The Pittsburgh Steelers have been unable to find stability at the punter position for some time now. The last player one could make an argument for would be the three years that Chris Gardocki spent at the end of his career with the Steelers from 2004 to 2006.
A more fair and realistic answer, however, would be Josh Miller, who preceded Gardocki and spent the years of 1996 through 2003 with the Steelers, averaging 43 yards per punt on 572 career punts with the Steelers over his tenure.
The Steelers were looking for their solution when they traded up in the fourth round of the 2007 draft to select the decorated Daniel Sepulveda. For a time, it did seem as though it would ultimately work out.
But it wasn’t before long that it became obvious his career would be derailed by injury. He suffered three season-ending injuries with the Steelers, including missing the entire 2008 championship season, and after the third one in 2011, Pittsburgh accepted that they would finally have to move on.
Since then, it’s been nothing short of a mess. His replacement, Jeremy Kapinos, couldn’t stay healthy in training camp the next summer, so rookie undrafted free agent Drew Butler won the job by default. In 2013, he defeated veteran Brian Moorman for the job in training camp, but the Steelers signed the recently released Zoltan Mesko before the season began to replace him.
Mesko played so poorly that the Steelers had no choice but to cut him in the middle of the season. To replace him, they signed Australian punter Mat McBriar, who finished the season, but unspectacularly, outside of a 30-yard completed pass on a fake punt.
None of them are currently in camp, but the two new candidates have interesting histories.
The veteran option, Adam Podlesh, is actually the punter drafted ahead of Sepulveda in 2007 that prompted the Steelers to move up to get him. Podlesh has struggled with his consistency since a hip injury in 2012, which prompted his release for cap purposes earlier this offseason.
The other option is another Australian-born punter in Brad Wing. Like Sepulveda, he too was a decorated punter in college. Unlike Sepulveda—and frankly, most punters—he was in trouble both on and off the field, which has made it difficult for him to catch on to a team the last two years after being dismissed from his university.
But that doesn’t bother Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith.
“I deal with people as they come here”, he said. “I deal with people in my dealings with them. I don’t believe in everything I read. I don’t buy the line. My dealings with [Wing] is what’s important to me. I like him, I trust him. He’s a good player and I’m excited about working with him”.
For his part, the recently married father of one said that “actions speak louder than words”:
“I think that I’ve done a pretty good job lately. You haven’t heard anything bad about me lately…You have to grow up. I’ve got other people to depend on and people who depend on me. So, those days are over”.
There hasn’t been a ton of coverage over the punter ‘battle’ through OTAs and the now concluded minicamp, but we should see things start to pick up next month when training camp begins. Whoever wins, the hope is that he is better, and healthier, than the last former fourth-rounder or Aussie.