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Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Position Preview: Special Teams

We agonize over long field goals, glaze over extra points and become irate over shanked punts. But rarely do we give credit where credit is due when it comes to the specialists, who do unique -- and uniquely difficult -- jobs for the Steelers. So, I've saved the most underestimated for last.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When we think football in Pittsburgh, we think of the incredible defenses of the 1970s, 1990s and early 2000s -- Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Levon Kirkland, Casey Hampton, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu. We think of Terry Bradshaw throwing deep to John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, and handing off to Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Then we jump ahead to Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and now Martavis Bryant.

Pop quiz: who are the first, second, third and fifth-highest scoring players in Steelers history?


They are Gary Anderson, Jeff Reed, Roy Gerela and Shaun Suisham. Kickers, every one.

Anderson, in fact, is the second-highsest scoring player in league history. For some perspective, only three of the top fifty in NFL history are not kickers: George Blanda in seventh, Jerry Rice in thirty-second and Emmitt Smith in forty-ninth. And Blanda was a quarterback, so he technically wasn't taking the ball across the goal line most of the time. Career leader Morten Andersen has 2,544 points. Jerry Rice, the highest player who actually crossed the goal line on a regular basis, had 1,256 -- fewer than half that of Andersen.

If you ever doubted the importance of a kicker, now would be a good time to beg the football gods for forgiveness.

The Steelers have been blessed, through the years with several good-to-great kickers. Those mentioned already are all in the top 69 in NFL history. Four more of the team's kickers are also in the top 100.

To be clear: roughly one of every 11 of the league's top 100 career scorers are current or former Steelers kickers.

But forget about how blessed this team has been in the past at the position. Shaun Suisham is the league's most accurate kicker over the last three seasons, at 91.6 percent. He's fifteenth all-time. This, from a guy who was cut five times in his first six seasons. This, also, from the guy who spends half of his season working in the worst kicking stadium in the league.

Things haven't been quite so great in the last several years at punter, though. The punters for four of the last five years -- Daniel Sepulveda, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler and now Brad Wing -- have all been absolutely average. And none has distinguished himself from the others, either: they are eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh all-time for the Steelers in yards per punt. They averaged 43.7, 43.8, 43.9 and 43.7, respectively. I excluded 2013, split by Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko, because they ruined the curve -- by making everyone else look good.

Wing returns for a second season in 2015 but, as has been the case for years now, the incumbent is not guaranteed a job. This year, it's fellow Aussie Jordan Berry who will split time with Wing. He shows potential, for sure. Then again, so did Wing, Butler, Kapinos and Sepulveda.

We will end this preview series not on the least important player on the roster, but on the least heralded: long snapper Greg Warren. Signed out of North Carolina as an undrafted free agent in 2005, Warren has been with the Steelers ever since. He is one of the few remaining who played on both Super Bowl championship teams in the last ten years, along with Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller and James Harrison.

If you ever doubt the importance of a quality long snapper, I give you October 25, 2008 as exhibit A: after Warren was injured late in the game against the Giants, James Harrison -- then the team's emergency long snapper -- sent a snap over the punter's head and through the back of the end zone for a safety, which tied the game. The Giants went on to win after the ensuing free kick left New York with great field position.

Amazingly, the team brought in no competition for Warren, despite the fact that he is 33 and has finished two seasons on injured reserve. They believe in Warren that much, and he's given them no reason to think otherwise.

I'll skip the Absurdly Early Prediction, because chances are strong that Brad Wing will win the punter's job -- the only one of the specialist jobs even being contested. All he is lacking is consistency, and that comes with time and repetition.

Thus concludes our training camp position preview. That's a good thing, because it means the dawn of training camp has, at long last, drawn nigh.