By Teresa Varley
The Steelers set their sights on selecting a punter in the draft, and when they thought the one they wanted might not be there when they selected, they did what they had to – they made a trade.
The team traded their fourth and sixth-round picks to move up in the fourth round and select punter Daniel Sepulveda from Baylor.
"We felt like we were trading up to get a starting position," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "This kid is going to potentially be our starting punter. We were willing to give up that sixth pick because we had the multiple picks in the fourth and fifth, we just decided to eliminate the margin for error. He was really the one guy left that we would have considered drafting, so we went ahead and made the move."
Trading up to take a punter isn't a common thing, but for head coach Mike Tomlin, who stresses the importance of special teams, it makes perfect sense.
"That is a legitimate phase of football," said Tomlin. "We are going to put our money where our mouth is, in regards to that. It is a position that is very important. We are talking about field position and special teams. He is a left-footed punter and he punts it a great distance, with great flight time. He is a very talented guy and we supported that all the way."
The Steelers punting situation right now includes veterans Chris Gardocki, who has been with the Steelers since 2004 but is now in his 17th season, and Mike Barr, a first-year player who has been with the Steelers the last three training camps. Tomlin said after the draft he expects to have two punters in training camp and Sepulveda is ready for the competition.
"I recognize that if you don't get the job done, you're not going to be the guy," said Sepulveda. "I'm looking forward to some competition, to learning as much as I can from both of those guys because they have been around a lot longer than I have, and know the ropes, obviously, better than I do. I'm going to do the best I can to learn from them and we'll just go forward and do the best we can."
Sepulveda walked on at Baylor as a linebacker, but made the move to punter his freshman year. He averaged 45.24 yards per punt at Baylor, including a 46.48-yard average his senior season. He had four punts blocked his freshman season, but none since then. Of his 277 punts, he has put 82 of them inside the 20 and 94 have been over 50-yards. No bad numbers at all for a guy who was more likely to take to tackle a punter than be one.
"It was definitely a tough transition for me," said Sepulveda of moving to punter, a position he also played in middle school. "Obviously, the mindset for those two positions is drastically different. Making that transition is one that took a couple of years. It wasn't kind of just flipping the switch for me. And I struggled with that.
"I guess the first couple of years that I was the punter at Baylor, and started to realize and recognize that that's all I was going to be doing. I tried to sneak my way onto some special teams throughout my career and was able to do that at times. I really did enjoy it, but finally did settle in to where I knew that punter was the position that God would have me to be at."