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.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the Steelers’ first preseason game last night, we may well have gotten one of those questions that will linger into the regular season and beyond, depending on the severity of the outcome. Kicker Shaun Suisham suffered a knee injury while making a tackle during the game, which leaves the team highly vulnerable at the position for obvious reasons.
The question is, how vulnerable? How significant is the knee injury that Suisham suffered? Will he be back in time for the regular season? Will he even be back at any point this year? And what level of performance can they muster from a replacement?
When the Steelers signed Suisham in the middle of the 2010 season, they did so in the midst of a bit of turmoil, as their current kicker, Jeff Reed, had become unreliable. In combination with some off the field concerns, that prompted his mid-season release. The fact that Suisham was readily available to be signed at that point speaks to where he was at that point in his career.
Since that time, however, he has been among the most accurate kickers in the league, and the most accurate kicker in the history of the franchise. While his range from 50 yards and beyond is rarely tested for good reason, he has shown remarkable consistency from within 30 to 49 yards, which is the key distance at which a kicker must perform.
Would the Steelers be without Suisham this season, there are not many enticing options available on the market, which should certainly come as no surprise. Shayne Graham would be the most logical choice, however.
Back in 2013, when there was some concern over an injury that Suisham suffered, the Steelers did sign Graham. He was on the roster for a brief period of time until the team was comfortable with Suisham’s health before being released again without having attempted a kick.
Once upon a time, Graham was a very good field goal kicker with the Bengals, and still commands a career average of over 85 percent. But since his departure from the Bengals in 2009, he has been released or not re-signed 11 times by 10 different teams. In fact, he has been on the roster of every team in the AFC North.
Graham played every game for the Saints last year, converting on 19 of 22 attempts. Suisham made 29 of 32 attempts last season, and 30 of 32 the year before. His loss could be a significant one, especially with the extra point attempt being moved back to the 15-yard line.