While the Steelers’ Kicking and Punting games were not by any means the “Achilles heels'” of the team in 2011, they were not what you would call “elite” or something to write home about either. Nevertheless, both Kicker Shaun Suisham and Punter Jeremy Kapinos, the duo which held the starting spots at Kicker and Punter when the 2011 season ended, currently have their names etched at the top of the depth chart at their respective positions. I must however ask the following questions in regards to Suisham and Kapinos: Are the Steelers really comfortable with both Suisham and Kapinos entering 2012? Does the franchise have any legitimate competition for the projected starters as the summer rolls along? Will the competition be able to push or overtake the starters? With those questions in mind, today I will be sharing my thoughts and musings on Pittsburgh’s Kicker and Punter situations:
Before I begin, I must say that liked Daniel Sepulveda as a Punter, and during his tenure in Pittsburgh he did a solid enough job. The unfortunate part about Sepulveda though was the fact that he missed so much time with injuries and the team was forced to call on mid-season signees three times in six years to replace him (I take a cold shower and cry when I think about Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster and their 30 yard shank boots). Because of Sepulveda’s knee injuries, Pittsburgh’s brass made the sensible financial and football move and showed him the door after the 2011 season ended. Now that Sepulveda is gone, his mid-season replacement in the last two seasons, Jeremy Kapinos, appears to have his best chance to win the full-time job.
To his credit, Kapinos chipped in and did an adequate job after Sepulveda went down with his injuries down the stretch in 2010 and 2011. Over 12 regular season games with the Steelers, Kapinos logged 48 Punts for 2106 Yards for a 43.9 Yards Per Punt average. In 2011, Kapinos averaged a career high 45.0 Yards Per Punt and tied his career long with a 59 Yard boot. Still, Kapinos has yet to prove himself over a full season with the club (not his fault because he was called up at mid-season both times, and he did start all 16 games with Green Bay during the 2009 season), and will face a stiff challenge for his job from Rookie UDFA Drew Butler over the coming months.
Butler, whose Father was long-time Chicago Bears Kicker and Bulldog alum Kevin Butler, had himself a fine career at Georgia where he started for three years. Butler’s best season came as a Sophomore when he won the Ray Guy Award in 2009. During that season, Butler logged 56 Punts for 2,691 Yards, and led the nation with a 48.1 Yards Per Punt clip. Over his next two seasons, Butler’s Yards Per Punt statistics sank just a bit (2010: 44.5 (19th) and 2011: 44.2 (18th) as well), but he produced on an efficient basis and established himself as one of the best and most consistent Punters in the nation. Butler did such a fine job for the Bulldogs that he was named to the Georgia’s All-Decade Team for his accomplishments on the field, and was also recognized for his work in the classroom when he earned a National Football Foundation (NFF) Scholar Athlete Award.
It should be an interesting competition between Kapinos and Butler because of the fact that Butler was a bit of a shock to go undrafted. I am glad that the Steelers picked up a quality Punter like Butler who has potential, and did not have to use a draft pick to do it. I am at least comfortable with Kapinos shouldering the load, and he has a decent amount of experience. Nevertheless, I would like to see what Butler can do when given his chance. If Butler ends up panning out, it would be a huge steal for the club which was able to add depth in Rounds 5-7 to other positions of need. I really do not mind who steps up and takes the job, I just want the club to find an answer and gain some stability at the Punter position.
While I am at least comfortable with Kapinos as the Punter if he indeed wins the job outright, I cannot feel the same way about Shaun Suisham entering this season. Let me first start off by saying that Steelers were a bit spoiled by the consistency of Jeff Reed from the 2007-2009 seasons. During that three-year stretch, there were few, if any, Kickers that were able to produce and produce as well as Skippy did. I for one was able to ignore Reed’s odd behavior towards bathroom towel dispensers and “Doc Brown” hairdo because of his (77 of 87) 88.5% Field Goal percentage, and his ability to hit clutch kicks. Reed for whatever reason tanked bad in 2010, and was cut after hitting only 15 of 22 (68.1%) Field Goals through the first 9 games of the season.
After being almost money when he was signed at midseason for the then-erratic Reed, Suisham did a terrific job. Over 2010’s final 7 weeks, Suisham went 14 of 15 on Field Goal Attempts (93.3%), and nailed 8 of 9 from 40+ Yards away. Then however, the postseason began, and Suisham began to have some consistency issues as he missed two Field Goals in the three Playoff games.
Then during 2011, Suisham’s accuracy remained a tad off, and it really showed on Field Goals from 30+ Yards as well. Suisham went 23 for 31 (74.2%) on his Field Goals during his first full year with the Steelers, and most shockingly went 13 for 21 (61.9%) on Field Goals from 30+ Yards away. To be fair, Suisham’s career Field Goal average is (124 of 156) 79.5%, and in his combined career with the Steelers he has performed at just about that level at a (37 of 46) 80.4% clip. Yet with Suisham’s recent struggles, the team signed Undrafted Rookie Danny Hrapmann from Southern Mississippi to put some heat on him over the coming months.
Hrapmann showed flashes of being a terrific Kicker at Southern Mississippi during his career, and was even named a 1st Team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation in 2010. That season, Hrapmann went 26 of 31 (83.9%) on Field Goals, 55 of 55 on PAT’s, which gave him 133 Points overall. His Points totals ranked him 3rd in the country in Scoring, 3rd in the country in Field Goals, and he made 8 of his 11 Field Goals from 40+ Yards away.
Unfortunately for Hrapmann, his Senior campaign was marred by some inconsistency, and his Draft stock slipped so much that he was not even selected by a team last month. Hrapmann’s Field Goal percentage slipped greatly down to 67.6% (23 of 34) and was a tad off from long distance as he went 7 for 16 on Field Goals from 40+ Yards away. Yet that is not to say that Hrapmann’s 2011 season was terrible. He ranked 3rd in total Field Goals again with 23, ranked tied for 10th overall in total Points with 130, and made 61 of his 62 Extra Points on the year. Hrapmann even played hero in a couple of games last season, as he most notably went 5 for 5 in a 30-29 win over Central Florida, and three of his Kicks were from over 40 Yards (42, 44, 48) as the Eagles triumphed that night.
For a smaller guy (5’9″ 164 lbs.), Hrapmann has a pretty big leg (15 Field Goals of 40+ Yards over the last two seasons), which should help him kick in cold and wintery conditions. The question will be whether or not he is the 2010 version of himself accuracy-wise not the 2011 version of himself accuracy-wise. Thus, Hrapmann will have to be at his best to unseat the veteran Suisham will really have to have a bad Training Camp and Preseason to lose the Kicker job. Like the Punter position, I do not mind who wins the job, I just want the Steelers to find a consistent answer at said spot.
So what will end up happening with the Kicker and Punter positions? I believe that Kapinos and Butler will probably battle until the final days of the preseason until a clear victor emerges. I am sure the Steelers are well aware of what Kapinos can do, but it will be intriguing to see if Butler can overtake him for the job and the roster spot. In regards to Suisham and Hrapmann, I hope at least one of them rekindles the consistency which they both possessed in 2010. Either guy I am fine with having, just as long as one can prove they can do the job on a regular basis and kick in the muck come late in the season.
Heinz Field’s turf is a complete and total slop-fest come the end of November, and steady Special Teams play will be needed on all fronts. Probably the place it will be needed most is in the Kicking Game, and especially when the Steelers head towards the open end of the stadium. I will be keeping my fingers crossed for the next few months, and hope that some long-term answers emerge. The Steelers can ill-afford to have shoddy Special Teams play, and it would be nice if two of these four players stepped up their games in 2012 and beyond.