Kicking Into The Wind

Once again, Bill Cowher's Steelers will enter training camp with questions surrounding their kicking game. They'll have incumbent Jeff Reed and veteran Todd Peterson duke it out for the all-important place-kicker position.<br><br> Oh Gary Anderson where art thou? Come back to the Five and Heinz Norm Johnson, Norm Johnson.

Bill Cowher doesn't realize how lucky he was during his first 7 years as a head coach. He had two of the most prolific kickers of all-time. While with the Steelers, Johnson kicked 82.7% (105-127) and Gary Anderson, in his 13-year career, kicked 78.2% (309-395). That's a combined accuracy of 80.45%. Both were automatic from inside the 40 yard line, but more importantly, Cowher knew that at any time in a game he had an ice-in-his-veins kicker who could nail a 45-yard field goal.

For 2 ½ years Kris Brown seemed to be the answer for the foreseeable future, but in a game against Baltimore in 2001, he had Bill Cowher and every fan in Pittsburgh covering their eyes during field goal attempts. He missed 5 field goals that game and coincidentally cost the Steelers an early chance to unseat the defending champs.

Ever since that game, Cowher's been uneasy with his place-kickers, and his off-season signing of Todd Peterson added more fuel to the fire.

While Brown enjoyed a 70.8% kicking percentage this past year, Peterson made Brown look like the second coming with a horrendous, collegiate-level 57.2%. What many fail to realize is that Peterson was 6 of 10 from the important 30 - 39 yards out. It was obvious to all that "automatic" was not in Peterson's vocabulary.

After Todd Peterson was placed on IR, the Steelers turned to an undrafted, unsigned rookie who had never attempted a regular season kick.

Jeff Reed fulfilled any reasonable expectations the Steelers had of him this year by nailing 17 of 19 field goal attempts during the regular season, including 5 of 5 from 30 - 39 yards. Reed made many friends when he refused to blame any missed kicks on anything other than his leg. "I'll never use the field as an excuse, because I can kick here," he said. "I've shown I can kick here. Whether it's slick or not, you just have to go out there and your mind-set is: I have to make every kick I get because I don't get many opportunities."

Though Todd Peterson may have entered this past season as the clear-cut starter, based on his experience, Reed has made a strong case to remain with the team for the foreseeable future. But Bill Cowher will never be one to have complete faith in a kicker since Brown spoiled the soup, so expect Peterson to be on Cowher's speed dial in case Reed falls into the "Kris Brown Syndrome."

Peterson will return for camp to at least push Reed, if for no other reason. So, he'll have an outside chance to win the job, but it will take a career pre-season. The Steelers will probably try out an undrafted rookie during camp also, a la Joe O'Donnell.

Josh Miller spent most of the season punting through a degenerative shoulder injury. However, a telling stat of Miller's season is actually not too shabby. Of his 55 punts, he only kicked 5 touchbacks this year while 20 of his 55 punts landed inside the 20 yard line. In fact, 26 punters attempted more punts this year than Miller. That's a testament to Pittsburgh's offensive power and giveaway addiction.

Miller will enter the pre-season as the clear-cut favorite regardless of his tenuous relationship with Cowher. Cowher knows that Miller is still one of the better punters in the league. So an incident during the Christmas party will not lead to any change in this area, barring injury. Besides, as Jim Wexell reported, Miller and Cowher have kissed and made up.

So bet on both Josh and Jeff to start the season with the Steelers.

--The Steel Apple

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