By Jeremy Hritz
It’s that time of year again when I begin my usual campaign for the Pittsburgh Steelers to force a competition for the kicking job, as last year, I beat the drum for Grant Ressel and Danny Hrapmann to overtake Shaun Suisham as the team’s placekicker.
To my disappointment, despite Hrapmann’s solid preseason performance in 2012, hitting all six of his field goal attempts, including three from beyond 40 yards, he was cut, and Suisham retained his starting job for the entire season.
And the decision to stick with Suisham turned out to be the right one. Last season, Suisham was money on 28 of his 31 field goal attempts, his longest being a 52 yarder against the Tennessee Titans. 21 of his 28 field goals came beyond distances of 30 or more yards, and early on, there was talk that Suisham was a prime candidate for the Pro Bowl.
While he wasn’t perfect, Suisham put together his most complete campaign since joining the Steelers. His biggest hiccups however, came in games when he was needed to come through the most. On a Thursday night game against the Titans, despite already hitting a 52 yarder earlier in the game, Suisham missed on a 54 yarder that didn’t have enough beef on it that resulted in a 26-23 loss. Had Suisham have hit that kick, the Steelers may have earned another win.
His other poor performance of 2012 came in a tremendously important game against the Cincinnati Bengals, in which a win all but guaranteed the Steelers a playoff spot. In a close game that the Steelers lost 13-10 and were eliminated from the playoffs, Suisham connected on only one of three field goals, missing a short 24-yarder and a more difficult shot from 53 yards. If Suisham had connected on one of those attempts, the Steelers could have tied the game, and if he hit both, the 2012 season may have been prolonged a bit into the postseason.
It wasn’t the way that Suisham wanted to remember his season, missing such meaningful kicks, but those misses did nothing to shake Mike Tomlin’s faith in him. After the Bengals game, Tomlin said “We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Shaun and rightfully so.”
Despite Suisham’s misses in the games against the Titans and the Bengals, it is difficult to imagine a scenario that he would lose his starting spot to Hrapmann this training camp. If Hrapmann is to earn the starting spot over Suisham, he is not only going to have to continue to demonstrate consistency on his field goals, but also that he can drive kick-offs into the end zone on a regular basis.
It would also serve Hrapmann well if he can hit, with regularity, field goals from beyond 52 yards, something that Suisham has had difficulty with throughout his career. If he can prove all of these things, then maybe, just maybe, he has a realistic shot. But, all things considered at the current moment, barring injury, Suisham most likely will return to his starting spot in 2013.