Kapinos fit Steelers' criteria

Another pretty day in Pittsburgh it was. Cloudy, with a high near 25-degrees, with a westerly "breeze" at 14 miles-per-hour, with gusts as high as 25 miles-per-hour. Very nice if you're a penguin or a polar bear. Not so much if you're auditioning for a job as a punter.

Tuesdays seem to be the day the Steelers choose to audition kickers. They did it in 2002 when they found Jeff Reed, and they did it again several weeks ago when they found Reed's replacement. This time it was for a punter.

Another Tuesday, another shopping day for the Steelers, because they needed someone to take the place of Daniel Sepulveda, who tore the ACL in his right knee for the third time since 2006 in the win over the Ravens in Baltimore last Sunday night.

Ricky Schmitt and Jeremy Kapinos were the contestants, and Kapinos was declared the winner.

With that, Kapinos was signed by the Steelers and he will punt on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. Anything beyond that figures to be determined by what happens that afternoon.

"He's a guy who met the criteria that we're looking for, to be quite honest with you," said Coach Mike Tomlin about Kapinos. "He's got league experience. He's kicked in games this year, and he's no stranger to the elements, as we know that may be a factor for us moving forward. So we're excited about having him in the fold and moving forward with him as our punter."

Tomlin expressing his "excitement" qualifies as a bit of hyperbole, because losing Sepulveda at a time when he was really beginning to become a weapon as an NFL punter and having to replace him in December from a pool of the unemployed isn't the best case scenario, but then on the other hand the Steelers did win a Super Bowl in 2008 with a combination of Mitch Berger-Paul Ernster-Mitch Berger handling the punting.

In that instance, the Steelers also were looking for someone to serve as the holder for Jeff Reed, and that was rumored to be a reason why Schmitt lost out to Ernster and/or Berger that time. This time, the Steelers' search was more narrow.

"It was an element of the equation, but I definitely wasn't going to allow it to be a significant element of the equation. We needed a punter," said Tomlin. "We have some holder candidates on our football team, some guys who have held in NFL games – Antwaan Randle El being one of them. So I wasn't going to let holding be the determining factor in picking a punter."

Kapinos' one complete NFL season came with the Green Bay Packers in 2009, which means he worked at Lambeau Field for eight games, in Chicago for one, in Cleveland for one and in Pittsburgh for one. That alone exposed him to some of the elements that challenge punters during an NFL season, and he finished the season ranked 16th in the league with a 43.8 average on 66 punts.

By contrast, Sepulveda was 22nd in the NFL in 2009 with a 42.7 average, but he had fewer touchbacks (4-10), more punts inside the 20-yard line (29-15) and a higher net average (37.1-34.1)

The things that may have been the difference for Kapinos were his age – at 26 he's still at a time in his life where improvement is still a possibility – and in the fact he can handle kickoffs and hold for placements.

"We'll determine that over the course of the week," said Tomlin about whether Kapinos will hold for the Steelers. "Really, we'll rely on the comfort level Shaun (Suisham) has in the candidates."

And such is life for a kicker in the NFL. Two weeks ago, a bunch of players in the Steelers locker room didn't know Suisham's name, let alone how to pronounce it, but after clutch performances in Buffalo and in Baltimore, he gets to pick his own holder.

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