Friday, September 28, 2007
By Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jeff Reed, right, has been paramount for a kickoff unit that has time and again pushed opponents into uphill battles for field position.The hair.
It must be the hair.
"People could think that if they'd like," Steelers kicker Jeff Reed said with a laugh. "I don't really know what to attribute it to, though."
It has been an ongoing sonic boom emanating from Reed's right leg the first three weeks of this football season. Reed -- he of the recent locks-losing, inches-hacking haircut -- has been brilliant.
The new-look Reed, who formerly sported a gravity-defying haircut akin to one actor Yahoo Serious had in the film "Young Einstein," opted for the low-maintenance buzz cut at the end of camp. Since the season began, he is 9 of 9 on field goals with four kickoffs resulting in touchbacks -- equalling his touchback total for all of last season.
"I let it grow for, actually, a year straight," Reed said of his coiffure. "That was the most I ever let it grow. It was long and a little bit annoying, but it wasn't too hot in camp or anything.
"I was just ready to cut it and, now, it is a lot easier to maintain."
It seems his stroke has been easier to maintain as well. Last season, a number of kickoffs shot off Reed's foot only to tumble into a return man's awaiting arms at the 10-yard line or so. This season, Reed has been paramount for a Steelers kickoff unit that has time and again pushed opponents into uphill battles for field position.
"The key to what I have done, I think, is just trying to be smooth with it instead of trying to kill it," Reed said. "You can't try to make it stronger than it needs to be, because then you get into just kind of fighting yourself.
"When I am nice and relaxed, it goes the distance I want it to go. And to this point, I feel like I've done a good job of doing that."
Kicking isn't like a golf swing, wherein you get hot, hit another good one and scramble up to your ball with the hopes of staying on a roll. With the limited opportunities, and the built-in week layoff between games, it could be difficult to maintain a hot spell.
Steelers first-year special teams coach Bob Ligashesky has worked hard with Reed -- and rookie punter Daniel Sepulveda -- to ensure that they stay on the upswing they are experiencing.
"You can maintain your stroke and mentality throughout the week without actually kicking the football," Ligashesky said. "You can do it with your mental work and through other ways. Because of that, yes, I do feel like you can stay in a zone throughout the week and carry it from game to game."
Sepulveda, the brawny punter who looks more like he should be hammering a tight end across the middle, admits he heard the rumbles when he was drafted in the fourth round that, maybe, Steelers Nation disagreed with using such a high pick on a punter. He has gone a long way to offset those feelings by punting nine times for an average of 38.7 yards, with six of those punts coming to rest inside the 20.
Sepulveda knows that kind of effort is expected from him -- and he has responded tremendously.
"There is definitely a lower tolerance for inconsistency and a higher demand to be consistent at this level," Sepulveda said. "There are so many talented guys out there, and as soon as you start screwing up, they are going to bring the next guy in here. I always keep that in the back of my mind."
Foremost in Ligashesky's mind is that his kick and punt teams have performed admirably with Reed and Sepulveda as the linchpins.
"They both have an outstanding work ethic and have done a great job," Ligashesky said. "Physically and mentally and preparing themselves in every way, I couldn't ask for more in how those two have handled themselves."
Actually, Ligashesky could -- he could ask that this kicking game upswing continues.