Sunday, January 22, 2012

Requiem for a Season: 2011 Steelers Special Teams

What started as a frenetic end to the summer where a last-minute deal was reached on a collective bargaining agreement that enabled the 2012 NFL season to take place ended suddenly for Steelers fans on a cold Sunday night in Denver. Over the summer, we were told that the Steelers experience and depth would enable them to be successful in a season where there were no OTAs and an abbreviated training camp. As it was, the season started with us getting gashed on the ground by Baltimore and Houston, battling through injuries to our world class pass rushers, and ended with giving up 316 yards to Tim Tebow, of all people.


 Shaun Suisham was signed to a multi-year deal last offseason and followed it up with a mediocre season. The coaching staff seemed reluctant to let him kick long field goals. Suisham was 6-for-11 on kicks in the 40-49 yard range and 1-for-2 on kicks over 50 yards. He did miss two from the 30-39 range as well. On the whole, Suisham was not the liability that Jeff Reed had become, but his 74.2% on field goals was the worst in the league.

 Free Agents: none

 The Offseason: Despite Suisham's long-term deal, it would not be surprising to see the Steelers bring in another veteran kicker to camp or even pick up a kicker late in the draft. Given that he was the worst kicker in the league last year (percentage-wise), it wouldn't be surprising if the front office jettisoned Suisham and his $1.35 million contract.


 Daniel Sepulveda suffered yet another season-ending injury, and despite his popularity amongst fans, one has to think this is pretty much the end of the line for him in a Steelers uniform. Sepulveda averaged 46.1 yards per punt before being injured, and for the second consecutive season the Steelers were able to bring in Jeremy Kapinos who averaged a solid 45.0 yards per punt, drastically up from the 41.1 he averaged with the team in 2010.

 Free Agents: Jeremy Kapinos (ERFA)

 The Offseason: One has to think that Kapinos now has the inside track for the punter's job heading into next season and that Sepulveda will be one of the players cut during the offseason to clear out cap space. Kapinos is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, which would make it extremely difficult for another team to pry him away from the Steelers, assuming we want to bring him back next season.

 Kick & Punt Returner 

 Antonio Brown had a record-setting season, becoming the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving and 1,000 return yards. As Brown's role in the offense increased, the Steelers started cycling in Emmanuel Sanders to the returner's role to keep Brown fresh. Both players are capable returners, with Brown more explosive and having that ability to get vertical quickly and take it to the house at any minute. If the Steelers decide to increase Brown's role in the offense next year, we may see more of Sanders in the return game, or the opportunity may open up for another rookie to earn his way onto the team. Given the talent on the team right now, the days of Allen Rossum and Stefan Logan where we had a dedicated roster spot for a kick returner are over.

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