Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, first-year punter Brad Wing’s meager 29-yard punt late in the game gave the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponents the football on the defending team’s side of the field, on the 46-yard line. The Buccaneers wound up quickly driving down the field and scoring the game-winning touchdown.
It was “junior varsity” punts and inconsistency such as that that saw the Steelers employ a carousel of punters last year. And Wing is certainly far from a vested veteran with the credibility to shake off a string of mediocrity.
But fortunately for the Aussie punter, he put forth a much better effort this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After the game, Wing said that the week after the Tampa Bay game was a long one. But he wanted to play the next day after his performance in Jacksonville.
Wing averaged nearly 45 yards per punt against the Jaguars on five punts. Three of those punts were returned for a total of just 14 yards, which averages less than three yards per punt, with a net average of 38.6.
One punt did go for a touchback, but two he was able to place inside the 20-yard line.
In all, Wing has punted 22 times this season, averaging 43.5 yards per punt with a 38.1 net return average.
Two punts have gone for touchbacks, while 11 were either downed, went out of bounds, or were fair caught, with the other nine punts being returned for 80 yards.
A year ago, the Steelers cut punter Zoltan Mesko after seven games after he averaged 42.5 yards per punt, but just a net of 36.7. 17 of his 34 punts were returned for 156 yards.
Mesko was replaced with another veteran punter—and another Australian—in Mat McBriar, who played the last nine games of the season for the Steelers, and even ended up completing a 30-yard pass.
But as a punter, he was on the same level as Mesko, if not worse. In nine games, he punted 40 times for an average of 41.3 yards and a net of just 35 yards. Though 13 punts were inside the 20-yard line, 18 of them were returned for 157 yards.
While Wing is currently still averaging toward the lower end of the spectrum among the league’s punters in terms of average and net yards, he has shown the propensity and determination for improvement.
He is, after all, in just his first season on an NFL roster. And the truth is that the ratio of his punts that are returned—just under 41 percent—does rank somewhat favorably. It’s unclear what type of player he will eventually develop into, but as he showed with a nice comeback game on Sunday, he does have the potential to be a good one in the future.