Kickers brace for dose of reality

<b> LATROBE – </b> So the preseason opener didn't go so well for the Steelers, but it couldn't have been all that bad. Not with Coach Bill Cowher throwing a rare bone to his specialists. <br><br> "Our kickers kicked well," Cowher said Monday. "Make sure you mention that."

Place-kicker Jeff Reed made both of his field-goal attempts and booted two kickoffs into the end zone.

Punter Josh Miller didn't show any effects from a couple of recent injuries by averaging 52.7 yards on his three kicks.

The stats, the points and the coach's kind words all came together as cause for celebration, but both kickers have turned out the lights. The party's over.

"This Saturday we get back to reality," said Miller. "We're back at our place."

Some kickers might call Heinz Field the coffin corner. It's where they go to die. But that hasn't necessarily been the case for Miller, and it certainly hasn't been the case for Reed, whose kicking career was born in the windy, cold and muddy pit where he bested three others in a November tryout last season. It led to a stunning rookie season for Reed, who made 17 of 19 field-goal attempts to finish second in the NFL in accuracy behind New England's Adam Vinatieri.

Steelers fans are hoping Reed is more than a one-year wonder, and he passed the first test against the Lions. His first field goal, a 25-yarder, clanged home off the left upright, and his second, a 43-yarder, nearly hit the right upright on its way through.

Reed's kickoffs were more impressive. The 225-pounder boomed his first one into the end zone, but the Steelers were offside. His next one, from five yards further back, went to the Detroit 4. His third kickoff sailed five yards deep into the end zone. Reed's next and final two kickoffs reached the 7 and 13. He said he "tried to overpower" those.

"I felt really comfortable out there," he said. "But once the cold weather hits, you lose a good five, six yards anywhere. My average last year was the 11-yard line. ... My goal is to hit it at least to the 5-yard line with good hang time."

Reed said part of his success Saturday was due to playing in Detroit's domed stadium. "But the weather was the biggest part," he said.

Of course, Reed was seemingly born to kick at Heinz Field. Aside from his stout build, he's wired to cope with whatever nature throws his way. That's not to say he'll miss the slippery sod that's been fortified this off-season by approximately 20 million synthetic fibers.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I saw it a couple weeks ago. Hopefully we'll get over there this week, maybe Thursday," Reed said.

Miller, of course, will join the traveling kick-team show. And he's feeling spry -- for an old man.

"I am the oldest guy on the team, but I still have seven years left," said the 33-year-old. "I work out with Sean Landeta in the off-season. He's 41, doesn't touch weights and he's still whacking it."

If Miller continues kicking as well as he did last Saturday, he could grow to become the Steelers' next Bobby Walden, who stuck around until the age of 40.

Miller is coming off his worst pro season and the injuries. He missed the end of the last regular season because of shoulder surgery and then underwent knee surgery on his plant leg this summer.

"There's still a little [pain] there but it doesn't do anything to the punt," he said. "I'm not getting off the ground like I used to. I don't think I'm going to be doing that anymore so it makes it a lot more easy to put the ball where it needs to be."

Miller's first punt of 51 yards was placed near the sideline and return man Autry Denson ran out of bounds for no gain. His second punt went 62 yards and was returned for 16. The third punt traveled 53 yards and was returned for seven. Miller's net average was 47.7 yards, or 14.6 above last year's net, 12.1 above his career net. But Miller's role with the team, as elder statesman, is more than just numbers.

"My job is to keep everyone at ease and calm," he said. "I remind people it's a game. Have fun and enjoy it and don't be afraid of making mistakes. Nothing's worse than not enjoying the moment when the moment, as we all know, is not as long as it is anyway."

Jim Wexell

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