Over the coming months, the Steelers will have a number of players competing against each other for opportunities to handle the kickoff and punt return chores. While those particular battles will be fun to watch and follow, kickoff returner and punt returner will not be the only heavily contested special teams jobs in Pittsburgh this summer.
In fact, the Steelers’ incumbent kicker, punter, and long snapper are sure to face some stiff competition for their roster spots as well.
Shaun Suisham vs. Danny Hrapmann
The competition between the then-rookie and veteran last year was heated, and Hrapmann definitely did his best to put the pressure on Suisham as he made all six of his preseason field goals. The former Southern Mississippi Golden Eagle’s efforts however came up short as the coaching staff eventually chose the veteran over him during the team’s final cuts. To their credit though, Suisham definitely proved the staff right with his performance last fall.
How effective was Shaun in 2012? Well, the “Kicking Canuck” made 90.3% of his field goals attempts last year (28 for 31). Most importantly though, Suisham vastly improved his field goal percentage on kicks of over 40 yards.
In 2011, Shaun was 7 for 13 on kicks from those distances, so it made sense that they would bring a strong-legged guy like Hrapmann to compete with him. Last year though, Suisham nailed 13 of his 15 attempts on attempts of 40-plus yards. In one season alone, the veteran improved his percentage in that particular category from 53.8% to 86.6%!
Career-year aside, Suisham will be forced to out-duel Hrapmann once again in Latrobe and during the preseason. The coaching staff obviously feel comfortable bringing the second-year kicker back for another extended tryout, and Shaun will need to prove that last season was no fluke. While I will give Suisham the edge in this matchup, I would not be shocked to see Hrapmann catch on somewhere else or be on Pittsburgh’s speed-dial if things go sour early for the veteran.
Drew Butler vs. Brian Moorman
Due to the fact that Jeremy Kapinos was injured, Butler was essentially unchallenged for the starting gig during his first year with the team. Unfortunately for the then-rookie, his performance last fall was anything but consistent or impressive. Overall, Butler ranked 26th in the league in average yards per punt (43.8), 25th in net yards per punt (37.8), and tied for 18th in punts inside the opposition’s 20 yard line (26).
Thankfully, Pittsburgh’s brass saw Brian Moorman on the open market and elected to bring him in to compete with Butler. A two-time Pro Bowler with Buffalo (2005 and 2006), the veteran split time last season with the Bills and the Cowboys. Although Moorman is not the punter he used to be (2012: 44.8 AVG, 37.6 NET, 24 IN20), he should be able to keep the heat on Butler throughout training camp and the preseason.
The Steelers and Smith have nothing to lose and everything to gain with these two in camp though. At this point, either the youngster takes the competition to heart and realizes his potential, or the veteran will overtake him and prove to be a viable and consistent stop-gap for the franchise. Regardless of what happens though, the job should be available and to the victor will go the spoils of a coveted roster spot.
Greg Warren vs. Luke Ingram
Although he does not get a large amount of press, Greg Warren has been a mainstay in Pittsburgh over the last nine seasons. His quiet consistency has served him well over 117 games and has helped to earn him two Super Bowl rings. Despite two knee injuries (2008 and 2009), Warren has held off competition at every turn during his nine-year career and is the front-runner to assume the long snapper gig this fall.
The veteran long snapper will nevertheless face his toughest challenge this fall as he will try to beat out the talented and equally consistent Luke Ingram for the long snapper chores. Ingram quietly put together a tremendous career at the University of Hawai’i as the Warriors’ long snapper. Over 52 career games, none of Ingram’s snaps led to a blocked kick!
What is equally impressive though is the fact that he was named Hawai’i special teams Player of the Year for his work last fall. While the return men, gunners, and even kickers and punters receive most of the special teams accolades, Ingram’s steady presence and performance allowed him to earn the award as a long snapper!
Overall, am certainly comfortable with Warren handling the snaps on field goals and punts this fall, especially since he has so much experience under his belt. Nevertheless, Ingram was signed for a reason and he definitely proved to be a capable long snapper for the Warriors during his collegiate career. Even if Ingram cannot beat out Warren, Pittsburgh should keep his contact information available if the veteran sustains another knee injury and the rookie is still on the open market.
Readers: Will any of the Steelers’ incumbent specialists fail to win their jobs back this fall? If yes, how many? If no, why?
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