The Pittsburgh Steelers are nearly ready to head out to East Rutherford, New Jersey for their first preseason game against the New York Giants, and their final free agent signee, punter Adam Podlesh, remains away with his “very pregnant” wife.
If he stays away much longer, it may not do much good for him to show up at all.
That’s because the one punter the Steelers do have in camp, Brad Wing, has been booming his way through practices so far, even if the two punters are still currently listed as co-starters on the team’s first official depth chart.
While there’s still a long way to go when it comes to determining who enters the regular season as the Steelers’ punter, it’s clear that the 2012 undrafted free agent is off to a strong start, and he could begin to pull away if he remains uncontested.
Just two seasons ago, incumbent punter Jeremy Kapinos found himself sitting out training camp with an injury, and his inability to get back on the field in a timely manner cost him his job, supplanted by a rookie undrafted free agent in Drew Butler.
After muddling through a season with bottom-of-the-league-quality performances from Zoltan Mesko and Mat McBriar, the Steelers are certainly going to be on the lookout for a fresh, energetic leg, which Wing appears to be displaying.
The former college star punter has been showing off not just a big leg with distance, but also consistently displaying NFL-quality hang time, which Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith believes is 4.2 seconds.
Wing has been hitting that mark, and at times considerably beyond. On Monday, Jim Wexell Tweeted that one of his punts reached a hang time of 5.7 seconds, and he has been regularly approaching 4.5-5 seconds.
Of course, it’s one thing to have a big, booming leg, and the hang time to make sure that you don’t outkick your coverage, but it’s another matter to be able to control your punts, and that’s what we’ve heard little of so far.
Part of being a punter is to be able to flip the field when your offense is unable to drive down the field in order to spare your defense. Sometimes that requires a big leg, but other times, it demands touch and finesse.
How will the newcomer fare when he’s asked to do some directional kicking? Can he regularly keep the ball out of the end zone? Can he be a reliable holder for Shaun Suisham?
Since joining the Steelers, he’s shown himself to be a maturing young adult, which was the biggest mark against him coming out of college. In order to take the next step and make an NFL roster, he needs to show that his punting game is mature as well, with a little finesse to go along with that raw power.