Depending upon whom you ask, one of the most critical questions that the Pittsburgh Steelers are seeking an answer to is whether or not they will have available to them a competent kicker in place in time for the start of the 2019 regular season—and whether or not that kicker will be Chris Boswell.
Others argue that a team should never allow a kicker to be that important, but the reality is that the Steelers offense did exceedingly well last year. Their 23 total field goal attempts—20 by Boswell, of which he missed seven—was tied for the fourth-lowest in the NFL, and the teams with fewer attempts had fewer because of the scarcity with which they were even able to get into field goal range, such as the Arizona Cardinals and the Miami Dolphins, both of whom fired their coaches.
Through about a week and a half of training camp, the Steelers have only really done three organized, dedicated field goal drills, pairing Boswell against rookie college free agent Matthew Wright. Up until Sunday night, both had been perfect or near perfect, but the veteran won the duel on Family Night.
Boswell made seven of his eight field goal attempts, including one from 52 yards out (or 54, depending on whom you ask), with the one that he missed being from 50 yards, which is reasonable. Wright went five-for-eight. They worked on both the open and closed sides of the Heinz Field surface.
Still, Head Coach Mike Tomlin remained non-plussed with his fifth-year kicker’s efforts thus far. “We’re just getting started with exposing him to some pressure”, he told reporters after practice. “I think one of you guys asked, ‘how could we create it in a training camp or team-development-like setting’. You saw examples of it tonight”.
Even his own position coach, special teams coordinator Danny Smith, essentially told reporters back in the spring that they were not actually going to know whether or not he’s ‘back’ until he’s either making or missing the pressure kicks during the regular season.
But it’s always better to make your kicks in training camp than to miss them, so at least there’s that, even if it is true that he was perfect in the preseason a year ago before missing a total of 12 kicks in the regular season, including five extra points.
Boswell was a Pro Bowl kicker as recently as 2017, when he set team records in field goals made and points scored in a single season. The Steelers felt comfortable enough with him through his first three seasons that they were prepared to give him a contract that made him among the highest-paid at his position in NFL history.
Since then, he was already asked to fight for his job toward the end of the 2018 season, and now he’s battling for it yet again. So far, he’s in solid position to retain it, but we’re just getting started on that front as we head toward the first preseason game on the schedule.