While it’s not among the most exciting, I’m sure, the battle for the starting kicker position figures to be among the most hotly contested for the Pittsburgh Steelers during training camp this year. Embattled starter Chris Boswell is looking to keep his job—and earn a $2 million roster bonus—while holding off his challenger, rookie former UCF college free agent Matthew Wright.
Admittedly, the team hasn’t worked a lot on the kicking game so far through the first two days down in Latrobe at Saint Vincent College. They didn’t really do anything on the field day, but they did do some relatively light work yesterday.
According to Mike Prisuta, both Boswell and Wright were given the opportunity to hit the ball eight times from mid range, the Steelers reporter citing distance ranges from 29 yards out to as far as 37 yards out. While those are not supposed to be major challenges, they are still the balls you have to hit. Prisuta writes that each of them were good for makes on all eight of their chances.
Given that Boswell missed seven of 20 field goal attempts last season, in addition to five extra point attempts (which fit into that range), it still stands as a somewhat significant performance for the 2017 Pro Bowler as he looks to regain confidence—both in himself, and to instill it in his coaches.
Still, Head Coach Mike Tomlin downplayed the significance of the field goal work the special teams group did yesterday. Asked about it after practice, he said, “we just got started today. We didn’t kick from great distances. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for those guys to distinguish themselves”.
It goes without saying that the performances from the kicking position will be critical this summer, and it’s entirely possible that if neither Boswell nor Wright ultimately distinguish themselves to a comforting degree, the team could pursue the option of acquiring a kicker from another team, whether that comes via trade or the waiver wire.
Some of Boswell’s misses last season came at critical junctures, none more significant than his first in the season opener. He at the opportunity to connect from 42 yards from the right hash mark in overtime against the Cleveland Browns in a game that ultimately drew to a tie. The Steelers finished the season a half-game out of a playoff spot.
He also missed a kick at the end of the Oakland Raiders game that could have ultimately tied it, slipping as he did so. It was his second miss of the game, and after he missed a third kick the following week (his fourth in four games on seven attempts), the team brought in free agent kickers to compete for his job, which he ultimately retained.
Boswell made 35 of 38 field goals in 2017, setting franchise records for a single season in field goals made and points scored. He connected on all four game-winning opportunities and was also four-for-four from 50-plus yards (he is seven for nine for his career from that distance now, which is one short of the team record and easily represents the highest percentage of those with more than five attempts). The Steelers signed him to a lucrative new contract the following offseason, which puts us in the situation we’re now in.