The “Daniel Sepulveda Experience” was one marred with ups-downs-and multiple knee injuries over a five-year span. Because of the aforementioned issues, the Steelers finally rid themselves of their constantly banged up Punter early in the offseason. With Sepulveda out of town, Pittsburgh was thus forced to look elsewhere to fill their hole on Special Teams.
The logical choice to replace the former Baylor Bear was originally thought to be a familiar face: Jeremy Kapinos. Not only had Kapinos filled in admirably in the middle of both the 2010 and 2011 seasons for Sepulveda (12 regular season games) went down, he even averaged a respectable 45.0 Yards Per Punt last season.
While it appeared that the Steelers would be comfortable with Kapinos heading into the 2012 season, the veteran recently sustained a back injury and has consequently been unable to win the starting job outright.
Drew Butler & The 2012 Punter Job
Thankfully, the Steelers’ hedged their bets this offseason when they were able to sign the talented and highly productive Drew Butler out of Georgia as an Undrafted Free Agent just over three months ago.
While some might have ignored or overlooked the move because it happened after the Draft period was over, some, including this writer, believed that Butler had a legitimate shot of unseating the veteran in front of him on the depth chart due to his talent and the overall Punting ability he displayed during his four-year career with the Bulldogs. And because Kapinos has been forced to nurse his sore back and is not “100%,” Butler currently has an incredible opportunity to seize the starting Punter position, and carve out a lengthy career with the Steelers.
In his first professional effort, Butler turned in a solid performance during last Thursday’s preseason game against the Eagles. On the evening, 2009 Ray Guy Award winner punted 6 times for 298 Yards at an impressive 49.7 Yards per boot, and kicked a 61 Yard bomb which pinned the Eagles all the way back at their own 36 when the return netted zero.
While Butler may have done a nice job in his first exhibition game, continued consistency throughout camp will be of the utmost importance for the youngster as the preseason continues. Kapinos will be hungry to upstage the Rookie upstart, and Butler should be ready for some stiff competition once the veteran returns to game action. Butler has made his impression felt however, and regardless of Kapinos’ health, the Rookie deserves the chance to earn the starting nod outright over the next three weeks.
The Steelers have lacked quality and consistency at the Punter position for a lengthy period, and have not had a player at the position make it to the Pro Bowl since Bobby Walden in 1969 (only Pittsburgh Punter to ever earn Pro Bowl nod). Whether it is Butler or Kapinos, the Steelers could stand to have a long-term option at Punter. Granted, the Punter battle might not be the most “sexy” in terms of overall interest, excitement, or media coverage, but it is nevertheless an important question which the Steelers must answer before their Week 1 game in Denver.
Time to chime in readers: Will Butler unseat Kapinos? Should the Steelers keep him on speed-dial just in case? Will Pittsburgh finally find a Punter which can be consistently healthy, and perform well on a consistent basis?