Normally it’s not easy to generate much excitement over a roster battle for the punting position, but the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly had some life injected into their own competition between a pair of native Australians vying to outdo one another yesterday, as both performed quite well during the team’s third preseason game.
Incumbent second-year punter Brad Wing and first-year challenger Jordan Berry each put their best foot forward as the competition was taken to another level against the Green Bay Packers, at the very least elevating it to the status of legitimately in contention.
Wing, an accomplished collegiate whose off-field issues helped block his path to the NFL, was first signed by the Eagles as an undrafted rookie in 2013. He failed to make the team, but the Steelers signed him to a futures contract the following January.
The first-year player ended up winning the job by default when his competitor was never able to report to camp due to a medical emergency in his family. He proceeded to have an inconsistent season, and now Berry is hoping to unseat him.
Early in training camp, it seemed as though Berry might not have the leg to fairly match the incumbent, but as the newcomer has improved over the course of time, the gap between the two has closed.
Wing was given the first half in the first two preseason games, with Berry taking the second, but the two were flipped yesterday, and it allowed Berry to get off to a rousing start. Punting from the Packers’ 43 on the Steelers’ opening drive, he placed a corner kick near the goal line, providing enough bounce to allow Antwon Blake to recover at the one-yard line.
On the following drive, from the Steelers’ 35, Berry showed some leg with a 57-yarder, with a net gain of 47 yards following a 10-yard return. His third and final punt was fair caught inside the 20-yard line, though that one traveled only 43 yards. His hang time advantage, however,, should minimize many returns.
Wing took over in the second half, with his first punt going 51 yards, ending up with a net of 51 after a 10-yard return was negated by an illegal block in the back. After the returner nearly muffed Wing’s second kick, the ball was downed 57-yards down the field.
A 41-yarder that followed was fair caught at the 14-yard line. Earlier on that same drive, however, Wing induced roughing the kicker penalty off a 64-yarder that went for a touchback, which produced a 44-yard net.
Both Wing and Berry showed well for themselves, and have set the groundwork for what could potentially be a very difficult decision by the end of the preseason.
There are two games left to decide which among them will land the job. Admittedly, neither may every become ideal candidates, but it seems that both have stepped up to the competition, and perhaps even surpassed expectations. At the very least, they showed yesterday that they can work well together in combination with the starting coverage unit.