After years of playing musical chairs at the punting position—which has now seemingly transferred to the place kicking position, with a vengeance—the Pittsburgh Steelers actually had an honest to god position battle in the preseason between two inexperienced Australian-born punters.
It went so well, in fact, that they managed to trade the ‘loser’ of the battle for a seventh-round draft pick, electing to go with first-year punter Jordan Berry after the young man boomed several deep kicks, and even notched a couple of kickoffs after the Steelers had an injury mid-game at the position.
It was fair to say that Berry did win the competition, not that Brad Wing performed poorly in his preseason slate, by any means. The Steelers punter finished seventh among all punters in the preseason with at 49.8-yard average over the span of 19 punts.
His net average of 43.8 was even more impressive, as it ranked him third in all the league during the preseason, notching just one touchback on a long punt, with six being downed, fair caught, or tackled inside the 20-yard line.
For his part, Wing averaged 48.8 yards on 12 preseason punts, though his net average of 37.2 was not nearly as impressive, and was the main separator between the two competitors. He also had one touchback versus four punts inside the 20.
Berry continued his strong play through the first three games of the season, averaging 47.2 yards per punt on nine punts, posting a net average of 42.3 yards. But he struggled in the Steelers’ loss to the Ravens last week, and it would be fair to say that he helped contribute to the loss.
The first-year punter was called onto the field six times, averaging just 39.8 yards per punt, which corresponds with his 37.5-yard net average. A good deal of his punts came deep in Steelers territory and gave the Ravens’ 60 yards or fewer to work with on offense.
Meanwhile, Wing has been off to a strong start himself, averaging 43.4 yards on 20 punts, with a 41.6-yard net average through the first four games leading into their Sunday night contest last night with the 49ers.
Wing punted just twice tonight in a performance that will not be reflected in his average. One punt went for 55 yards, while the other went for 35 and pinned the 49ers down on their own 12-yard line.
In fact, Wing leads the league with 13 punts now that pinned the opposing team inside of its own 20-yard line. Of his now 22 punts nine were fair caught and nine returned for a total of 53 yards, without posting a touchback through five weeks.
Berry, meanwhile, has yet to hit one for a touchback, either, though he has had just two punts in which he pinned the opponents inside the 20-yard line. Much of that corresponds to the Steelers’ offensive performance, to be sure. But after a rough last outing, and with the offense now struggling, it is imperative that Berry play a strong game tonight.