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Steelers-By-Position: Specialists

Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 13.

P Jordan Berry, PK Chris Boswell, LS Kam Canaday, PK Matt McCrane
(Free Agent Scorecard: 2; 1 unrestricted – P Jordan Berry; 1 exclusive rights – LS Kam Canaday)

On Jan. 16, Steelers President Art Rooney II embarked on a media tour by sitting down with a selection of print reporters, and this is how he began the session: "Just to start with a little summation of the season: It was tough to swallow in the sense that we were so close so often to making the playoffs, all the way down to literally the last couple of plays of the season, so it just makes it hard to swallow and you feel like you are that close, feel like you have a team that can compete if you get in. So, if I had to point to a couple of things that I think were problems that may have cost us that opportunity, I think No. 1 was a lack of even an average kicking game … our kicker went from one of the best in the league to one of the worse in the league, and so games that we won close last year, we didn't win close this year."

Putting Rooney's assessment into specific numbers, it works out something like this:

In 2017, six of the Steelers' 13 victories were by one-score margins, and four of those six were won by field goals inside the two-minute warning of the second half. And two of those four victories came on field goals as time expired. In 2018, there were five of these kinds of games, and the Steelers didn't win any of them.

There can be no argument that Chris Boswell's performance fell off the face of the earth from 2017 when he was a Pro Bowl kicker to 2018 when he had to survive an in-season three-man tryout just to hold onto his job. He missed five PATs, which tied for worst in the league with Chandler Catanzaro among kickers with at least 20 attempts, and his field goal success percentage of .650 was the worst in the league among kickers with at least 20 attempts.

Boswell injured a groin in the regular season's penultimate game and was replaced in the finale by Matt McCrane, who made all three of his field goal attempts plus a PAT in a victory over the Bengals.

While not as obvious as placekicking failures, the Steelers' punting also had a sub-standard season, at least when compared statistically with the other teams in the league. In the final NFL regular season rankings, Jordan Berry's gross average of 43.7 was tied for 28th in the league, and his 38.8 yard net average was tied for 26th. By comparison, Matt Wile, who was with the Steelers through the preseason before being waived in late August, was picked up by Minnesota and finished tied for 14th in gross average at 45.2 and tied for ninth in net average at 41.5. The Vikings play in a dome.

Teams had little luck returning Berry's punts. Of his 63 punts, only 16 were returned. The only punters with fewer kicks returned were New Orleans' Thomas Morestead and the Rams' Johnny Hekker, both of whom had 12 punts returned over the course of the 2018 season.

McCrane is under contract to the Steelers through the 2019 season, and so it's a certainty that at least he will be providing competition for Boswell throughout the offseason program and through training camp and the preseason. Because McCrane showed the Steelers what he can do by making all of his attempts in that regular season finale, it would be reasonable to assume he'll be viewed as something more than the typical extra leg teams typically add to help get through the summer.

Berry is an unrestricted free agent, and around the midway point of the 2018 season, Coach Mike Tomlin expressed dissatisfaction with his punting, and the team had a workout with some free agent punters before deciding to stick with Berry.

Last summer, this area of the roster was seen as among the most stable on the team, but today only third-year long-snapper Kam Canaday would seem to be a lock to be on the 53-man roster at the start of the 2019 season.

NEXT: Offensive tackles