The Pittsburgh Steelers dressed seven rookies for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. Six of them started, including seventh-round defensive back Tre Norwood, who spent time throughout the game rotating as the team’s nickel back, playing in the slot. He also dropped back to play safety at times with Minkah Fitzpatrick dropping into the box.
The four offensive starters we know, as they were all the Steelers’ top four draft picks—running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth, and linemen Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. The other, of course, was seventh-round punter Pressley Harvin III.
And it didn’t take long to make it obvious that he has some work to do. While he won a tight preseason competition for the job versus six-year incumbent Jordan Berry, it was because of his potential and big level, certainly not his consistency.
The rookie got off to a good start. His first punt from the Steelers’ 47 traveled 41 yards, fair caught at the 12-yard line with good hangtime and corresponding coverage. From Pittsburgh’s 13 on his second, he got the ball down the field 51 yards with a one-yard return. Not great, but good. Certainly a strong single that moves the runners, at worst.
Then he kicked a 38-yarder out of bounds from Pittsburgh’s 38. His next punt after that was shanked, traveling just 30 yards from out of his own end zone, giving the Bills the ball on the Steelers’ 35-yard line, the drive only saved by a T.J. Watt strip sack.
We knew going in that this would be Harvin coming out of college. He lacked that play-to-play consistency, and he showed that during the preseason. He would put up the best hangtimes and distances on individual punts, but also the worst, and in the end, Berry ended up with better overall averages because of his consistency.
To his credit, his next punt after the shank was a 46-yard boot that was downed at the nine-yard line, though this one benefited from a friendly roll. And the offense helped him out, as after that, he didn’t punt again. The Steelers scored on every possession of the second half, aside from the final drive, in victory formation.
It should not go unmentioned that Harvin filled in ably as the new holder for Chris Boswell, working well with new long snapper Christian Kuntz, which proved important in Sunday’s victory. Boswell accounted for 10 points, including three field goals, in Pittsburgh’s seven-point win.
Any punter drafted by a team has NFL-level talent. The rest of their careers are simply a race to close the gap between their best punts and their worst; or in other words, finding consistency, of making every kick the same. You may be punting for different distances at different angles in different contexts, but your process must be replicable. Harvin doesn’t have that yet. But he does have the talent, and hopefully the coaching.