at Kansas City was the longest by a Jets rookie since 2000.
Jets special teams coordinator Brant Boyer said Mann’s "got a really good arsenal of kicks" and that he’s been impressed with his improvement.
"The kid is getting better and better every week," Boyer said. "His locations/hang times and ability to control returners get better and better every week. The sky is the limit for him. He is a worker, a great kid and a pleasure to coach. I would have him on my team any day of the week."
Mann also plays with some fire and edge. He has three special-teams tackles, and two of them might have saved touchdowns.
He doesn’t want to be in that position, but some old instincts kick in for Mann. He played linebacker for years. The 5-11, 198-pounder isn’t built like a linebacker, but when necessary, he can stick a returner. He forced a fumble against South Carolina with a hard hit on a return.
"I always wanted to play linebacker in college," Mann said. "That was like my dream at the time. Slowly, kicking and punting became my dream. But I definitely miss it.
"If the returner ends up getting to me, for those three seconds, I kind of enjoy it a little bit. I guess it’s a little bit of my dream that kind of lives on playing linebacker."
During his freshman year at Cy-Fair High School in Cypress, Texas, Mann had to give up playing linebacker after fracturing his back for a second time.
It first happened when he was making a tackle in elementary school. The second time came at the end of his freshman year while doing squats in the weight room.
"That was kind of the last straw for my doctor," Mann said. "He told me I needed to give up playing a pretty physical sport."
Mann always kicked for his football teams because he was "kind of a natural at it," he said, and it became his focus as a sophomore. That also was when he gave up another sport he had played since a young age — soccer.
He said he "always had a fascination with goalies," so he became one. In youth sports, teams often play without goalkeepers before the age of 8. Mann didn’t like that. He wanted to be a goalkeeper "so bad" that he played up in age very early.
"I don’t know what it is with my fascination of playing a hand sport with my feet in football or a foot sport with my hands in soccer," Mann said. "But I always kind of liked it."
As a junior, he put all of his efforts into getting a college scholarship, and the work didn’t stop after Texas A&M gave him one. Mann kept striving for more and pushed himself in college to pin teams back farther and farther. He’s doing the same thing now.
"I just challenged my numbers, and I said I think if I keep getting better and working hard, maybe I can compete with those guys in the in the NFL," Mann said. "Natural ability helped me a little bit, but after that, it’s work ethic."
Notes & quotes: The Jets released wide receiver Chris Hogan from injured reserve Saturday and elevated defensive back Elijah Campbell and linebacker Noah Dawkins from the practice squad.