We as fans often forget just how much time, effort and energy these young men expel in their quest to play professional football…. And that’s just to make the roster.
Over the next few days, hundreds of young men will be packing their bags for new destinations in hopes of landing a job while others will be settling in for a nice stay in the Pittsburgh Area. With the Steelers’ roster cutdown to 53 looming, here’s a look at a couple of position battles going down to the wire.
Punter: Incumbent Brad Wing vs. Jordan Berry
You know the story, both are native Australians with big legs and good athleticism. Currently, Berry holds an edge in punting average by an incredibly slim margin, 49.5 to 49.1. Let’s call that a push.
In 14 punts, Berry has put five inside the 20 with one touchback. Wing meanwhile has punted 11 times this preseason and has dropped four inside the 20 with a single touchback. Again, pretty much a push right?
Where the difference emerges is in net punting average. Berry stands at 40.9 yards per punt placing him 13th among all punters this preseason. Wing has a net average of 36.5 which places him 39th overall among all punters.
The difference here is largely due to Berry’s advantage with hang-time which of course allows the coverage team more time to get down-field and limits the time and space the returner has to make a return. With the Steelers’ special teams units questionable at best, hang-time is vital.
Fullback: Incumbent Will Johnson vs. Roosevelt Nix
Doesn’t the latter name just sound like a fullback’s name? Maybe it’s just me… In the Todd Haley offensive system, the fullback must be able to block and catch passes. If you look at the preseason stats in receptions, Johnson holds a slight lead with four to Nix’s three.
Johnson however has double the yards with an advantage of 28 to 14. Frankly, that’s to be expected. Johnson is a former college receiver and to me, looks more comfortable catching passes and turning up field than does Nix.
That brings in the other key component here which is blocking and not just run blocking either. A very reliable source told me in the middle of camp that the Steelers absolutely loved the way Nix was blocking inside the red zone. That of course is an area where the team has struggled in recent years.
Both men seem adequate when it comes to pass protection but I’ll be honest; the less a fullback is on the field in the Steelers’ current offense, the better. Give me that ’11’ personnel all day. It helps when Martavis Bryant is part of that equation but I digress.
The Steelers could save some money by going with Nix but right now I see them more comfortable with Johnson.
photo courtesy steelers.com