Did The Steelers Finally Find A Punter?
For regular readers of Steel City Underground, you know I’ve expounded upon the importance of a good punting game and special teams since the inception of this blog. Last year I was incredibly hopeful for a training camp battle between Brad Wing and Adam Podlesh… that was until, Podlesh never reported. Brad Wing won the job by default.
Wing went on to have an OK year, but if fans are remiss of his botched punt in the Tampa Bay game last season (and the result of giving the Buccanneers excellent field position with little time remaining) then you’ll understand where I’m coming from with this article.
I’ve been begging, pleading, to please get a GOOD punter on this team. I even wanted the Steelers to draft a punter! The thinking is very simple: we need someone that can put the ball down the field and pin an offense deep in their own end. Otherwise, our already suspect defense can concede more than they should.
Looking around the same division, Baltimore and Cincinatti have solid punters in Sam Koch and Kevin Huber respectively. (Huber made the Pro Bowl last season.) The Cleveland Brown even made a move for 3 time Pro Bowler Andy Lee, trading a 2017 7th round pick for the punter.
That leaves Pittsburgh as the odd man out: something they’ve been used to since 2009, which is the last time the team had any semblance of consistency at the position, where Daniel Sepulveda played in all 16 games. But even that’s a stretch. The punting position has been pretty much ignored for almost all of Mike Tomlin’s tenure in Pittsburgh.
While Sepulveda played all 16 in 2009, he was taken in the 4th round of the 2007 draft to carry the load, beating Mike Barr in camp for the position (which was vacated by the last multiple-year starter Chris Gardocki.) Daniel would only carry the load those two seasons, missing the 2008 season when he tore his ACL in the first day of that year’s training camp.
Mitch Berger was brought in to compete with Paul Ernster; Berger won the job and would play 13 games before experiencing hamstring problems. The team would bring Ernster back for those three games.
Sepulveda returned in 2009, played all 16, but reinjured himself again in 2010. Jeremy Kapinos became the punter, before trading the job back to Sepulveda in 2011. Sepulveda would once again find himself on the injured reserve list, with Kapinos once again taking over for him. Sepulveda would not return in 2012, as the team committed to Kapinos… who would also get injured in the preseason and make way for Drew Butler.
Stop me if you’re seeing a pattern.
Butler would play all 16 games in 2012, and beat Brian Moorman for the job in the 2013 preseason, however, Butler was cut after the final preseason game to make room for the newly acquired Zoltan Mesko, who was waived by the New England Patriots.
And then the mess really began.
Mesko would only last 7 games before the Steelers cut ties with him for Matt McBriar, the team’s 4th punter that year (if you count the preseason battle as well.)
And as we’re already familiar, McBriar did not last either, as his contract was not renewed for 2014 and the aforementioned non-battle of Wing vs. Podlesh ensued.
Enter 2015 and Jordan Berry. Finally I’m seeing the light at the end of the punting tunnel that I hope the front office is also taking notice of. Berry’s 66-yard blast in the Buffalo Bills game last weekend was the final nail in the coffin for Wing’s job, at least in my opinion. In the game recaps, I continued to take notice of Berry’s ability to not only put the ball far, but also allow it to hang, which is ever so important for the return team to make their way down the field.
Berry has also placed at least two punts in a position for special teams to down it within the 1. He’s had very few touchbacks (as opposed to Wing) and it just begs the question of what happens if this kid gets all of the repetitions to show us what he can do.
Considering the trouble at the kicking position this season, as well as Berry’s ability to also placekick, I wouldn’t be surprised if his versatility would give him the edge over Wing, as Mike Tomlin (like any NFL coach) is keen on players who can fill multiple roles.