The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will second-year punter Jordan Berry finally be the man to stop the endless carousel at the position?
There is a little bit of background required to understand just how much of a change of pace it would be if the Steelers actually had some semblance of stability from the punter position. After having just that for a while, they lost it, which prompted them to trade up in the 2007 draft in the fourth round to select Daniel Sepulveda.
Sepulveda, or as Dave Bryan affectionately called him, Robopunter, was supposed to be that long-term answer—and he probably would have been, if only he could have stayed healthy. After already having an ACL tear in his college career, he would finish three of his five professional seasons on injured reserve.
His last season was in 2011, where he only made it halfway through the season. Jeremy Kapinos replaced him for the rest of the year, and did well. He likely would have been the Steelers’ punter going forward if only he could have reported to camp healthy.
As a result of this, rookie undrafted punter Drew Butler won the job by default, having an up and down rookie season. He ‘won’ the job in camp the following year, but was quickly replaced by Zoltan Mesko, who was quickly replaced by Mat McBriar mid-season.
After another issue of getting a punter into camp, Brad Wing won the job by default in 2014. Berry ‘won’ the job in 2015 after the Steelers managed to field a trade offer for the latter.
Berry did have a very good preseason for himself, and he did acceptable, for the most part, during the regular season. the Steelers’ punt coverage unit was able to post a relatively healthy net punting average for the season relative to the rest of the league, somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Punters, as with any other position, do need time to grow. We saw Sepulveda develop over the course of his career, and was becoming a very good one by the end of his tenure here, were it not for the injuries. I think that Berry flashed the tools of being successful. It’s mostly a matter of perfecting a repeatable kick that can ensure consistent performance. At the very least, he was successful in pinning kicks inside the 20 and avoiding touchbacks.