Special Teams Signings Could Suggest Steelers Have Diagnosed A Problem

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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • mem359

    It’s too bad the Steelers couldn’t have snuck Luke Ingram onto this year’s practice squad instead of cutting him. The articles about him mentioned he was the top rated long snapper coming out of college, and that he had good size and strength. Maybe after a year at the pro level, he could have developed into a successor for Warren.

  • SteelerDave

    I truly cross my fingers that Brad Wing has grown up over the course of last season. IF, and a big IF, he has remained clean, is not on drugs, is not out partying and fighting, has gotten his ego in check then he is a true gem. Part of his criticism is that he was only interested in distance at times and did not care enough about learning the finer aspects of punting for direction, etc. Few men can punt 75 yards with hang time. He can. He can also destroy a locker room with his attitude and immaturity.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I thought Luke was going to make the team. He was cut very early in the process, something wasnt right with Luke.

  • WilliamSekinger

    If they keep him, they should assign him a locker in between Cam Heyward and Lawerence Timmons. That should keep him in line in the locker room at least. Hehe.

  • Nolrog

    Punting was a big problem this year. Mesko had some really horrid games.

  • Brendon Glad

    Mesko over Butler baffled me the day it happened. I thought butler was about third to last on the list of problems in the woeful special-teams year that was 2012.
    In general, i thought special-teams was markedly improved on 2013.
    I saw them as outright losing less games than usual, while actually winning a couple as well. Im not gonna lie, watching the redskins special teams unit completely fall apart did nothing but help my opinion of Smith as well.
    But McBriar was pretty poor…and downright horrible in the beginning. He saved himself from a complete embarrassment with a late push, but i hope they replace him too.

  • tequila0341

    I hope we can fix our kick coverage unit as well. By far that was one of our biggest ST issues.

  • DrakePirate

    I think they need to try again and find a replacement … we could really use the $$ savings and considering PFF had Warren’s performance as subpar. A huge upgrade that we need at all costs is a KR … like Dri Archer from Kent St. which could be a late round pick that could double as KR/Utility back … outstanding play maker in the mold of Tavon Austin – almost the exact same size and even a tad bit faster … has blazing speed and outstanding vision makes cuts going full speed !

  • Patrick Reid

    Thx homie!!!!

  • 20Stoney

    Personally I preferred when the Steelers stayed away from guys like this. I don’t care how far he can kick.

  • DrakePirate

    thanks for the heads up … regardless of his size he has a place in the NFL … haven’t been able to keep up with college games like i used to.

  • gene mann

    It could also be that they had no Punter or Long Snapper under contract for 2014. as both Warren and Mcbrair are FA

  • r4kolb

    Is it just me Matthew or is special teams issue not something we have talked about with this team since Tomlins been here?

  • tristan

    he’s just a punter, if he’s a problem they will cut him and he will be forgotten within 15 mins

  • gene mann

    your correct the Kick coverage team did break down alot during the second half of the season

  • Willoughby Spitt

    Every little bit helps.

  • J&LSteeler

    Isn”t that near the HRBT?