By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have taken a step in the right direction yesterday when they signed Bryce Davis—a long snapper—and Brad Wing—a punter.
That step: diagnosing a problem. Selecting these two special teams players as their first signings from outside the organization could suggest that the Steelers see a need to improve these positions in 2014.
Whether or not these two particular pieces will complete the puzzle that is the special teams is another matter.
It’s been no secret that the Steelers have had their issues successfully punting the ball during the 2013 season. The year began with Pittsburgh releasing their incumbent, second-year punter Drew Butler, which in hindsight may have been a mistake.
They replaced him with a pedigreed name in the form of former New England Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko. The fact that he was replaced mid-season says all that need be said about his performance.
That replacement, Mat McBriar, finished the season having punted in the last nine games, but his performance was far from exemplary.
His average punt distance of 41.3 yards ranked 32nd in the league—two places behind Mesko at 42.5. His net was even worse, as his 35.0 ranked 34th in the league. The only punter with more than seven punts with a worse net average was Sav Rocca of the Washington Redskins at an abysmal 33.8.
While he had a combined 14 of his 40 punts either downed or fair caught, he also had three touchbacks and had one punt blocked.
Meanwhile, long snapper Greg Warren has been with the Steelers for years, but the question that must be raised is what kind of competition they have ever brought in to compete with him. His veteran salary could save the team a couple bucks next season if they can find a competent replacement.
While he may have had an inconsistent snap or two over the course of the year, the snapping part has generally not been his problem. It’s his performance in the other aspects of his job that has been the issue. McBriar’s blocked punt was partially a result of his missing a blocking assignment.
Additionally, he rarely if ever has offered much in the way of stopping the returner. In fact, he made just one tackle all season, while missing two. This is by no means the norm for long snappers.
The Steelers could seriously benefit from upgrades at these positions. Pro Football Focus ranked McBriar and Warren as the two worst special teams players on the team this year, with Mesko the third worst.
The team’s decision to bring in a free agent from each category as their first outside signings of the offseason suggests that they might well agree with that observation, regardless of whether or not the specific players they brought in can unseat the incumbents.