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Kicking Game Far From Settled in Steelers’ Preseason

If you’re like most casual fans you completely ignore the importance of special teams when it comes to the game of football. If you’re one of those rabid, obsessed fans or a coach then you know how crucial special teams can be in the outcome of a game, especially at the professional level.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only thing that appears settled on special teams right now is that the return man will be Chris Rainey. After that, things are up in the air with the same doubt of a Shaun Suisham 50-yard field goal attempt.

With punter Jeremy Kapinos having been out throughout the preseason, rookie Drew Butler has handled the chore and has done ‘so-so’ to this point. His average of 47.5 isn’t bad, but he has also been helped by a couple of poor kicks that weren’t returned and rolled a great distance. I really felt coming into the preseason that Butler was going to win this job simply because his price would be lower and because he has really solid hang-time which coaches and players love.

Kapinos hasn’t really done anything to lose the job, but at some point he has to enter the competition and put a little more pressure on the rookie from Georgia. Butler, by the way is the son of former Bears’ kicker Kevin Butler so if Drew chooses, I know I’d get a kick out of seeing him in a single-bar facemask.

Place-kicking is a tough call, but not because of anything other than the fact that both Shaun Suisham and rookie Danny Hrapmann have been perfect on their field goal attempts so far in the preseason. Hrapmann was four-for-four on Sunday night including the game-winner in defeating the Colts 26-24. I certainly wasn’t impressed however with the game-winner as it was partially blocked before scurrying through the uprights.

For Sushi’s part, he has made good on his two field goal attempts and he continues to send the ball literally through the uprights on kick-offs. Let’s be honest though and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way either, because when Suisham lines up for anything outside of 40 yards I immediately call my doctor who tells me to ‘just breathe deeply.’ Easy for him to say…

Certainly Hrapmann would come cheaper than would the veteran Suisham, but if the season were to start now, would you want rookies at both punter and kicker starting for the Steelers? I could live with it but my expectations would be quite high and I’d have little tolerance for misses and shanked punts. Of course I’m that way now, but you understand where I’m going.

I don’t really know what to expect of the defense this year as James Harrison continues to watch from the sidelines so punting becomes more crucial than ever. Making the opposition go the length of the field is one way to cover up difficiencies of a questionable defense. Can Butler do this on a regular basis?

When you have a new offensive system in place, especially one that is supposed to thrive in the red zone, having an accurate kicker is huge when the offense bogs down or doesn’t execute properly. We know Suisham is good at close range and Hrapmann is showing he is as well but can they remain consistent and knock through the 45-yarders when needed?

Mike Tomlin has difficult decisions to make this year at a number of positions and now punter and kicker are on the list as well. My advice is to just breathe deeply Coach.

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