Typically when a team relies on the punter for a saving tackle on special teams, it’s because of a breakdown in coverage. But Redskins fans shouldn’t fear when Rocca squares up on a returner: he made a living on hits.
“From the age of 17, I was playing professional football,” he said. “I started late, as a junior in high school, but before that, I was a shot put and discus thrower.”
How many sports can this guy play?
“Coming from Australia and playing Australian football, we have to tackle as much as we can,” said the 14-season AFL vet. “Over there, at the end of the day, teams will go through stats of tackles, and the ones with the most tackles would typically win. It’s something that was a big focus back in Australian Rules, and it’s something that I enjoy doing.”
Standing at 6-5, 265, he’s taller and heavier than every linebacker on the team except for Lorenzo Alexander (275). With 219 tackles in Aussie Rules, he knows how to drop the hammer.
Just ask Cardinals punt returner, Patrick Peterson:
With 10 seconds to go, in the game, Rocca punted the ball from the Cardinals 41, two yards deep in the endzone. Peterson returned the punt, weaving his way 29 yards down the field, where destiny met opportunity, in the form of Rocca.
“I was a bit upset that he ended up taking it out of the end zone,” Rocca said slyly after the game. “I thought I better get down and make the play.”
Rocca lowered his head and drove it into Peterson’s midsection, blowing him back and into the turf and ending the game. His form earned the congratulations of teammates Anthony Armstrong and London Fletcher on the field.
Rocca has been a master of his craft in the first two games, dropping six-of-nine punts inside the opposing 20-yard line. This week, he will look to take his talents to Cowboys Stadium, where the atmosphere will be much more hostile.
“It’s one of those things where, regardless of where we’re playing or what the situation of the game, I try to stay as focused as I can, as relaxed as I can,” he explained. “So there’s never ups and downs or fluctuations of moods. I try to stay as level as I can.”
And sometimes that means leveling another team’s punt returner.