Brad Wing With A Prayer?

As far as punters go, it’s difficult to generate much enthusiasm, regardless of how talented a player might be. Frankly, quality punting is more of a concern for teams with bad offenses, and barring a hemorrhaging of touchdown returns, if you’re so worried about the quality of your punting game, chances are there are bigger issues surrounding your team.

Former LSU punter Brad Wing, many would suggest, displayed the talent that would almost generate some enthusiasm over a punter coming out of college. So why did he not only go undrafted, which is by no means uncommon for specialists, but not even hook up with a team since declaring for the draft in 2012?

The answer to that is simple, and well-documented. Wing had a series of off-field issues, including physical confrontations and failed drug tests, as well as unsportsmanlike displays on the field and directed at coaches. He was even suspended from his team’s bowl game in 2012 for his antics.

Sounds like a classic reclamation project for the Cincinnati Bengals—so then why is he with the Pittsburgh Steelers?

According to general manager Kevin Colbert, it’s because he’s grown up. In fact, while speaking to the media yesterday at the Combine, he went so far as to say that Wing doesn’t have anything to prove with regards to his demeanor, adding that the team would never have signed him if they felt he was a character concern.

Wing, recently married and with a child, was described by Colbert as an underclassmen who wasn’t “ready for the challenge” of being a professional when he came out in the draft, which is a theme that he has been expounding upon this past week, and is an interesting topic worthy of broader discussion.

This draft will include a record number of underclassmen, and according to Colbert, that could result in not only one of the most talented classes in recent memory, but also one of the most immature and mentally ill-prepared.

With less and less incentive to staying in college as NFL salaries rise, more and more players are choosing to start their professional careers as early as possible, foregoing unnecessary risks of injury and dancing through the academic charade that is the ‘student-athlete’ ideal of college athletics.

Is this resulting in a rise in immaturity among young players, who are more frequently entering the league at 20 and 21 years of age? Was Wing one of those players, and he simply needed some more time to mature?

Regardless of that, perhaps Wing will now be viewed in a different light going forward, perhaps even as a favorite to be the punter this season, whereas previously it seemed everybody was just waiting for him to register a blip on the radar that would tug on his short leash and get him sent packing from Latrobe. But make no mistake, he won’t be handed the job; you can bet on the Steelers bringing in competition for him, and he’ll have to earn his way.

The Steelers haven’t had much quality punting over the past decade, and 2013 was perhaps the nadir of this recent run of futility. Between Zoltan Mesko and Mat McBriar, the two veteran punters combined to produce the second-worst net punting average in the league, and Drew Butler from the year before was no phenom either.

Perhaps all I really mean to express is that it would be great to have a genuinely quality punter for once, a punter that regularly pins his opponent deep in their own territory by achieving both distance and hang time and pairing that with directional aptitude. Maybe a little less Chris Gardocki and Mitch Berger and a little more Andy Lee or Johnny Hekker.

By no means am I saying that Wing will be that guy. But at least he appears to have the talent to give it a go, which is more than can be said for the latest collection of rejected kickers added to the scrap heap on top of Daniel Sepulveda and Jeremy Kapinos.

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

    Yep, past character concerns aside, he has talent… I really hope he can solidify that position. We’ve been in need of a solid Punter for yrs now. It’s been a long time coming.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I’m hoping we don’t have to rely on our punting game as you mentioned that’s what teams with bad Offenses do. It’s about time for us to have a punter which has the attributes you mentioned. As we saw from last year opposing teams like Baltimore were able to “Flip the Field” on us and pin us back with ease while our punters gave other teams good starting field position. Hopefully with starting a family Wing has matured and past problems are behind because the talent is there.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I hope colbert is right about his maturity because he sounds like a head case that we dont need in the locker room but can really use his talents and would be welcomed if he showed growth

  • cencalsteeler

    I agree with Matt’s entire article. I hold hope for Wing, for his leg is proven, he just needs to settle down and mature. And, at this point, anything is better than Mesko and McBriar, no?

  • Rob H

    It’s not just having a suspect offense that creates a need for a decent punter,with a defense that’s in transition, a punter who can consistently lengthen the distance the opposing offense has to go to score would be very helpful. I’m not saying you HAVE to have a great punter to win, just that it does make a difference if your defense doesn’t have to defend a short field half the time.

  • Michael Pearce

    I hope he turns out to be good because this defense that we are presently fielding is not good enough anymore to defend short fields. A little extra yardage from a decent punter would help this defense more than the average punter of the past decade.

  • shawn

    Punting is one of the most underrated and undervalued aspects in football … field position goes a long way in the game and so many close tough games come down to who can win the field position battle … its something we definitely should try and improve !

  • shawn

    i like the gamble … but for Colbert to say he has no concerns with his character and he has matured and grown up is ludicrous … its only been a year or two .. after 5 or 6 years maybe you can confidently defend those positions but c’mon … lets hope he really has

    Its only about now that i feel confident that Ben has matured and completely turned his life in a different direction … it definitely doesn’t happen overnight !

  • 20Stoney

    Low risk signing. Besides, we put up with Jeff Reed for how long?

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Lots of bad luck with punters. It looked like Drew was going to be fine, but then they gave up on him, on to have the following guys perform even worse. Sepulveda had a good leg and I though he was going to be the punter for the next 15 years. Alas it was not meant to be. Have you ever heard of a punter blowing out his knees so many times? If I remember correctly, it was not even a contact injury one time. Was it in the gym or what?

    Anyway, it would be great to get lucky with this guy. Perhaps he can work on some little things and fine tune his craft, because he is known for his big leg.

  • treeher

    Hey, give it a shot, if he reverts to old habits, show him the door. There’s lots of punters out there who can be as bad as those we had last year.

  • Brian Miller

    You are right…we have had crappy luck for several years regarding our entire team, and frankly when I hear other teams complaining about injuries it makes me want to judo chop them in the neck. The fact that our punter and entire O-line gets decimated every year is really ridiculous.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Still thought that Kapinos could have come back and competed for a spot…wonder if his injury was a lot more serious to that he couldnt kick well.

  • Johnny Loose

    “frankly, quality punting is more of a concern for teams with bad offenses,”. Almost sounds like you’re saying that quality punting isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a concern for any team, good or bad. Regardless of of how an offense is, a quality punting game is a HUGE factor. Field position will help you win, or cost you the game. I’m sure you know this but I commented anyway because some people might not. That being said, I’m interested in what Brad Wing can bring to the table. I don’t see why they don’t bring Drew Butler to another camp. He didn’t set the world on fire by any means, but he wasn’t abysmal. Am I missing something?

  • tricitysteel

    Colbert probably has less concerns about his character because, lets face it, he’s a punter after all. If Wing implodes, they immediately cut him and they are no worse off than they were in 2013. Granted, that’s not great but I don’t think it cost them games.

  • shawn

    like i said i like the pick up … and definitely not any downside to the risk at all … just saying that i find it a little naive for colbert to think there are no more character concerns so soon … time will tell, but like u said there is really no risk, so i am definitely hopeful he has grown up !