Labriola On

Labriola on Suisham, All-Pros returning kicks

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • The NFL thought it was a good idea to schedule the Steelers for its annual Hall of Fame preseason game to coincide with Jerome Bettis being inducted as part of the Class of 2015. That may have been a good idea in terms of attracting Steelers Nation to Canton, Ohio, for the first weekend in August last year, but having NFL players running around on a worn artificial surface at a high school field likely ended Shaun Suisham's career.
  • On June 24, the Steelers announced they had released Suisham with a failed physical designation, and the root of it all was the torn ACL he sustained on a kickoff that night in the Hall of Fame Game against the Minnesota Vikings.
  • In a statement to Steelers fans following the move, Suisham referred to the knee injury as "catastrophic," one that "has proven to be critical to continuing my career." The torn ACL was in his left knee, his plant leg, and the surgical repair had included a graft of a ligament from his right knee, his kicking leg, and the whole process left him incapable of being what he once was.
  • Originally signed by the Steelers as an undrafted rookie in April 2005 to serve as a camp leg to keep incumbent Jeff Reed's from overuse, Suisham was waived that summer and had stints with Dallas, San Francisco, and Washington before being brought back by the Steelers when Reed melted down midway through the 2010 regular season.
  • Suisham was 14-for-15 (93.3 percent) for the Steelers down the stretch of the 2010 regular season, and then he was 3-for-5 in the playoffs, with one of those misses coming from 52 yards in Super Bowl XLV. The perception at the time was the Steelers had found themselves a veteran kicker for the foreseeable future, with the added bonuses being that he understood how business was done here and didn't appear to be intimidated by Heinz Field.
  • But the 2011 season represented a step back, primarily because Suisham was 6-for-11 (54.5 percent) from 40-49 yards, with three of those misses coming at Heinz Field. It was how Suisham responded to 2011 that makes him one of the best clutch kickers in recent Steelers history.
  • In the NFL, placekickers earn their money on the attempts between 20-49 yards, and Suisham was money over the next three seasons. During that span, he converted 83-of-87 field goal attempts from 20-49 yards, which works out to 95.4 percent, and from 40-49 yards he was a perfect 30-for-30.
  • From all accounts, Shaun Suisham has prepared for this next phase of his life, if, as his statement hints, his career is over. The money he earned from being money through 11 NFL seasons will provide nicely for his family. But he deserved better than for it to end on a bad high school field in a meaningless game.

The Steelers signed kicker Chris Boswell, a Fort Worth, Texas native who attend Rice University. Boswell spent some time on the Texans practice squad in 2014 and with the New York Giants during the 2015 preseason.

  • And so now it appears the Steelers will go into the 2016 season with Chris Boswell as their placekicker, and all fondness for Suisham as a person aside, that's a solid option for a team hoping to compete for a championship. After being signed following the second in-season tryout the Steelers held at Heinz Field in 2015 for placekickers, Boswell made 29-of-32 field goal attempts during the regular season – his misses were from 41, 51, and 48 yards – and he was 7-for-7 during the playoffs, including the deciding kick in the comeback win in Cincinnati.
  • Boswell continues a 30-plus season run of success the Steelers have had in identifying quality placekickers, and only twice did the guy cost them a draft pick, and both of those guys deserve to be listed as failures.
  • In 1999, a seventh-round pick was spent on Kris Brown, a guy who was 50-for-59 during his two seasons at Three Rivers Stadium, but then 30-of-44 in his one season at Heinz Field, including a 13-10 loss to the defending champion Ravens in Pittsburgh when he missed four field goals – from 41, 33, 48, and 35 yards. The other time a draft pick was spent was last summer in the trade for Josh Scobee, and that was a No. 6 selection.
  • But outside of Brown and Scobee, the Steelers plucked Gary Anderson off waivers in 1982, and he retired as the all-time leading scorer in NFL history; they signed Norm Johnson when Anderson was a contract holdout, and Johnson was 34-for-41 in his first season in Pittsburgh. Brown arrived in 1999, and after his 2001 nightmare at Heinz Field he signed a contract with the expansion Houston Texans in 2002 and told the Steelers not to match it because he didn't want to kick for them anymore.
  • Todd Peterson was next in the job, also signed as a free agent, but he didn't even last a full season before suffering a fortuitous "injury" against Tennessee that landed him on IR after he missed nine of 21 field goal attempts and ended with the Steelers unearthing Jeff Reed from an in-season tryout in November 2002.
  • Reed was somewhat eccentric, to say the least, but he also was 16-for-18 in the playoffs, with both of those misses coming in his rookie season of 2002. Reed was perfect in the 2005 and 2008 postseasons, both of which ended with Super Bowl championships.
  • Then Heinz Field finally got into Reed's head as well, and he was released after a slump that included a public criticism of the field's surface and the team's fans for booing him. But from that, the Steelers found Suisham, and now it certainly seems it's going to be Boswell.
  • Patrick Peterson. That's going to be my new response anytime a fan expresses doubt about the Steelers "risking" Antonio Brown on punt returns. Brown is the Steelers' two-time first-team All-Pro wide receiver, and the reasoning goes that he's too valuable on offense to be used on special teams, because special teams can lead to injuries, even though Brown was injured last year on an incomplete pass and never has missed any time resulting from returning punts.
  • Apparently, the Arizona Cardinals also see value in putting a dynamic player in position to make big plays that can affect the outcome of games. Peterson is a three-time first-team All-Pro cornerback, and as his team's primary returner he has 160 career punt returns (9.9 average and four touchdowns) plus 64 kickoff returns (21.3 average and no touchdowns) during his five NFL seasons so far.
  • Just to compare, Brown has 160 punt returns (9.7 average and four touchdowns) plus 12 kickoff returns (21.4 average and no touchdowns) in his six seasons with the Steelers.
  • Another relatively frequent refrain from outposts within Steelers Nation has to do with the team's reluctance to dive into the pool of veteran unrestricted free agents each March. Those fans love the Steelers for the way they do business, sure, but why can't they just pull the trigger on a veteran cornerback or a veteran pass rusher or a veteran anything to "put the final piece in place to win a championship because Ben Roethlisberger isn't getting any younger?"
  • This is what Philadelphia Eagles Executive Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman said just the other day to a reporter from USA Today: "When you look at it, some of the mistakes we've made have been going out and spending a lot of money (on free agents). A lot of those mistakes were on guys who aren't our own. They were guys we've brought from another organization, and we thought we knew."
  • Roseman didn't name names but in the offseason of 2015 the Eagles spent big, big bucks on running back DeMarco Murray and cornerback Byron Maxwell. One calendar year later, Roseman already has traded both of them away.
  • Patrick Peterson. Just practicing.
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