The specialist positions can get tricky in-season when you find yourself in a position in which you need one, although it’s not quite as chaotic as it used to be. With expanded 16-man practice squads, teams have become significantly more likely to carry depth at specialist positions than they had in the past.
The Pittsburgh Steelers did not have a backup punter on their practice squad last week, but they did build good experience in the past with one who was available when they needed to call upon someone, following the family situation that befell rookie starting punter Pressley Harvin III.
As you already surely know, Harvin’s father was terminally ill, and the family only recently learned that his time left was short. The Steelers flew his father out to the team’s most recent home game; he lost his long battle with illness on Christmas morning.
Pittsburgh signed Corliss Waitman off the New England Patriots’ practice squad the same day and flew him out to Kansas City to punt for them the next day. They originally signed him last year as a rookie college free agent, and he spent the 2020 season on the practice squad. Head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the punter situation yesterday during his pre-game press conference.
“I know the services for his father are at some point this week. It’s our intention to be extremely supportive of him”, he said of Harvin. “We’ve been in communication with him. We’ll see where the roads lead. Meanwhile I’ll say that I’m really pleased and appreciative of Corliss and glad that we were able to reacquire him”.
Because Waitman was on a practice squad, the Steelers are required to retain him on the 53-man roster for at least three weeks; or, failing that, they still must pay him three weeks’ salary. Because of several players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, however, their current active roster is only at 50 players even with Waitman and Harvin both present, however.
Even though the Steelers only scored twice, Waitman only had to punt two times, both kicks showing good distance. The first traveled 58 yards, but it was also returned for 18 yards, leaving a net of 40. The second traveled 63 yards, but trailed into the end zone for a touchback, a net of 43. In all, he grossed 60.5 yards and netted 41.5 yards.
Considering the fact that he was just signed the day before, however, that’s a pretty good performance either way. He can’t afford to outkick his coverage, though. It will be interesting to see how he does if he does get another opportunity to play this week as Harvin continues to tend to his family.