The Pittsburgh Steelers rode through this season with first-year punter Brad Wing for all 16 games, as well as through their one-game playoff run, which seems like an eternity when considering that they had three different punters on the 53-man roster a year ago.
Wing was a highly talented but cocky college player, who seemed to have great potential in the pros. He failed to stick on a roster after going undrafted in his first season, however, and we may never know if he would have won the job with the Steelers had things gone differently.
After Wing was signed to a futures contract, Pittsburgh signed punter Adam Podlesh as a veteran free agent, a former fourth-round draft pick who had had success in the league in the past, even though injuries had hampered him in recent years.
As is well known by now, Podlesh’s wife had a very complicated birth that nearly cost her her life. Football was the last thing on his mind, and the Steelers understood that. He never entered camp and Wing won the punting job by default, even though his preseason performance was average at best, and certainly inconsistent.
Wing finished his first full season in the league ranked 31st in the league in average yards per punt, averaging just 43.7 yards on his 61 punts. It was the fourth-worst among the primary punters in the league, with one of the three he finished ahead of being Drew Butler, who won the punting job for the Steelers at a rookie in 2012 before making the final 53-man roster in 2013 and promptly being replaced by Zoltan Mesko.
On the other hand, he did show better in his net average, finishing ranked 21st in the league with 38.8 net yards per punt. Still, the top five punters in the league all finished with a net average exceeding 42 yards.
Only 27 of his 61 punts were returned, for a total of 220 yards, numbers that are fairly respectable, but that has much to do with the fact that the Steelers have some strong special teams contributors, particularly at the gunner positions on punt coverage.
During the Wildcard game, Wing punted three times, but while he may have only averaged 38.3 yards, that figure doesn’t completely accurately describe his performance. In fact, only one of his three punts was subpar, with a 37-yarder to the Ravens’ 31-yard line, where it was fair caught.
Wing’s first punt only traveled 30 yards, but it was downed at the seven-yard line. His final punt traveled 48 yards and was fair caught at the 12. Those two good punts are perhaps something to build on.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Wing won’t have competition come the spring and summer. While Mike Tomlin said yesterday that he felt Wing improved during the course of the season, that doesn’t mean he can’t be replaced, as Butler found out a few years ago.