Steelers have plenty of position battles, including the punter
June 13, 2014 9:16 PM
Connor Mulvaney / Post-Gazette
Steelers punter Adam Podlesh watches the ball fly through the air after kicker Shaun Suisham made a field goal attempt at the Steelers' South Side practice field.
By RJ Schaffer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Markus Wheaton or Lance Moore? Stephon Tuitt or Cam Thomas? Marcus Gilbert or Kelvin Beachum? Here’s a new one: Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh?
In the midst of new receivers, linebackers and linemen, the punter has become almost an afterthought when it comes to position battles for the Steelers in 2014.
But now, for the first time in what seems like a longer wait than for outfielder Gregory Polanco to be called up to the Pirates, the Steelers finally might have stability at a position that has been a merry-go-round.
Brad Wing, one of two punters on the roster, said OTAs are going well.
“It’s good to be back with a team and get this football thing going,” Wing said. “So, it’s that time of the year, it’s football season.”
Last season, the Steelers ranked 21st in the league with an average of 43 yards per punt, split between Zoltan Mesko, who was cut after seven games, and Mat McBriar, who finished the season but was not re-signed.
Daniel Sepulveda, the hard-hitting, two-time Ray Guy Award winner as the nation’s best collegiate punter, was drafted in 2007 and seen as the long-term solution.
Two ACL tears, a torn meniscus and 52 games later, he was gone, and the Steelers were back to square one — otherwise known as a combination of McBriar, Mesko, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler and Mitch Berger.
With such a punting circus seemingly in the past, now the familiar story is that of the grizzled veteran vs. the rookie who appears to have a lofty ceiling.
The stats on Podlesh are basic but steady. For his career, four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars and three with the Chicago Bears, he averaged 42.4 yards per punt, a 30.9 net average and a 33.7 percent rate of punts inside the opponent’s 20.
Chicago ranked last in punting last season. As a result, Podlesh was released, and the Steelers signed him to a one-year deal in April.
While the Steelers might know what they’re getting in Podlesh, Wing is the center of intrigue.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wing was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles for the 2013 season, but he lost the job before the season started to veteran Donnie Jones. He was released in August, and the Steelers signed him to a reserve/future contract in January.
Wing, 23, said the biggest difference between being a member of the Eagles and Steelers is history.
“They know what they’re doing over here. Not to say the Eagles don’t, but [the Steelers] have won so many Super Bowls,” Wing said. “It’s just a history-rich organization.”
At LSU, Wing was second-team All-SEC in 2011 and a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award that same year. In two seasons at LSU, he averaged 44.6 yards per punt.
But Wing said he had “a little bit” of regret leaving school after just two years.
“It didn’t go the way I planned last year. I wanted to be playing, and that didn’t happen, but everything happens for a reason. I’m a strong believer of that … I’m really excited to be a Steeler,” he said.
While the numbers show consistency and an opportunity to make an impact quickly, his off-field actions show a different picture.
In 2011, Wing was arrested for simple battery and issued a misdemeanor summons. He was also suspended from the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Those issues are in the past, Wing said.
“For me, I’ve got a little boy now, a 14-month-old son, and I didn’t have him while I was in college.
“So, a lot of the questions people have about my maturity, you know, I know that actions speak louder than words. I’ve had my head on straight for nearly two years now, and there’s been no issues, so I’m going to keep doing that.”
He said playing at a large university might have helped him prepare for the NFL because he has performed under the pressure of 90,000 people, and most of the players he punted to in college might be on the receiving end of his NFL punts.
He was considered by most as the best punter available in the 2013 draft after finishing with the highest career punting average in LSU history. Both of his college seasons rank in LSU’s top five..
Will Wing become everything Sepulveda wasn’t? Or will he be beat out once again by the guy who has been around the block a few times? He said he thinks his chances of making the team are good.
“I’ve just got to come out here every day and get better and focus on putting the defense in the best position, and I think I’m in a good position,” he said. “I’m excited to see what happens.”
RJ Schaffer: RSchaffer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rjschaffer.
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