Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Not to get too excited ...

You knew the Steelers were going to bring in a veteran punter to compete with Brad Wing for the job this training camp. They did just that on Tuesday, with the signing of cancer survivor Adam Podlesh, who spent the last three seasons with the Chicago Bears after four years in Jacksonville. The Jaguars had made him a fourth-round draft choice (101st overall) in 2007, the same year the Steelers traded up to draft Daniel Sepulveda with a fourth-round pick (112th overall).

That trade and the selection of Sepulveda in the fourth round has always been a sore spot with Steelers' beat writer Ed Bouchette, as noted in a reader comment over at Behind the Steel Curtain:

Another thing

In addition to whether he’s any good… the main downside to signing Podlesh is having to read Eddie B at the PPGcomplain about the Sepulveda draft pick. Again.

Podlesh has had some success in the NFL, however, and the Steelers' punting game last year was awful. The Steelers abruptly cut Drew Butler (now with the Bears, ironically enough) in 2013 training camp in favor of veteran Brian Moorman, whom they promptly cut in favor of Zoltan Mesko, who was dreadful and then was unceremoniously cut. Veteran punter Mat McBriar closed out the season. While McBriar had some good punts and one notable trick play, he was mostly, eh, not so great.

Adam Podlesh
Podlesh also had a bad year. As Neal Coolong at Behind the Steel Curtain notes, Podlesh ranked last in the NFL in punting (40.6 yard average; 37.9 net) last year, "so obviously the right move is to cut Zoltan Mesko, not re-sign Mat McBriar and hire the only punter in the league who failed to out-perform either of them."

There's hope, though, for Podlesh and also for Brad Wing, the other punter who will be in training camp.  Both have interesting stories.

At some point, we'll take a closer look at Wing, but if you want a bit more insight on Podlesh, read this piece and this article about his bout with cancer in 2011, and also this entry on Wikipedia, where you will learn he was a really fast runner on in the 200 meter and 400 meter events on his high school track team, posting the best times in New York State in those events. Who knew?

Either Podlesh or Wing may work out well and actually upgrade the Steelers' punting. There is room for improvement.

Low-risk, high reward? What's to lose?
The Steelers seem to be on a Pirates-like trend of signing scrap-heap, veteran cast-offs with some "pedigree" ( to use one of Mike Tomlin's favorite words) and hangers-on looking for one last chance at redemption. Hey, you never know.

In the Pirates' case over the past couple decades, they've had an ignoble history of signing such guys too numerous to mention. You might sign 25 broken-down players like, say, pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, who have lost their mojo and never get it back. But then you find a gem like pitcher Francisco Liriano, who had been written off but found new life in Pittsburgh.

Probably every NFL team does it, too. This off-season, the Steelers have made a couple of low-risk signings of "name veterans" who probably won't make much difference in the long run but are worth a shot to see what they've got.

From DVD to DHB
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (DHB) no doubt signed with Pittsburgh hoping to finally fulfill his potential as a star receiver who was the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft not so long ago. The Steelers certainly also hope that, but may simply intend for him to fill the more limited role as a gunner on special teams. That's what he did toward the end for Indianapolis, and he did it well, too. There's nothing wrong with having an unstoppable gunner on punt coverage. The Steelers have gone from DVD (DeMarcus Van Dyke) to DHB (Darrius Heyward-Bey).

Give him a chance; see what he's got. The same goes for Adam Podlesh and Brad Wing. 

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