Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 9:
SPECIALISTS – (6)
(Free Agent Scorecard: none)
What started as a tryout arranged as a favor to Dermontti Dawson ended with Berry beating out Brad Wing during a training camp/preseason competition for the punting job. Berry's young leg produced kicks that sounded as impressive coming off his foot as they looked sailing through the air, but then he was perhaps victimized by his youth when his performance tailed off toward the end of the longest football season of his life. Although not technically a rookie in 2015, Berry will be expected to smooth out some of the peaks and valleys that characterized his first NFL season. Only 19 of Berry's 59 punts during the season were returned, and those for an average of 8.7 yards per, with a long of 25 yards. That's pretty good, as were his 28 kicks inside the 20-yard line with only two touchbacks.
The best photos of kicker Chris Boswell from the 2015 season.
The Steelers had to feel as though they were in a cruel land of make-believe when they found themselves staging a tryout for the guy who would become their fourth placekicker of a season that was only four games old. But that afternoon was when they discovered the Wizard of Boz, and then everyone lived happily ever after. Chris Boswell was introduced to the Steelers as the ultimate nobody from nowhere, but after making 90.63 percent of his field goal attempts during the regular season (29-for-32) and then going a perfect 7-for-7 in two postseason games, he could have been crowned king by the loyal subjects of Steelers Nation. Boswell's performance seemingly creates an open competition for the job in 2016 with veteran Chris Boswell, who tore the ACL in his left knee in the Hall of Fame Game in early August. Age, salary cap disparity, and health all figure to be factors the Steelers will consider here, with the irony being that they will be going from one season where they had a lot of trouble finding even one competent placekicker to entering the subsequent season having two.
A long-snapper by trade, Dooley originally was a tryout participant during the team's rookie minicamp last May, and with Greg Warren having re-signed on Feb. 12 he would seem to be nothing more than a spare part right now. But after living through 2015 with respect to the revolving door at placekicker, the Steelers likely are interested in having options should injuries strike their specialists again in 2016.
Signed last May by the Redskins as an undrafted rookie out of Alabama-Birmingham to challenge veteran placekicker Kai Forbath, Long was brought in to challenge the fourth-year pro but didn't make an impression on the coaching staff there. Although Forbath struggled with consistency during in-practice kicking competitions and lacked the leg strength that Long displayed on kickoffs, Long didn't distinguish himself otherwise. During preseason games, Long never attempted a field goal. He handled six kickoffs, with two touchbacks, and was 2-for-2 on PATs.
Kicker Shaun Suisham became a United States citizen.
There would appear to be two issues with Suisham this offseason – health and the salary cap. At this point, it's unknown when Suisham might be able to return to kicking after tearing his ACL on the high school field where the NFL stages the Hall of Fame Game – player safety, anyone? – and because he missed all of 2015 it forced the Steelers to seek a replacement and opened a door for the younger and cheaper Chris Boswell. Suisham's injury was to his plant leg, and according to published reports he is due to earn $2.4 million in 2016 and carry a cap number of $3.5 million. If he hadn't been injured last August, and if that injury hadn't opened the door for Boswell, and if Boswell hadn't made 36-of-39 field goals in the regular season and postseason for the Steelers, Suisham's spot in 2016 would have been secure, regardless of his contract, because he was incredibly consistent in the 20-to-49 yard range over the past few seasons. But now, nothing is so certain.
Still good enough at his job, and savvy enough to be willing to go year-to-year on one-year contracts that save the team space under the salary cap, Warren would seem to be a lock to be the team's long-snapper again this year. He re-signed for the 2016 season on Feb. 12. In 2015, Warren played in all 16 regular-season games for the sixth consecutive season. In his 11 seasons with Pittsburgh, Warren has played in 165 regular season games and 12 postseason games. His 165 games played during the regular season are the fifth-most among active Steelers. Warren originally signed as an undrafted rookie from North Carolina on April 25, 2005.