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 pessimist’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?
When it comes to special teams, or more specifically the punting game, the Steelers have hardly been anything special over the course of the past several seasons, and much of that has to do with the severe lack of consistency and stability that they have had at that position for the longest time.
Suffice it to say that the Steelers have not had a punter who has played in back-to-back seasons for them since Daniel Sepulveda’s last year with the team in 2011. And the last time he managed to play back-to-back 16-game seasons was—actually, never. He started every game in 2007 and 2009, but missed the entirety of the 2008 season.
Young Jordan Berry is the seventh punter to have played in a game for the Steelers dating back to the 2011 season, and given the volume with which they have gone through punters in that period of time, one might think that the odds of the team adding an eighth punter to that mix in 2016 would be tempting to bet on.
He was, after all, nothing special during his first season in the league last year, and he partly was able to win the punting job because the Steelers managed to find a trading partner to receive a seventh-round draft pick in compensation for Brad Wing, who was the team’s punter in 2014.
The two put up fairly comparable numbers last season, though Wing’s gross punting average was better. On the other hand, Berry was more successful in terms of the ratio of kicks downed inside the 20-yard line versus touchbacks registered.
Of Berry’s 59 punts, 19 were returned for 165 yards, which is a solid ratio and yards per return average, but much of that credit should be given to the Steelers’ gunners. Their overall 39.1-yard net average was decidedly mediocre, in fact ranking 24th in the league.
What is worse—what was worse—was Berry’s showing in the playoffs, where he particularly had an afternoon to forget in Denver, posting a dismal net average of 29.3 yards on six punts. But perhaps the best thing going in his favor is the fact that the team must know by now that the only way a young player can get better is by gaining experience. Unless they see an obvious way to immediately upgrade the punting position, they will likely stick with him.