CHARLOTTE – Like most punters, Michael Palardy could talk shop all day, using long sentences and big words to break down the mental and physical intricacies of playing the position at the highest of levels.
In the middle of a discussion about barricades and barometers, wide receiver Devin Funchess walked by Palardy's locker and cut to the chase without breaking stride.
"He's kicking the hell out of that ball," Funchess said.
That pretty much sums it up.
Palardy, in his first full season as an NFL punter, has been especially effective the past three weeks.
"He's been phenomenal," Rivera said. "He's a weapon for us, a solid defensive weapon. He's been able to get us out of some tough spots and have put us in some really good positions by flipping the field."
Palardy ranked 13th in the NFL in net punting and 24th in gross punting through six games, but he enters Week 10 standing fifth in net and ninth in gross.
"The people that I'm surrounded by have instilled a lot of confidence in me," Palardy said. "For a punter to be able to trust that the protection and the coverage is going to be the way it has been, it makes it a whole lot easier for me to put the ball where I need to put it."
Palardy mentioned Marquette King (Raiders), Johnny Hekker (Rams) and Sam Koch (Ravens) as influences along his long journey to sudden success. With a 47.4-yard average, Palardy ranks above all of those save King in gross punting and also is outpacing Andy Lee, the three-time Pro Bowler he beat out for the job who now punts for the Cardinals.
Over the past three weeks, Palardy's net average has skyrocketed to 43.8 yards, thanks to a league-best eight punts inside the 20-yard line. While Palardy thanked his teammates for that, he has his punting peers to thank in the big picture, not to mention special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey for helping him get his left foot in the door.
And, even if Palardy won't acknowledge it, he also has himself to thank for his remarkable perseverance along the way.
Palardy was a steady and significant contributor at the University of Tennessee, pulling triple duty as the Volunteers' punter, kicker and kickoff man. His numbers were very good but didn't scream pro potential.
McGaughey, however, saw something. In his first season as an NFL special teams coordinator with the Jets in 2014, he at first saw someone in Palardy who could be a valuable "camp leg" given his versatility. That helped Palardy score an invite to the Jets' rookie minicamp.
"I had actually coached against him when I was at LSU and he was at Tennessee," McGaughey said. "Palardy could do all three things – he could punt, he could kick off and he could kick field goals. During rookie minicamp he did all three and did a really good job.
"I told him, if you focus on two of the three, you'll play in this league for a long time."
And then the Jets didn't retain Palardy after the weekend camp.
"Coach McGaughey told me, 'You're going to get bounced around. You're going to get cut,' " Palardy said. "But he also told me, 'You need to continue to work hard and persevere because at some point your chance will come.'"
Eventually, Palardy was able to focus almost entirely on punting. Along the way, however, he said he spent time with 10 teams and worked out 25-plus times.
His big break came midway through last season, when Lee in his 13th NFL season was sidelined for the first time in his career by a season-ending hamstring injury. The Panthers called on Palardy, who filled in admirably for seven games and who has been even better through eight games this season.
"As a specialist, you don't ever have confidence that you're going to get a shot because so many guys don't. There are guys out there that deserve an opportunity, that are talented enough to play, and they're just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Palardy said. "For me, it was four years of perseverance. It was getting cut and being told, 'Hey, you're good enough to play but not right now. Just continue to work hard.'"
View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Dolphins.