With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp for the 2015 season now in swing, it’s time to get down to the business of football. The time for “football in shorts” or “football-like” events is over as teams all around the league embark on their own personal journey for the upcoming season.
Although for just about every team the time leading up to the regular season and reflect a period of optimism, it’s also a period of great uncertainty, which means that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know who or what a team truly is. It’s a process that can last well into the regular season.
When it comes to the punting game, the question is two-fold: who will win the punting job, and will he be better than what the Steelers had last season?
Obviously, one of the two competitors for that spot is Brad Wing, who was the team’s punter last season as a first-year player. He had an up and down campaign, which would not be wholly surprising for such an inexperienced player, but the hope would, obviously, be for him to improve.
Wing spent the 2013 season in training camp with the Eagles, but did not make the final 53-man roster, and the Steelers signed him in 2014 to a futures contract. He eventually ended up being the only punter in training camp due to extenuating circumstances surrounding Adam Podlesh and his wife’s pregnancy.
Like Wing, Jordan Berry was also in training camp last season as an undrafted rookie, but failed to make a roster. He is hoping to follow Wing’s path in many ways, not simply from making it to the NFL from Australia, but from making it with the Steelers on his second attempt in an NFL training camp.
In order to do so, of course, he would have to take Wing’s job. While Berry reportedly impressed during the spring with his big leg and booming punts—he beat out Richie Leone during rookie minicamp for the right to compete for the job—it seems that his training camp hasn’t been off to such a hot start.
Berry told reporters that one of the things he has had to work on is to adapt his punting style from rugby preferences, which emphasize distance more so than hang time, which in the NFL is equally, if not more important, and his timed numbers thus far have been disappointing.
Alex Kozora’s own observations from training camp paint a picture of Wing clearly in the lead, saying that the ball jumps off his foot much better. But the Steelers still have a full five preseasons games to evaluate the growth and development of each player, so this is far from over.
Whoever wins the job will be tasked with improving a somewhat sluggish punt coverage unit, with the weak link having been the punter, and not the coverage. While the Steelers’ net average—accounting for returns—was middle-of-the-road last season, Wing’s gross average last season ranked toward the bottom of the league.
Should Wing retain the job, he will need to cut down on what Mike Tomlin calls the “junior varsity” punts that either only travel about 20-30 yards or have a poor hang time that allow room for a quality return. Consistency is key no matter who is set back to kick.