Character (Ac)Counts: Shaun Suisham

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

in which the author continues the series she began in the off-season with a paean to a man who refuses to praise himself...

When the Steelers signed Shaun Suisham in the middle of the 2010 season, Steeler Nation seemed pretty underwhelmed, despite the general feeling that Jeff Reed had worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh.

This made me curious about him, and I did a bit of research. After reading up on him, I didn't know how he was going to turn out as a kicker, but it was clear that as a person they had just signed the Anti-Reed. Pretty much any Canadian is likely to be rather different from the colorful but flawed character Reed manifested in Pittsburgh, but Suisham took that to another level.

Suisham, as I'm sure many of you know, was first picked up by Pittsburgh in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. He had an impressive college resume, as noted in my article from last January:

During his senior year at Bowling Green he set an NCAA record. (It has since been broken.) The only kicker besides Suisham in NFL history to make four kicks of over 40 yards in a single game is Sebastian Janikowski. Suisham has done it twice—five kicks from over 40 yards in 2007 for the Redskins, including the game-winner in overtime, and four kicks for the Steelers in 2010 vs. Buffalo, including the game-winner in overtime.

Nonetheless, he was scarcely a hot commodity when the Steelers picked him up. By then he had been cut from the Steelers in 2005, from the Cowboys twice, in 2005 and 2006, from the Redskins in 2009, and from the Cowboys again, in 2010. (Strictly speaking, he was just not tendered by the Cowboys, rather than cut.) So from January 2010 to November he was a "free agent," although he had tryouts with the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Rams. As this Post-Gazette article relates,

After the 2009 season, Suisham sold his house in Virginia and moved to Greenville so his wife could be close to her family. For a time, they lived with Harold and Gloria Croley before moving into their new house in March.

"In one way, I hated being out of work," Suisham said. "But in another way, it was a blessing. We ended up back in Ohio for a reason. My wife got to spend the most time with her mother since she was in high school. My daughter got to be around her grandparents. [Gloria] was such a great grandmother ...

His mother-in-law died of a heart attack, exactly two weeks before the Steelers called Suisham for a tryout, signing him later that day. He was planning to retire from the NFL at the end of the 2010 season if he didn't get picked up by a team. Hard to believe when he has become such a terrific kicker.

But he has greatly improved during his time in Pittsburgh, make no mistake. Before coming to Pittsburgh, his lifetime percentage of made kicks from any distance was 79%. This is the average of his made field goal percentages for 2005—2009. If you actually calculate attempts/made kicks, the number is 80%— 116 field goals made out of 145 attempts. Since coming to Pittsburgh he has attempted 91 field goals and made 81 of them—a stellar 89%. This is especially amazing if you realize that his average for the 2011 season was only 74.2%—a third of his attempts (31) were during that season.

After last week's game the team awarded Suisham the game ball. Joe Starkey of the Tribune-Review went looking for him in the locker room, hoping to get some good quotes. He was lucky to catch Suisham, game ball under his arm, clad in an overcoat, doing his best to escape before anyone found him.

As Starkey related on The Fan the next day, any attempts he made to get Suisham to say something good about himself were futile. "How did it feel to kick the game winner, Shaun?" "I was just doing my job. I could do it because a whole lot of other guys had done their job to get us to that point." "But what about kicking at Heinz Field? Isn't it a pretty difficult place to kick?" The Kicking Canuck, as Craig Wolfley calls him, came right back with this: "Heinz Field is my favorite field in the NFL." Further attempts elicited praise for Greg Warren, his long snapper. Joe finally gave up and let him go home.

Mark Kaboly, also of the Trib, was able to get a bit more information out of Suisham for an article in yesterday's paper. Not a lot, though:

Some kickers point to the goal posts with one hand, and others point with two.

Others swear by their life-long rituals before a kick, and others have a laundry list of helpers to make things go right and even a longer list when they don't.

Not Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham. He doesn't have a kicking coach - never did, never will.

He said he doesn't believe in psychologists or any "kicking guru" to help him out of slumps.

For Suisham, it's not much harder than: ‘See the ball, kick the ball.'

"Now don't get me wrong. There's an awful lot of preparation that goes into that mentality," Suisham said. "Less is a lot more sometimes at my position. Over the years, it has evolved into that belief. I don't concern myself with a lot of things that don't help me be successful."

Greg Warren wasn't as shy:

He is definitely kicking the best I've ever seen...He is able to worry just about the kick he is doing just himself, and he blocks out all the other external factors such as the snap, the hold, the protection, the wind, the field. He is able to focus on himself and his ability.

Kaboly pointed out that Suisham is responsible for 51 points so far this season. The entire rest of the offense has scored 54 points. We all hope that changes, sooner rather than later. As Suisham says himself, "I'd be more than happy just kicking extra points."

But whether Suisham is responsible for 25% of the offensive points or 85% of them when the season is over, it's safe to say he won't be looking for any glory. Which is pretty refreshing these days. I for one hope he "lives long and prospers" in Pittsburgh.

Extra points:

If you are interested in my statistical comparisons of Shaun Suisham and some of the league "greats," the article from last January goes into some detail. Here is a chart from that article I thought was interesting. This is showing the percentage of kicks made from each distance, for his whole career, and the percentage he had made as a Steeler as of last January. It would, of course, look even better now. The main point I was making was that this was very similar to the trajectory of some of the better kickers in the league, historically. Accuracy is going to drop as the distance increases. Kickers are becoming more accurate these days, which is an article for another time, but while the percentage may be higher the number of kicks made is still going to decrease as the distance increases.

Suisham_comp

If you want to see a different side of Shaun than the guy we see on Sunday who is totally focused on his job, check out this video, posted by the Steelers during last season's training camp. It features some notable cameos by players to whom we have bid adieu as well:

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