Steelers 2015: State of the Punting Game
For Steeler nation this offseason has been dominated by a lot of hand-wringing over problems with various positions on defense. That’s not the only area they need help with however. For several seasons now they’ve struggled in the punt game. Like the holes on defense this hole has not yet definitely been filled at this point.
The Steelers have been struggling to find a consistent punter since Daniel Sepulveda left the team in 2011 after he was the Steelers for 5 seasons including two Super Bowl appearances and one win. They went through a similar phase after Josh Miller left the team before they found Sepulveda.
Since Sepulveda left the team we’ve gone through a series of punters, none of whom seem to stand out or stick around more than a year. According to ESPN.com, in 2012 the Steelers ranked 26 in punting average with Drew Butler as the kicker. In 2013 they ranked 31st with Zoltan Mesko and Mat McBriar splitting the job. For the 2014 season the Steelers improved all the way to 29th with Brad Wing punting the ball.
Not particularly impressive numbers. Since 2010 the Steelers have not been able to put together a top 15 punting game. You’d have to go back a decade to find a season where the Steelers punt average was in the top ten of teams.
Although it’s certainly never been said that punting wins games or championships, it certainly doesn’t hurt. It certainly doesn’t help on the other hand to be perennially ranked near last in any statistical category.
The Steelers have been doing a lot of rebuilding in several positions. Granted, you could argue most if not all of those positions are more important than punter. But we’ve been neglecting the punt game and it shows.
The Steelers have elected to bring back last year’s punter Brad Wing. In his rookie year, after winning the job essentially by default, Wing averaged 43.7 yards per punt. Wing occasionally showed he could really boot the ball but was very inconsistent.
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Steelers fans will remember his 29 yard punt during an early season loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Steelers like their punters to be able to handle holding for kicks and Wing struggled in that area as well.
Wing’s performance last year was decent overall but he’s far from irreplaceable. To compete with Wing during training camp the Steelers have brought on a pair of punters.
In January the Steelers picked up Richie Leone. Leone was an undrafted free agent out of Houston last year and was signed by the Baltimore Ravens. Two preseason punts were the extent of his action. However, after an impressive career in Houston he did push Ravens veteran punter Sam Koch for the job but ultimately lost. The main concern with Leone is his long delivery.
On Tuesday the Steelers announced they’ve signed a third punter. Jordan Berry, who, like Wing, hails from Australia, will be the 3rd punter competing for the job. Berry went undrafted last year and did not play with any teams. Berry has a strong leg but doesn’t have a lot of experience putting it inside the 20. However he does have experience holding on kickoffs. He once recorded a 77 yard punt.
This is a strategy the Steelers have employed for the punt job every offseason since Sepulveda’s departure. They sign a few punters nobody else seems to want very much and hope that through power of competition or even odds that one of them will emerge as the clear winner. It’s worked before, just not the past few years.
With the defense struggling as it has the past couple years a punter becomes even more important. Those extra 5 or 10 yards could make the difference between 7, 3, or 0 points on the board. Let’s hope this strategy works out this year.
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