The next time the Steelers consider drafting a kicker, they should consider this: Don't. There's more talent on the scrap heap and the Steelers have been excellent at finding the good ones, including Shaun Suisham, who is having one of the best seasons of any of their kickers.
• • • •
They have drafted only four since the NFL merger. Two did not make the team and the other two did not distinguish themselves.
However, they have found gems outside of the draft, starting with Roy Gerela in 1971 and including Gary Anderson, Norm Johnson, Jeff Reed and now Suisham.
Houston cut Gerela, their fourth-round pick in 1969, after two seasons, and the Steelers signed him. He has three Super Bowl rings. The Steelers claimed Anderson off waivers when Buffalo released him in his rookie training camp in 1982. He is the second-leading scorer in NFL history, with 2,434 points in a 22-year career. Johnson was a veteran free agent who had four good seasons in the '90s. Reed was an unwanted rookie the Steelers signed after a rainy tryout at Heinz Field in the middle of the 2002 season.
Same with Suisham. Dallas cut him twice and Washington once before the Steelers signed him to replace Reed during the 2010 season. He has made 24 of 25 field goals this season, missing only from 54 yards. That 96 percent success rate leads the NFL for those with at least a dozen tries and would be a Steelers record if it stands. His career rate with the Steelers of 85.9 percent (61 of 71) also sets the pace.
So how does a kicker go from getting cut three times to owning the Steelers' career record for field goal percentage?
"If you think about kicking, it's so fragile," said Suisham, who, like Gerela, is a native Canadian. "The difference between having what you would deem a good season vs. missing a bunch is only a handful of kicks, and it can be a cumulative of only 10 feet the whole year, the difference between a good year and a bad year."
He has hit three winners this season, two on the last play of games and one in overtime. He also kicks outdoors in the Northeast.
Teams routinely change kickers during the season, but the Steelers seem to find good ones and keep them for a while.
"You think about our jobs, they're very fragile and we don't need to understand a playbook," Suisham said.
As for the four kickers the Steelers drafted, two made the team for a few years, two did not. Matt Bahr kicked in 1979-80 before he was released, in part because Chuck Noll did not like his length on kickoffs. Kris Brown was drafted in 1999 and was a so-so kicker for three seasons before he signed as a restricted free agent with Houston. Others drafted were Cole Ford in 1995 and Paul Rogers in 1971.
Suisham, 30, could kick for another decade. But whenever the time comes to find his replacement, the Steelers should look on the streets and not in the draft.
Let's compare injury lists
The San Diego Chargers limp into town leaving a trail of injuries behind them, nowhere more so than in their offensive line. They could be missing three starters today: tackles Mike Harris and Jeromey Clary and guard Tyronne Green.
They will get no sympathy from the Steelers, who have been hit harder. Their starters have missed 49 games this season, a number that will climb today when Ike Taylor, Mike Adams and LaMarr Woodley add to it.
"We've been fortunate around here in the previous years," said Larry Foote, who came to the Steelers in 2002, "but this year it got us. It definitely got us."
Here is the list of starters and the games they missed:
David DeCastro (11), Troy Polamalu (9), Rashard Mendenhall (7), Marcus Gilbert (7), Antonio Brown (3), James Harrison (3), Ben Roethlisberger (3), LaMarr Woodley (3), Mike Adams (1), Ryan Clark (1) and Maurkice Pouncey (1).
That does not include the one each Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, both starters at one point, missed nor the 12 that David Johnson, last year's starter at fullback, missed.
In general, teams that win Super Bowls usually are able to stay healthy, but sometimes it's those teams that get healthy at the right time.
"In our last Super Bowl year, we had guys who were injured and came back near the end of the year," tackle Max Starks said of the 2010 season. "Before Super Bowl 43, we lost Kendall Simmons and Marvel Smith early in the year. That's when I got my first start at left tackle, in Week 4, and Darnell Stapleton stepped in at guard in Week 3."
However, there was nothing approaching 49 lost starts.
So you think you can dance? Uh, no
Heath Miller played quarterback at Honaker High School in Swords Creek, Va. He showed his athletic talent when he reached out with the ball in his left hand and tapped the pylon for the tying touchdown last week in Baltimore.
Surely, then, he should be able to dance. You know, like a touchdown dance?
"It's never crossed my mind," said Miller, who celebrates touchdowns as if he's been there before.
And he is getting there more often than ever. His score in Baltimore was his seventh touchdown, tying a career high. Add in his two-point conversion and he has a personal high of 44 points, second only to Suisham.
There are all kinds of reasons Miller is scoring more often, including coordinator Todd Haley's belief in throwing to him more. Maybe it's his two young sons, Chase and Jake, who are 31/2 and nearly 2.
"Before every game, my sons tell me to score a touchdown," Miller said. "So I bought a couple balls home for them this year."
No kickoffs and other radical notions
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the idea of doing away with kickoffs as another safety move. Here are some modest proposals that should make the game even safer:
• Reduce the schedule to 12 games in the regular season. Those extra four games are injuries waiting to happen.
• Seven players to a side. Eleven are too many.
• Bring back the knee pads, the hip pads, the thigh pads and make them all wear tooth protectors.
• One practice a week -- no pads, no contact, just like in the spring.
• No blocking below the waist anywhere, including the line.
• No tackling below the waist.
• Any contact made with the helmet is illegal.
• All games Sunday at 1 p.m., no drinking in the parking lots and ban beer sales in the stadiums. Hey, these are safety proposals for everyone, not just players.
First Published December 9, 2012 5:00 AM