clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Maybe Brad Wing will be allowed to grow into a Pittsburgh Steeler

New, comments

At age 24 and coming off a rookie campaign in-which he struggled a bit, Brad Wing certainly has room to improve. Only problem is, Wing is a punter and could be replaced at any second by the Steelers, who already signed Jordan Berry to compete for his job. That's the life of an NFL kicker or punter: There's very little room for error or room for improvement. You could be replaced at any given moment.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While researching Brad Wing, the Steelers current (as of this very second, anyway) punter, I googled "Steelers sign punter" and found this article from April written by Jeff Hartman, reporting that Pittsburgh signed Jordan Berry out of Eastern Kentucky.

Therefore, it wouldn't surprise me if Berry were  the Steelers' opening day punter on September 10. It wouldn't surprise me because, number one, Pittsburgh has employed four different punters since the start of the 2012 season. Secondly, with very few exceptions, who a team's punter is is normally of very little significance to the average fan, save for his parents. Third, Wing, in only his first season after making the Steelers roster out of training camp due to the trying family troubles Adam Podlesh experienced last summer, struggled a bit in 2014, finishing 29th in gross yardage per punt at 43.7, 20th in net average per punt at 38.8 and 28th in the league at landing punts inside the 20 yard line.

The career of an NFL punter is often a forgotten one, and that's sometimes the case if he plays many years. Of course, your average punter, like your average place kicker, must hop from team to team in-order to find a semi-permanent home, and even then, can he ever truly feel secure?

Needless to say, most head coaches have very little patience when it comes to specialists such as place kickers and punters and often change them as much as they change their underwear. But maybe kickers and punters should have the same learning curve other players are afforded.

When it comes to punters and kickers, we often view them through a black or white filter and assume there's no room for improvement.

Shaun Suisham came to Pittsburgh in 2010 as a field goal kicker with a spotty resume that included a 79 percent career average (not horrible) and a label as a choke-artist (very horrible). However, like any other football player, I'm sure a kicker works on his craft and tries to hone his skills. Maybe it was honing; maybe it was maturing. It's hard to say, but, since coming to Pittsburgh, Suisham has emerged as one of  the most consistent kickers in the NFL, and has eclipsed the 90 percent accuracy mark over the past three years, only missing four kicks from less than 50-yards.

Five seasons ago, at age 28, Suisham could have very easily found himself on the permanent place kicker scrapheap, but now, at age 33, he is in the sweet spot of his career.

Will Wing get that chance to ascend? At age 24, he certainly has time. And if his college resume is any indication (in 2011, while attending LSU, Wing averaged 43 yards per punt, was named second-team all SEC and was a semi-finalist for the Ray Guy award), Wing clearly has talent.

Will that translate into an improved sophomore year with the Steelers? Will he even be given a chance for an improved second campaign?

The odds are Wing will bounce around the NFL like so many of his contemporaries and predecessors (that is if he's even given a chance by other clubs). Of the three previous Steelers punters who appeared in regular season games, two are currently unsigned, and if you want to throw in Podlesh, that makes three.

Much like kickers, punters face the law of supply and demand. There isn't a great demand for punters, since most teams only keep one on their roster. Therefore, it's a buyer's market and there are plenty of guys floating around without jobs who would hop on a flight in a second if a team calls for an audition.

Punters and kickers seem like the ultimate independent contractors, and I wonder if they ever truly feel like a part of the team. Even if they do find a home and become "one of the boys," they probably know they could get a visit from the Turk at any time--even December, right before the playoffs, and find themselves watching on TV as some guy who was sitting at home watching them just a few weeks ago is on national television booting footballs in January or February.

How did Brad Wing perform this past week in OTAs? Would anyone have even made a fuss if he elected to skip out? Would anyone have even noticed?

Will we remember Brad Wing 10 years from now? What about six months from now? Will he get the chance to grow as a player and enjoy the sweet part of his career in his late 20's or early 30's?

That's the life of an NFL punter: Many cities, many auditions and many uniforms.