They are often the most important part of a football game; sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad ones but without solid play from kickers, long snappers, punters and returners teams in the NFL are in trouble.
The Steelers appear to be solid in two of these five spots and arguably all five, so let’s break things down.
Place Kicker: Shaun Suisham
I wrote a piece on ‘Sushi’ last week and it could just as easily be placed here for Battle Reports because I don’t think there’s any chance of him not being the kicker for 2015. That said, place kickers can sometimes be like professional golfers. When they start missing ones they should make, doubt creeps in. I don’t see that coming with Suisham though.
Punter: Jordan Berry
If you’re looking for an upset, here it is. Like Brad Wing, Berry is also from “Down Under” but stands two inches taller at 6′ 5″. He punted in college at Eastern Kentucky and also was the holder in place kicking situations. What makes me think Berry will overtake Wing is his ability to get the ball inside the 20 which he did with consistency in college.
While he wasn’t on an NFL roster in 2014, his pedigree in college and as a rugby-style kicker might be too much for the Steelers to pass up.
Only three other NFL punters had a lower average in 2014 than did Wing and one of those was former Steelers’ punter Drew Butler. His 43.7 average could be tolerated if his numbers had been better in terms of pinning teams inside the 20 yard line but that stat wasn’t great either.
In many ways, Wing is competing against a clone of himself and he’ll have experience on his side. The problem is that I think Berry can win the job with accuracy and that’s something Wing has struggled with.
Long Snapper: Greg Warren
Can we just go ahead and place Warren in some sort of “permanent position” here? The veteran is one of just a few holdovers from the Bill Cowher era and continues to flash consistency.
Punt Returner: Antonio Brown
The Steelers are desperate for someone to step up and take this position from Brown. As dangerous as he is returning punts, both from a speed perspective as well as a ‘kicking’ one, the risk of him getting hurt is just too great. That said, I don’t know who takes his place. Is there anyone who can be as safe and as consistent as he has been? I say “no.”
Kick Returner: Dri Archer
We learned in the offseason that Dri Archer did a lot of work to understand what worked and what didn’t in his returns from last year. You’ll remember that his first go-round returning kicks didn’t go well. He was eventually replaced by LeGarrette Blount and Markus Wheaton.
I believe Wheaton will be a factor again and could see some time there if Archer just doesn’t come full-circle. One wild-card is Eli Rogers, a rookie from Louisville who has some experience.