As the days continue to tick away before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2015 training camp opens in Latrobe at the end of the month, we continue to preview some of the major storylines to look out for as the weeks progress.
One of the more exciting aspects of training camp is always keeping an eye on the roster battles, and the Steelers appear to have a deeper 90-man roster than has been the case in recent years. As a result, there are several spots in particular at which the coaching staff figures to have a difficult decision to make when the roster cuts must be made.
We will finally wrap up our preview of our training camp roster battles by taking a look at the specialist positions that contribute to the third phase of the game, namely the punter, kicker, and long snapper positions, though in truth we know going in that only one of these positions is being tested.
The Steelers are not even bringing in a second kicker nor long snapper to camp this year to challenge Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren, respectively, nor did they have extra numbers at these positions during OTAs and minicamp. Their positions are solidified unless they wind up getting injured, but it’s worth giving those positions a brief look anyway.
In truth, I cannot recall the last time that Warren’s position has ever actually been challenged. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005 and has been with the team since then, barring two stints on injured reserve in 2008 and 2009.
In both of those instances, he was replaced by Jared Retkosfsky, but in neither instance did the team choose to stick with the replacement. Warren has been working on one-year contracts, and he will likely operate this way until he decides to retire, even as we move into an era in which it has become acceptable to actually draft a long snapper.
Suisham, on the other hand, has not found the stability that he now has until he arrived in Pittsburgh, as he had brief stints with multiple teams prior. Admittedly, he was not as consistent at that time, and in fact he was signed as a street free agent by the Steelers in the middle of the 2010 season.
Since then, however, he has become the most accurate kicker in team history, and has been granted stability with a long-term contract on the strength of proving his dependability from the mid-range, which is the bread and butter for field goal kickers.
Up in the air, once again, is the punting position, with incumbent second-year player Brad Wing being challenged by first-year fellow Australia native Jordan Berry. As shouldn’t be surprising, Wing’s rookie season was marred by inconsistency, but there is hope by the team that he will improve.
Berry failed to stick to a roster last year, but has worked on his craft all since the end of his camp experience in 2014. In particular, he has had to adjust his game to focus more on hang time and less on distance, which was the preferred style in rugby.
The Steelers have an extra preseason game this year with which to ascertain how the punting position battle is going. They were robbed of the opportunity to have a competition for the job last year, so hopefully the battle will foster improvement for whoever wins the job.