Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith speaks with anguish in his voice when recalling his role in Shaun Suisham's unceremonious exit from the Washington Redskins nearly four years ago. Smith was the special teams coach for Washington, and Suisham was in his fourth season kicking for the Redskins.
Suisham made his first 13 field goals of the 2009 season, but went through a late-season slump and missed a 23-yarder late in a game against the undefeated New Orleans Saints, who came back to win in overtime.
In the midst of a bad season that would eventually end with a 4-12 record, coach Jim Zorn cut Suisham.
"It was a bad situation," Smith said. "Those things happen. I wasn't proud of it or wanting to do it, but I wasn't the head coach. It hurt bad, and it hurt us bad because we struggled for a while to get another guy."
Smith witnessed Suisham go through his darkest hour as a pro, but now he is watching him flourish with the Steelers while becoming the most accurate kicker in franchise history since joining the team late in the 2010 season.
Suisham has made 34 of his past 37 field-goal attempts, including 6 for 6 this season. That hot streak pushed him past Norm Johnson in the Steelers record book.
Johnson, who kicked for the Steelers from 1995-98, held the team record for accuracy at 82.7 percent. Suisham has surpassed that and made 85.5 percent of his kicks in a Steelers uniform.
"That's the quality that he is," Smith said. "He was able to overcome what happened in Washington. I always knew that he would.
"To be honest with you, I've always loved him. He's a great guy. He's a great kicker. He has a great demeanor about him. He has a lot of qualities that you look for in a kicker.
"Things don't affect him. You can't rattle him. Nothing is too big for him, and he works at his trade. I see the same things in him that I always have and I'm just fortunate to be back with him."
Released nine times by six teams over the course of his first five NFL seasons, Suisham appears to have found a home with the Steelers and at Heinz Field, which has never been confused with a venue kickers cherish.
But Suisham has made 33 of his 41 field-goal attempts at Heinz Field, including 17 of his past 19, dating to last season. The only two misses came last season against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'd much rather be kicking at Heinz Field regardless of conditions than kicking at a local high school hoping for a phone call," Suisham said.
"I love it here. I appreciate every aspect of it. I appreciate this opportunity and appreciate the position, being a kicker in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Suisham was out of the NFL and waiting for such a phone call in 2010 after being released by the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams in the preseason. After the Redskins cut him in 2009, he finished the season with Dallas and kicked for the Cowboys in the playoffs, but they declined to bring him back for another season. He was unemployed for the first 10 weeks of the 2010 season.
"It's difficult," Suisham said. "Times like that, it's an opportunity to gain perspective and gain an appreciation for this position."
It wasn't until the Steelers cut Jeff Reed after he endured a mid-season slump that Suisham received the call he wanted. He was 14 for 15 in those final six regular-season games and 3 for 5 in the playoffs as the Steelers reached Super Bowl XLV.
Suisham was 23 for 31 in 2011 but followed up that with his best season as a pro in 2012 when he converted 28 of 31 attempts.
"There's a natural progression, hopefully, to improve physically and mentally as you go on," Suisham said. "For me, that's continuous. I'm always striving to become better in all aspects. I feel like I'm in a good place right now."
NOTES -- The Steelers signed linebacker Kion Wilson to the practice squad and released rookie linebacker Alan Baxter from the practice squad. Wilson had been on the 53-man roster for the first four games before being released earlier this week after Stevenson Sylvester was re-signed to the active roster. ... Starting left guard Ramon Foster (pectoral), tight end Heath Miller (not injury related) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (finger) are listed as probable for the road game Sunday against the New York Jets. The only player ruled out is rookie receiver Markus Wheaton, who had surgery to repair a fractured finger.Steelers
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published October 11, 2013 8:13 PM