Did you really think we at steeleraddicts would just give position battles for the offense and defense? Heck no! Football has three phases not two. In our final edition of the 2012 roster throwdowns we take a look at the men on special teams. The kickers, the punters, the return men and even the long snapper.
Shaun Suisham - After joining the Steelers in the midst of the 2010 season, Suisham found himself with a full time gig in 2011. Despite a solid percentage of field goals made, Suisham is still a heart attack in a football uniform. Anytime he lines up for a kick outside of 40 yards it becomes an excruciating experience tantamount to watching an escape artist in the final seconds.
If Suisham is to be the place kicker for the Steelers in 2012 his ability to hit field goals in the 40-50 yard range must be better. Suisham’s kickoffs were significantly deeper last year but so were everyone’s considering the rule change that moved up the ball five yards.
As we sit here in mid July, this job is Suisham’s to lose but his career is one of a guy that rarely holds on with a team for any serious length of time. There were some that thought the Steelers would possibly draft a kicker back in April, but they wisely chose to go the free agent route.
Daniel Hrapmann - A rookie free agent from Southern Miss, Hrapmann was 23 of 34 in his field goal attempts last season for the Golden Eagles and had 16 touchbacks in 98 kickoffs. In a March 2010 ESPN article, Hrapmann was’t exactly given a seal of approval by his then Head Coach Larry Fedora who said, “the kicking game was terrible.”
The good news is that Hrapmann seemed to gain some consistency from 2009 to 2011 as he was better with his extra point attempts and field goal attempts. The all important 40-49 yard range however saw him at just 7 for 13.
Hrapmann may also get a look at punter. In 10 punts last season he averaged a very respectable 46.6 yards per punt. While it’s never easy to go out and find the next Adam Vinatieri, I’m a little bit underwhelmed with Hrapmann. Seems like the Steelers could have found a little more consistency in the free agent market.
Jeremy Kapinos - Twice Kapinos was called on to replace injured punter Daniel Sepulveda and Kapinos delivered each time. While he isn’t going to remind anyone of Craig Colquitt, he gets his punts off and stays consistent averaging about 46 yards per punt last year.
His biggest area of improvement will need to be dropping kicks inside the 20. Punters can be tremendous weapons for teams if they can consistently keep opponents with the whole field in front of them. With Sepulveda gone, the job is Kapinos’ to lose, but he will face challenges.
Drew Butler – The former Georgia Bulldog was signed as a free agent this off-season and brings the experience of having been a three-year starter for Georgia. Rated as the number one punter entering the 2012 draft, he went unselected. While his numbers were better in his sophomore campaign (48 yard avg.) than his final two (44 yard avg.), it was obvious he working on his hang time as that increased dramatically.
Being strictly a punter and not a place kicker will leave him little option and he is an average athlete at best but you have to like his pedigree. He is the son of former Chicago Bears’ kicker Kevin Butler. Do not be surprised to see Butler win this job.
Matt Katula – Easily the most underrated position in football, the long-snapper only makes news when he fails to deliver a snap properly. Katula comes over from Baltimore after seven years there. It appears he will face little opposition for the job, but he must perform well. The less we hear of Matt Katula, the better. And I mean that positively.
Chris Rainey – If Chris Rainey is not used in the return game this season then I will walk to Pittsburgh and knock on Mike Tomlin’s door to ask “why?” While he only returned a total of 32 punts in his Florida career, two were for scores. Also consider the Gators had numerous other speedsters at their disposal as well.
I don’t know how often you’ll see him return kickoffs, but I believe he will from time to time. This rookie just has too much speed not to be utilized.
Emmanuel Sanders – Early in the pre-season it was announced that with Antonio Brown moving into the number two receiving spot, Sanders would handle more of the kickoff return duties. I understand the move and Sanders will do a nice job, but I don’t believe he brings the home run threat that Brown does. His primary job will be to take care of the ball and advance it forward.
Other Possibilities – It’s not impossible to see Baron Batch returning kicks in 2012 although he doesn’t have much of a history of doing it at Texas Tech. We know Isaac Redman can return kicks but with the starting running back spot his that isn’t going to happen.
Analysis – The Steelers have traditionally struggled in special teams but they have improved over the tenure of Mike Tomlin. The importance of high-performing specialists is vital to the team’s success. Every team has guys that are ‘made’ for special teams and the Steelers are no different. The third phase of football can often make up for short-comings of the other two.