By Jason Seidling
As it turned out, the media thought more of what Daniel Sepulveda accomplished as a rookie than he did himself.
Every season the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers' Association presents the "Joe Greene Great Performance Award" to the Steelers' rookie of the year. Punter Daniel Sepulveda won the award last season after finishing ninth in the NFL in net average (37.9 yards) and eighth in punts inside the 20-yard line (28).
Statistics that lead to winning awards would make most players pleased with their individual performance. However, that was not enough to satisfy Sepulveda's high expectations for himself.
"I didn't perform up to my potential, that's for sure," Sepulveda said as the Steelers were completing their offseason program. "I just know that I can do better than that. You look at the numbers that we put up at Baylor as a punt team, and those were better than they were here last year."
Sepulveda's final statistics might have been less than what he was accustomed to posting, but judging by the numbers, that could have been the result of him hitting the proverbial rookie wall.
During his first eight NFL games, Sepulveda averaged 44.4 yards-per-punt and 38.7 yards in net average. Once the season hit the halfway point, Sepulveda's numbers dropped to 40.4 yards-per-punt and 37.1 yards in net average.
So then, are there definite statistical barometers that Sepulveda uses to evaluate his own personal performance?
"I don't really want to quantify it like that, but I know that 42.5 was certainly not the gross that I was looking for," he said. "We ended up at 37.9 net, which is pretty solid as a rookie, so I was pretty happy with that."
Another factor that might have made Sepulveda's transition to the pro game more difficult was the condition of the footballs used in the kicking game by the NFL as compared to those allowed by the NCAA. Sepulveda, however, was not willing to use the balls as an excuse for not meeting his own expectations.
"I don't think it's really that hard of a transition to be honest with you," said Sepulveda. "I still think that you can kick the college ball farther, but if I had a choice I would take the NFL version because it has a little more girth to it and it is a little bit more round."
Sepulveda, the NCAA record-holder with 94 career punts of 50-plus yards, expects to take a big leap forward during his second NFL season. At Baylor, Sepulveda improved from his freshman to his sophomore seasons, and so he believes that knowing what to expect will help his game.
"People always talk about the improvement that takes place in the second year of a player's career, and I can definitely understand first-hand why that happens because there is so much to deal with during that first year," said Sepulveda. "Granted, I still haven't gone out there and shown that improvement yet, but I can tell you that I feel more comfortable now than I did a year ago."
That mind-set should make the Steelers feel comfortable about what their young punter can accomplish in 2008, because the last time Sepulveda had a year of experience under his belt he went out and won the first of his two Ray Guy awards as the top punter in the NCAA.