Reed hopes to bounce back

<b>LATROBE </b> - Heinz Field remains one of the more difficult venues in the NFL for place-kickers. It's so tough, in fact, the Steelers began each of their first three seasons there with a new kicker. But Jeff Reed will end that string when the regular season begins Sept. 12 against Oakland at Heinz Field, even though he's found Heinz Field just as challenging as Kris Brown and Todd Peterson did before him.

In a little more than a season and a half since he replaced an injured and ineffective Peterson, Reed has made 21 of 24 field goals on the road. But at Heinz Field, Reed's not nearly as effective, making just 19 of 27 attempts.

"The field is no excuse," Reed said. "That's my home field and I should have the advantage kicking there. My goal is to make 80 percent of my kicks, no matter where I'm at."

And the Steelers expect that from Reed as well, especially after his recovery from surgery to remove loose cartilage from his hip that had been troubling him since his days as a collegian at North Carolina.

"He's solid. He's never going to use his leg as an excuse," said Steelers special teams coach Kevin Spencer. "And quite frankly, when I heard he had surgery, I was shocked. He has aches and pains like everyone else. Kicking off and the other things you do, it is a lot of wear and tear on your leg. But he never ever said boo about it.

"I expect big things from him just because I have a lot of confidence in him. I think last year, not to make excuses for him, but you almost look at that like it was his rookie season. It was his first full 16-game schedule plus the preseason. I think even kickers go through highs and lows just like other players and Jeff's still - although a very mature and solid citizen - he's still a kid."

Reed said the hip problem, which he had kicked with for several seasons, had gotten worse, but didn't bother him on game days. "That wasn't the problem at all," he said. "During the week it would bother me, but once I stepped on the field for a game, I didn't feel it."

Still, he can't help but be interested in seeing how he'll kick this season.

"Yeah, I'm interested to see if it will make a difference," the 25-year-old Reed said.

"I'd been kicking with that problem for so long, I just got used to it. But now, I feel great."

Reed's biggest problem last season wasn't the longer kicks. In fact, he's a respectable 15-of-22 (68 percent) on kicks from 40 yards or longer. But he missed four field goal attempts last season from 30 yards or less, and also misfired on a PAT.

"That's something that just can't happen," Reed said. "I feel like from 40 yards in, I have to be perfect. For the team to drive down the field and then for me to miss one like that, I feel like I've let everyone down."

Spencer said there was no one reason why Reed struggled from close range last season.

"We obviously looked at that and there wasn't anything that we noted consistently," Spencer said. "We looked at technique and finish. But it wasn't like we said, 'Well, you need to fix this.' "

But the Steelers have made one change in an attempt to help Reed. In his first two seasons with the team, quarterback Tommy Maddox was his holder on field goals and PATs. This season, new punter Chris Gardocki takes over those duties.

"Chris can spend more time with Jeff; they spend a lot of time together working on that," Spencer said. "That's really critical that the snapper, holder and kicker spend a lot of time together.

Tommy was a soldier and he never balked at it, but let's be honest, he's not going to be able to spend the quality time with the kicker that a punter would. Therefore, I think that just enhances our kicking game."

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