Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was understandably dissatisfied with his team’s performance on Friday night after they were blown out by their perennial preseason finale adversaries, the Carolina Panthers. While there are some extenuating circumstances involved—only the Panthers were playing starters—a 25-point loss is a hard pill to swallow under any circumstance.
There was, really, only one bright spot on the night for him, and that was the work in the punting game from incumbent punter Jordan Berry and his challenger, rookie seventh-round pick Pressley Harvin III, both of whom have played well this offseason.
“I thought they represented themselves solidly tonight, and largely, it’s been a really competitive thing throughout this process, and I’m appreciative of their efforts”, Tomlin said about their performance in last week’s game, and overall. “They’ve both been varsity”.
‘Varsity’, of course, means NFL-quality in the veteran head coach’s NFL vernacular. He describes below-the-line play as junior varsity, and that is a way that he has described a number of Berry’s performances over the years, which led to his release last year.
While he worked his way back after five games because his replacement proved to be inadequate, the fact that the Steelers decided to draft a punter to challenge him says everything that you need to know about how they have felt about his long-term prospects.
Both Berry and Harvin punted four times against the Panthers. Berry averaged 43.8 yards on his four punts, while Harvin averaged 42.3. Each had one of their four inside of the 20-yard line.
According to Pro Football Focus, Harvin has averaged 44.7 gross yards per punt with a 41.5-yard net average. Four of nine punts landed inside the 20, with a long of 51. Three were returned for 29 total yards, while he had a hangtime of 4.21 seconds.
Berry’s numbers were better pretty much across the board, looking at it in a vacuum. He averaged 42.9 gross yards per punt, which was less than Harvin, but the net yards were almost identical, his at 41.5. Four of his eight punts were inside the 20, with a long of 55, with three returned for 19 yards, and he had a hangtime of 4.58 seconds.
Looking at the competition that way, you might well go with Berry, who has been the team’s punter since 2015, and who admittedly played some of his best football at the end of last season. But if they are willing to give Harvin time, he does have more upside, while lacking consistency at this point of his career. If they believe they can even out his game, that may be the determining factor.