Though Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns doesn’t mean much for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it won’t be completely devoid of drama. And it comes from a position you generally want to keep as drama-free as possible: kicker.
Specifically, who the heck is kicking for the Steelers this weekend?
Today’s final injury report could provide some clarity. As it stands now, Chris Boswell is heading in the wrong direction, failing to practice Thursday after being listed as a full participant Wednesday.
The past two games Boswell missed had a relatively easy fix. Pittsburgh promoted first-year kicker Matthew Wright to make his regular season debut. Wright did a fine job, making all of his extra points and his lone, 37 yard field goal attempt. The Steelers shuttled him to the active roster through his two practice squad exemptions each player has. Wright could come up to the roster, play in the game, and then automatically revert back to the practice squad the following day.
Wright is out of those exemptions. So if the Steelers want to bring him up again, he’ll have to occupy a spot on the 53 man roster. Meaning someone has to get cut or be placed on IR in order to make room (or the team could technically use a COVID exemption but that’s an unlikely tool at their disposal).
The Steelers had to do this last week with LB Tegray Scales. With Marcus Allen out and Ulysees Gilbert III placed on IR, Pittsburgh had little choice but to promote Scales to give them some semblance of ILB depth. Because he was out of options, the team was forced to cut guard Derwin Gray, one week removed from an impressive showing against the Cincinnati Bengals. The intent surely was to bring Gray back to the team but the Jaguars swooped in and claimed him. Another promising, young linemen lost.
If Wright is signed to the 53, who will get the pink slip? Pittsburgh’s options are limited. Especially in a week with the goal of resting key players: Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward, and Maurkice Pouncey among others. The Steelers may have to dedicate two roster spots to kickers. Far from ideal.
What if the team doesn’t want to bite that bullet and add Wright? There are other options though they’re not pretty ones. Jordan Berry, in theory, could become the “do-everything” specialist. Kicker, punter, kickoff duty. Of course, someone has to become the holder, a duty that’d probably go to a player like Josh Dobbs.
The Steelers have another specialist on the practice squad who hasn’t been called up this season. That’s rookie Corliss Waitman. At South Alabama, Waitman was the team’s punter and kickoff specialist. So Waitman can at least fill the latter shoes. But he never attempted a field goal of any kind in college, last booting field goals and extra points in high school back in 2014.
Doing either of those two things is basically, excuse the pun, punting on trying to win Sunday. The Steelers don’t need the W. But Mike Tomlin was adamant he’s not treating this like a fourth preseason game. Toying around with punters as kickers certainly has that weird, end-of-August vibe.
We’ll get our answer soon enough. The deadline to make any final roster moves comes Saturday at 4 PM. Bigger picture, the key is to have Boswell healthy for the playoffs, even if that means sitting out this weekend and the headache that comes along with replacing him.