Pittsburgh Steelers: Just Punt the Ball


Oct 12, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers punter Brad Wing (9) against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In this series of profiling the all-time players of the Pittsburgh Steelers position-by-position, we’ve finally reached the last and perhaps most often unrecognized position on the team…punter.

Punters in the NFL are a dime a dozen and almost always don’t get the respect they sometimes deserve. There have been great punters throughout the history of the National Football League, guys like Reggie Roby and the amazing Ray Guy. The former Oakland Raider punter has had many sympathizers regarding his inability to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as he became the first pure punter to be nominated back in 1994. That was 21 years ago and for every year since then, voters failed to place Ray Guy into the hallowed halls of Canton, Ohio.

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That was until this year when the Seniors Committee finally corrected a wrong doing and voted Guy into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Among the greatest punters of all-time, none belong to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Other great punters have been Sean Landeta, Shane Lechler, Jeff Feagles, and even the one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, Sammy Baugh was an accomplished punter. But no Pittsburgh Steeler can claim a place near the top of the heap of the greatest of punters in NFL history.

There have been some solid punters for Pittsburgh but before dishing out those who stood out, one must keep in mind that a man who is responsible for placing opposing offenses in bad field position following a fourth down must also have a player who can snap the ball properly to him. Fans may think that long snappers (LS) have the easiest job in football, but those who hold that job must also be perfect on every snap they make be it for the punters or the holders for field goals.

Long snappers don’t have a rich history in the National Football League. Most times, a long snapper is a man who has played center leading up to his NFL career. Since that has been the norm for so many years, it’s hard to put a finger on the players who stood out as serving only as a long snapper. In 2003 however, the Cleveland Browns used a fifth round draft pick to select one Ryan Pontbriand for the purpose of being the team’s long snapper.

His draft status listed him at center, but it was long snapper that Pontbriand was drafted for. A few years later, the New York Giants copied Cleveland’s strategy and drafted who might be the best pure long snapper of all-time. That was Zak DeOssie who was actually picked in the process as a linebacker. Another draftee at this position was Kansas City’s Todd Thomas and Seattle’s Tyler Schmitt.

There is a good long snapper story in Pittsburgh. The year was 2008 and the current snapper for the Steelers, Greg Warren suffered a season-ending ACL injury during a game with the New York Giants. The date was October 26, and with Warren out of the game, Mike Tomlin turned to linebacker James Harrison to finish the game as the LS. Harrison had filled in at the position when he was playing for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.

During the fourth quarter, Harrison finally got his chance, the only opportunity for him replacing Warren in the game and the result was disastrous. Harrison’s attempt to snap the ball to punter Mitch Berger sailed high over the punter’s head and all the way out of the end zone for a two-point safety for New York. This tied the game and with the ensuing free kick to the Giants, they received solid field position and were able to score a winning touchdown.

Both Greg Warren and James Harrison will return for another season with the Steelers in 2015 and aside from Greg Warren, the only other player who has made a name for himself in the Steel City as a long snapper was Mike Schneck. Warren joined the team in 2005 and has played in all but 11 games since that time. The only games he missed were due to injuries, the one mentioned in 2008 and again he was hurt in 2009. But since that time, he has been rock steady for the Steelers.

Just as Mike Schneck did before him, Warren was an undrafted rookie. Schneck made his debut in 1999 with Pittsburgh and just as Warren did, played in nearly every game of his Steelers career. Schneck only missed four games while in Pittsburgh, all of those coming in 2002. In 2005 he left the Steelers to sign as a free agent with Buffalo and Warren picked up where he left off and hasn’t had to look over his shoulder since. Schneck would play two seasons with the Bills and three more with the Atlanta Falcons before retiring.

When we turn to talk about all-time punters for the Steelers, the old-timers like this writer, will automatically think of “the old man” Bobby Walden. During the late 1960s and 1970s when Walden was Pittsburgh’s primary punter, he was often referred to as the old man. Having played in the Canadian Football League and then with the Minnesota Vikings before signing with the Steelers, Walden was 30 when he joined the Steelers in 1968. Who better to start profiling punters with than the likable, now 77 years old, Robert Earl Walden.

Bobby Walden: Having played 17 long years in the NFL, Bobby Walden retired with the Steelers in 1977 when he was 39 years old, ironically the same as the jersey number he wore. Whether he chose 1977 to retire as that reason, he might be considered by some as Pittsburgh’s greatest punter ever. In 10 seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bobby Walden punted the ball 716 times for an average of 41.1 yards per kick. His longest boot was for 72 yards, that the longest in the league for 1972. Of his 716 punts, only five were blocked. His best season average came in 1970 with a 45.2 mark.

Bobby Walden who hails from Boston, Georgia was back home in that state a few years ago (October 12, 2011) when interviewed by the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin and was asked about the state of the NFL at that time. His response was as colorful and as straight to the point as the player he once was: “Too much ‘me’ and not enough we. It still takes eleven on each side. There shouldn’t be one me – even if you are just a kicker – it takes the whole team.”

Daniel Sepulveda: If not for a rash of knee injuries, Daniel Sepulveda may have become the greatest punter in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He certainly will go down as having the probably the strongest leg. Drafted in 2007, “Sep” which some referred to him as to avoid having to pronounce his entire name, came to the Steelers complete with one of the most vicious blocks caught on camera by a punter in the history of college football. The play came while Sepulveda was punting for the University of Baylor and playing the University of North Texas. You can see the explosive tackle below.

Sepulveda’s story is an interesting one. His freshman season came about as a result of being a walk-on player and coming in as a linebacker. His only punting experience came in high school when he was a junior. But in his sophomore season at Baylor, he became their punter and earned himself a scholarship in 2003. In 2004 and 2006, he took home the “Ray Guy Award” for being voted the nation’s best punter. In both those seasons, he was a consensus first-team All-American.

With their fourth round pick in 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Sepulveda. He replaced Chris Gardocki who had been released. Following his rookie season, the knee injuries began. July 29 of that year marked the second time Sepulveda had torn the ACL in his right knee. His 2008 season came to a crashing halt. Sepulveda returned in 2009 to play in all 16 games punting 72 times averaging 38 yards per punt. But deja vu struck again the following season with another knee injury and limiting Sepulveda to just 12 games.

Returning once again in 2011, Daniel Sepulveda made it to the ninth week of the season before suffering yet another injury ending that season for the beleaguered punter. The Steelers had seen enough and following the season was released where his NFL career had also ended. Drew Butler was next in line as the Steelers punter in 2012.

Craig Colquitt: If Bobby Walden is not the greatest punter in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, then it would have to be Craig Colquitt. The one fact about Colquitt that he can claim over any other punter is that kicking the ball defensively is in his bloodlines. Like the Mannings of quarterbacking, it’s the Colquitt’s of punting. Two of Colquitt’s sons, Dustin and Britton currently punt for the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos respectively. Craig Colquitt’s cousin Jimmy also made it to the NFL kicking the ball for Seattle. Ironically, all four Colquitt punters are products of the University of Tennessee.

The original punting Colquitt was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1978 in the third round, 76th pick overall and would be the Steelers primary punter for the next six seasons until he put in one year with the Indianapolis Colts in 1987. Colquitt played for Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl championship teams in 1978 and 1979 and in 2009 was inducted into the Greater Knoxville Hall of Fame.

Craig Colquitt’s final punting average while with the Steelers was 41.3 per kick, and even more impressive was that not once did he have a punt blocked while wearing the Black and Gold but in the one season with the Colts, he suffered a block on just two kicks for Indianapolis. 429 punts with Pittsburgh and never once did a defender get a hand on one of his kicks.

“Yeah, he knocked me silly. I saw stars.” Chris Gardocki on being tackled by Joey Porter

Chris Gardocki: Chris Gardocki had a long career punting the ball in the NFL. 16 years from the time he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1991 until he retired with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. From his rookie season until he came to the ‘Burgh, Gardocki had played for two other teams (Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts).

Incredibly, Gardocki made it through 16 years of pro football without EVER having one of his punts blocked. Something to bear in mind, among the greatest punters in the history of the league, ONLY Chris Gardocki ranks among the best for never having a punt blocked. All the other greats have had at least one but more often many more blocked punts. The great Jeff Feagles who leads the NFL for career punting yardage with 71,211 yards had 12 of his punts blocked. Hall of Famer Ray Guy saw three of his attempts blocked.

With that said, Gardocki holds the NFL record for most consecutive punts without a block which is his entire total for his career (1,177). Many Steelers fans will hold a memory of Gardocki when he was not with the Steelers but with Cleveland. It happened in 2000 when Pittsburgh’s Joey Porter tackled Gardocki after one of his punts and the hit was violent enough that it rendered the Browns’ kicker motionless. Porter got flagged for roughing the kicker and Gardocki responded by flipping the bird not once but twice to Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher.

Since the gesture was caught on national television, Gardocki was fined by the league in an amount of $5,000. When ESPN asked the punter about the hit, he responded in kind by saying: “Yeah, he knocked me silly. I saw stars.” Gardocki’s Steelers career and NFL road ended with the drafting of Daniel Sepulveda.

Josh Miller: Beginning his pro football career up north in Canada, Josh Miller was playing for the Baltimore Stallions in the Canadian Football League (CFL) in 1994 and for the 1995 season. Before becoming a 26-year old rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 1996 season, the Seattle Seahawks had first signed Miller before releasing him and Pittsburgh bringing him on board.

Hailing from Queens, New York, Miller was first a wide receiver and punter in high school and he also competed in the high jump on the track team. Basketball is also on Miller’s resume but after two years at Scottsdale Community College, Josh Miller transferred to the University of Arizona where he lettered twice for football.

In his senior year with the Wildcats, Miller became an All Pac-10 conference selection as well as being named an All-American. After eight solid seasons with the Steelers, Miller turned his back on Pittsburgh and signed with the nemesis New England Patriots. Miller would get several chances to kick against his former team while with New England from 2004 to 2006. With just one game with the Tennessee Titans in 2007, Miller called it a career.

While with the Steelers, Josh Miller averaged 42.9 yards per punt and had four blocked. His longest punt of his career came in 1999 when he boomed a 75-yarder. If in Pittsburgh, Miller can be easily found as he is a sports personality on local KDKA radio and TV as well as serving as the co-host for “The Fan Morning Show” alongside Colin Dunlap and Jim Colony.

Harry Newsome: Since 1984 when the Pittsburgh Steelers began awarding the “Joe Greene Great Performance Award” to the season’s best rookie, only one punter has been so honored. That was Harry Newsome who won the award in 1985. Drafted in the eighth round by Pittsburgh, Newsome averaged 39.6 yards per punt during his rookie campaign. That year he had one punt blocked. The following season, his sophomore year, two more blocks came for a total of three in 1986.

Newsome would be Pittsburgh’s punter until 1989 when he went over to the National Football Conference and signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunate for Newsome and unlike Chris Gardocki, Harry Newsome is the NFL’s all-time leader in most punts blocked in a career with 14. He is also the leader for single season blocks of a punt with six that came about in 1988. Still, in five years with Pittsburgh, Newsome averaged 41.4 yards-per-punt and aside from 1987, played in every game of each season he was with the Steelers. Newsome played in 12 in 1987.

At age 52, Harry Newsome resides in his birthplace of Cheraw, South Carolina and following football had launched his own landscaping company. At Cheraw High School, he serves as the receiver and special teams coach in addition to being the head golf coach.

Mark Royals: While Mark Royals spent just three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he did manage to hang around the National Football League for 17 seasons and eight different teams. Beginning with the Philadelphia Eagles, Royals moved to the St. Louis Cardinals that same rookie season in 1987 before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1990.

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  • Mark Royals became a road warrior beginning in 1992 when he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers and his career path took him through the cities of Detroit, New Orleans, a second stint in Tampa, Miami, and finally with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003. With the Steelers, Royals punted the ball 259 times averaging 41.5 per. He was blocked just once and only three more times elsewhere. His longest punt with the Steelers was for 64 yards, two shy of his career best.

    Today, Royals covers the Arena Football League’s Tampa Bay Storm on television. He has also been a radio show host on several programs. Royals’ alma mater is Appalachian State.

    Brad Wing: Before Pittsburgh’s current punter Brad Wing came to the team, Mike Tomlin was in a flux about who was going to be his punter. In 2013, Zoltan Mesko came to the Steelers after three very successful seasons with the New England Patriots. Mesko was also a childhood fan of the Steelers despite living in Cleveland, Ohio. Mesko replaced the previous year’s Drew Butler and was expected to be a long-term solution. With a 44.2 yards-per-punt average while with the Patriots, Tomlin thought he had acquired a solid punter.

    However, after just seven games with the Steelers and a poor performance, as well as miscommunications with Tomlin, Pittsburgh cut the troubled punter at mid-season and brought in another veteran, Mat McBriar from the Philadelphia Eagles. McBriar may be best remembered for his fake punt and pass play in 2013 when he hit tight end David Paulson for a 30-yard touchdown.

    At the start of last season, Mike Tomlin wanted a change at punter again and so he turned to ex-Philadelphia Eagle Brad Wing. Signed as an undrafted rookie the year before, Wing was cut by the Eagles and did not play in the 2013 season. During his debut season, Wing only had moments of shining and was not consistently impressive. Still, his average of 43.7 yards-per-punt kept him around for all 16 games. For college football fans, Wing will be remembered for a play he made while serving as the punter for LSU. Playing against the University of Florida, Wing had faked a punt and ran into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. However, along his jaunt to pay dirt, he taunted the Gators and was flagged for on-field taunting and the touchdown was nullified.

    This year’s training camp at St. Vincent’s college in Latrobe will be a difficult challenge for Brad Wing. That’s because Mike Tomlin‘s confidence in his punter has waned. So much so, one Jordan Berry, a rookie from Eastern Kentucky has been brought in to compete with Wing to become Pittsburgh’s punter. Berry comes with skills. Much has been made about Berry’s terrific hang time which can be witnessed on YouTube or by watching that video below.

    Like Brad Wing, Jordan Berry is Australian. Wing from Melbourne, Berry from Essendon, Victoria. For Berry, until he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was a McDonald’s employee. That’s because no NFL team would give him a chance. Berry returned to Australia, was hired elsewhere, and raised enough money to come back to America for one final shot at pro football. He got that with Mike Tomlin and the Steelers and what it boils down to is what might be the most competitive fight for a job this summer.

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