Steelers need encore performance from Shaun Suisham

Jared Wickerham

Suisham probably never expected to return to Pittsburgh after his career struggled to survive for eight years; but he did, and was almost perfect. Now, the team will be expecting him to back up his performance with more of the same.

When Jeff Reed's tenure as placekicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers came to an unflattering end, no one suspected the once 'Mr. Reliable' would be replaced by one Shaun Suisham; especially after being kicked around the league for seemingly being not good enough.

After spending time with five other NFL teams during his eight-year career, Suisham eventually landed right back where it all started. Suisham entered the league as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Steelers on April 28th, 2005. When he returned to Pittsburgh in 2011, most of the names of the players and coaches had changed; but it was still the same organization.

He didn't survive his first pro training camp, although at the time he would have needed a significant showing to unseat Reed. Suisham was little more than just another camp body.

Fortunately for Suisham, his career didn't end there. He was snatched up by the Dallas Cowboys seven days after being released by the Steelers, although he found out quickly the going wouldn't be getting any easier. He wasn't signed to the active roster. He was signed to the practice squad. He lasted until October before being released. The team would re-sign him to their practice squad again a week later. Another week later, he was promoted to the active roster on October 24th.

Unfortunately for Suisham, the Cowboys were suffering from inconsistent placekicking at the time, and his struggles did little to make anyone believe he was the solution. By November 11th, he was released yet again, only to be re-signed again in December. He managed to stick until October of 2006 when Dallas released him again. Suisham re-signed to the Cowboys practice squad, but his stay lasted three days before the team released him again. A week later Suisham found a new home on the practice squad of the San Francisco 49ers. He lasted a week.

In November, the Washington Redskins found themselves in need of a kicker, and signed Suisham to their practice squad. A week later he was promoted to their active roster. Suisham thought he had finally found his place in the NFL.

His stay with the Redskins lasted until 2009, when inconsistency drew impatience from the team's fanbase and ownership. The Redskins had more problems than just placekicking, but when points are coming at a premium, missed field goals stick out like a sore thumb. After seemingly wearing out his welcome in Washington, the Cowboys came calling once again. Suisham would finish out the season in Dallas, before finding himself unemployed yet again.

The Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams kicked Suisham's tires during the off-season, but he did not survive final cuts. This time Suisham found himself unemployed with no suitors. The Redskins didn't want him, nor did the Cowboys. Suisham's career was staring down the barrel of a bitter end.

While Suisham was busy being the NFL's hacky sack, the Steelers were busy trying to reel in their own kicker, whose issues with anger and alcohol were beginning to escalate out of control. Reed had already been cited once for disorderly conduct and criminal mischief after taking out his frustrations on a gas station bathroom's paper towel holder for being empty, ironically on Valentine's Day, 2009. Reed found himself in trouble with police yet again in October, after failing to comply with police who cited Reed's teammate Matt Spaeth for urinating in public. Reed was charged with disorderly conduct and public intoxication.

The Steelers patience was wearing thin with Reed, although they tried to maintain their faith in him by giving him another chance to clean up his act. The team placed the franchise tag on Reed for the 2010 season. He only made it until November before missing his final field goal for Pittsburgh against the New England Patriots, when the team finally decided it had enough. Reed, the second highest scoring player in Steelers history, was gone for good; and his replacement was none other than 2005 camp body Suisham.

Considering his less-than-stellar pro performances with Dallas and Washington, the addition of Suisham was less-than-well received. However, Suisham only missed one kick in the seven games in which he appeared, which inspired the team to call his number again in 2011. Suisham responded with a 74.2% success rate, only making 23 of his 31 attempts, reminding many of the same old Suisham.

However in 2012, Suisham found new life. As they do every off-season, the Steelers brought in camp competition in undrafted rookie Daniel Hrapmann, who made every single attempt; but the team remained confident in Suisham, who did not disappoint. He missed only three kicks out of his 31 attempts - two of which were beyond 50 yards and one 26 yarder due to a rare horrible snap by Greg Warren. Outside of those, he was as perfect as a kicker can be. He was like a completely different person.

In 2013, Suisham will enter training camp as the presumed starter, facing off yet again against Hrapmann. While Hrapmann will have every opportunity to impress his way into a job, the odds are stacked twice as high against him considering Suisham's performance last season. When it comes to the NFL kicking game, teams prefer to deal in known commodities rather than long shot unknowns. The job will be Suisham's to lose.

The Steelers will be expecting Suisham to match the efficiency of his 2012 campaign. While he will most likely not improve on kicks beyond 50 yards, the team will be trying to not ask him to have to. One of his 50 yard misses came against the Tennessee Titans, although he probably should never have been asked to attempt the kick in the first place. Many fans felt the team should have gone for it on the play in question, but the fact remains the team did little throughout the rest of the contest to place the blame solely on Suisham, who had nailed a field goal of similar distance during warm-ups prior to the start of the game. His other two misses came during the Week 16 loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals - another game in which the Steelers struggled collectively.

This season, as the offense continues to gel in coordinator Todd Haley's second year, the Steelers are hoping to not need Suisham to be kicking 50 yarders to win poorly played contests. They are hoping to keep him within the range which he was virtually perfect from, outside of the bad Warren snap against the Bengals.

If Suisham can remain as efficient in 2013, he should remain the team's kicker at least until his contract expires after next season; possibly even longer should the team decide to extend his contract beyond. If he cannot, the team may find itself turning to the young untested Hrapmann.

The job is Suisham's to lose. In the end, it will depend on which Suisham joins his teammates in Latrobe; the old Suisham, or this new improved model. If Suisham can provide an encore performance to match his 2012 campaign, few will remember the guy who bounced around the league for not being good enough.

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