We’re more than halfway through the offseason now and the Steelers have been pretty quiet when it comes to punter. Has Jordan Berry finally settled the question?
The Steelers had a hard time with punter there for a while but now it appears that Jordan Berry might be the guy. But how long will he last? And is he really such a sure thing? Let’s catch up on the state of the punt game.
The Steelers were struggling to find a consistent punter since Daniel Sepulveda’s exit in 2011. He was with the Steelers for 5 seasons including two Super Bowl appearances and one win. They went through a similar chaotic period after Josh Miller left the team, before they ended up with Sepulveda.
But when Sepulveda left they dove right back into it, a series of punters, none of whom seem to stick around more than a year. According to ESPN.com, in 2012 the Steelers ranked 26th 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 over a decade to find a season where the Steelers punt average was in the top ten of teams.
Last year, the Steelers had a three way battle going for a while with Berry, Wing, and Richie Leone. Richie didn’t last long. Eventually, the Steelers decided to go with Berry. The Australian punter out of Eastern Kentucky went undrafted and didn’t play in 2014 but after an outstanding preseason with the Steelers Wing got traded to the Giants.
After all that mess we’ve finally ended up in a good spot. Adding Jordan Berry to the roster changed the Steelers punt game overnight raising it all the way up to 29th in the league, exactly where it was last year. But hey, got a free a draft pick out of it.
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Berry was also very inconsistent when it came to distance. He could occasionally really lay into the ball, and then have a game like he did against Denver at the end of the season where he had a pair of 27 yard shanks.
Now the Steelers are in a position of luxury when it comes to punting. Their offense is so good that they don’t have to do it very often. When they do, they don’t have to kick very long. Steelers punter is a pretty sweet gig. It’s not irrelevant though. A good punter makes the Steelers a better team.
But let’s not be too hard on Berry. If we dig deeper, Berry is an improvement. Let’s not focus too much on the raw distance. As mentioned before, the Steelers punter does not have to punt far. They’re also not allowed to punt far. The Steelers offense just doesn’t give a punter a chance to punt from their own 20 and let it rip.
But as Bill Nye used to say, consider the following. Berry had no punts blocked. That’s cool. Here’s another thing, of the 59 he punts he sent off 28 were inside the 20. That’s just over 42%. Of the 28 that were inside the 20 a mere 2 were touchbacks. Berry might be inconsistent on distance but on accuracy he’s very impressive.
Chuck Zodda of Inside the Pylon looked at punts from within your own 40, long punts, and within the other team’s, short punts. When controlling for distance Berry still isn’t great at 26th in the league, but better. When it comes to the short punts though he’s the best in the league.
It appears Jordan Berry is safe but the Steelers have brought in another punter. It’s been quiet. And though that’s partially because of Berry’s performance it’s also because you can only discuss the punter position for so many offseasons before you let yourself be delusional with optimism as long as you don’t have to think about punting.
But this other punter the Steelers brought in is not the obligatory undrafted free agent who costs to keep the veterans from napping during camp. Well, he is, but he’s not just that. I’m talking about Duke punter Will Monday. The young fella has a boot on him and accuracy too. He’s just a bit inconsistent. Many thought he was one of the top punters with pro potential though, possibly even a day 3 pick.
So old Jordan Berry isn’t going to just be handed the job. Will Monday could be a solid NFL punter someday. But as talented as Pittsburgh is Ben Roethlisberger is still the most important piece of the puzzle and he’s not getting younger. So for the Steelers there is something to be said for taking good now over maybe great later. But they didn’t seem to take that approach in the draft.
The bottom line is, if Berry can be a bit more consistent (for example never punting 27 yards again) then he’ll get the job. He has more experience, used to who is snapping, the plays and the coverages, even the NFL crowds. Last year he did hit that rookie wall and now he’ll be better conditioned.
Berry may not be Josh Miller status yet, but he’s already won one punt off and he’s done enough that, unless Monday is too good to ignore, it’s his job to lose for the near future.