If Mike Tomlin ever is interested in writing a how-to on some obscure aspect of coaching in the NFL, he certainly has developed a level of expertise in the process of finding placekickers off the street during an NFL season.
The first time he did it, it was to replace Jeff Reed, and the Steelers came out of that with Shaun Suisham. Then it was Garrett Hartley for Suisham. Then Josh Scobee for Hartley. And then Chris Boswell for Scobee. And most recently, Randy Bullock for Boswell.
The Bullock for Boswell move is still in play this week because of the abdominal injury Boswell sustained last Friday and is still rehabilitating as the Steelers get set to begin their week of preparation for a trip to Buffalo and a 1 p.m. game on Sunday against the Bills. Bullock filled in for Boswell during last Sunday's win over the New York Giants, and he was perfect on an afternoon that ended with the Steelers posting a 24-14 victory. Bullock was 3-for-3 on field goals – from 44, 34, and 38 yards – he was 1-for-1 on PATs, and four of his six kickoffs carried into the end zone, with three of those being touchbacks.
But in this instance, perfection isn't good enough.
"If Boswell is healthy, he kicks," said Tomlin about the team's kicker situation moving forward. "If he isn't, we'll go to a guy named Randy Bullock."
A rather cold assessment, is it not?
"Make no mistake, we appreciate (Bullock's contributions), but I think that's life for that position in this business," said Tomlin. "And he's made that clear (that such is life for specialists) in the short period of time that he's been here. And Boswell made that clear when we acquired him. You take every opportunity that you get until you get an opportunity to gain some traction."
In 2015, Bullock, who broke into the NFL in 2012 as a name on the Houston Texans' injured reserve list, was 5-for-6 on field goals and 3-for-5 on PATs during three games with the Texans before being released on Sept. 29. He ended up being signed by the Jets for the final eight games of the regular season, during which he was 14-for-17 on field goals and 19-for-20 on PATs. In between, he had a lot of workouts for NFL teams, including one at Heinz Field.
"He was part of the group when we signed Boswell," said Tomlin. "He's been around the block a little bit. A guy who's continually in the fold, that means he's getting workouts, he's in the system. That speaks to his overall readiness. He's not necessarily getting off the couch. He has kicked some this year. He was continually on the workout circuit, and that aids you in terms of the decision. You know, or at least you have a feel for his mentality, and his overall physical readiness."
Bullock kicked for the Giants in the 2016 opener, which coincided with Josh Brown's one-game suspension, but he was released by the team following that game. Then it was back on the workout circuit, and the Steelers' familiarity with him led to that telephone call last Friday.
"It was good for us, and it was good for Randy to have the positive contributions to our efforts that he had," said Tomlin. "And if we call upon him again, we have great confidence in him, and I'm sure he's excited about delivering for us again, and for himself again. I've been pleased with the body of work that Boswell has provided us during the time he's been with us. Not a lot of negativity there. Some communication will be required, some wait-and-see will be required, but those are the variables, and we're comfortable dealing with those until we get some certainty on the circumstances."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"I'll outline some medical things. The two pre-existing injuries to guys who are working their way back – Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) and Le'Veon Bell (knee) – are both being evaluated today, and hopefully we push those guys toward some level of participation this week. Like we always do, we'll evaluate that level of participation, both the quality and the quantity of it, in terms of it being our guide. It's probably more of a legitimate discussion with DeAngelo and probably less so with Darrius, but we'll leave the light on for both guys and we'll see where the week leads us. It's exciting to be getting those guys back closer to readiness.
"A couple more current injuries: Chris Boswell (abdomen) is downstairs rehabbing, and he's got a legitimate chance this week. We've got both kickers on the roster, and we'll manage that probably a little more fluidly than we were able to manage it last week. Last week we had the issue of time, or lack of time. This week we'll have great clarity and an opportunity to get a complete week, not only with Boswell but also with Randy (Bullock) and see where that leads us.
"Then there are the two guys who sustained the in-game concussions – Javon Hargrave and Robert Golden – they are in the protocol. We'll evaluate those guys and keep you abreast of their status in terms of where they are with the protocol."
When asked how Hargrave's playing time might be allocated in the event he cannot play in Buffalo, Tomlin said, "I'm not into the hypotheticals. We'll see where it leads us, and we'll look at the guys at our disposal and who they are and what they are capable of relative to the matchup and make determinations accordingly. We have big-time flexibility in the guys who are our backups, whether it's Ricardo Mathews or L.T. Walton, or anybody else for that matter. We're comfortable with the contributions those guys are capable of providing if (Hargrave) should not make it."