Daniel Sepulveda is making a strong case for supplanting Jeff Reed as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ kickoff man. This is something that many fans have been advocating for quite some time.
In 2009 the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special teams were a major contributor to their failure to make the playoffs. Particularly woeful were the performances of the kickoff team.
Kicker Jeff Reed had the NFL’s lowest kickoff average by a considerable margin, and recorded a league-worst three touch-backs in the entire season. Time and again Reed’s kickoffs only carried as far as the opponents’ 15-yard line, and Steeler fans groaned as even average kick returns put their defense in poor field position.
The poor depth and hang-time on Reed’s kickoffs also played havoc with the coverage teams as the return teams were provided time to set up decent blocking schemes before the Steelers’ disruptors could do their job.
To further disgust fans, twice Reed made pathetic attempts at tackling returners which more resembled a weekend warrior playing touch football than an NFL pro.
As a result, the Steelers gave up four kick-return touchdowns in 2009 and Special Teams Coordinator Bob Ligashesky lost his job.
Many Steeler fans wondered why a strong and athletic punter like Daniel Sepulveda wasn’t handed the task at kicking off after Reed had proved to be so completely inadequate in the role.
Perhaps this season things will be different.
At the Steelers’ training camp in Latrobe, Sepuveda has been given an opportunity to try his hand at kicking off. Working with the second unit, Sepulveda kicked off four times. One went eight yards into the end zone, another went two yards in, and the other two kicks were to the two-yard line.
Those results blow away anything that Reed accomplished last season. Perhaps new Special teams Coach Al Everest will seriously consider using Sepulveda to upgrade this weak facet of the Steelers’ game.
Sepulveda is also likely to be a much better tackler than Reed. It would be hard to be worse. Anyone wondering about Sepulveda’s tackling ability should check out this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FhCgLeuO0I.
Sepulveda is built like an outside linebacker and likes to hit. Perhaps that explains the team’s reluctance to use Sepulveda in kickoffs last season despite Reed’s struggles. Sepulveda missed the 2008 season with a torn ACL in his right leg, and the team may have wanted to limit both his kicking and contact last year to ensure he was fully healed.
If the Steelers want to make a serious run at the playoffs in 2010 they need to improve their special teams’ play, particularly the kick coverage unit. If Sepulveda can net the team an average 5 to 10 yards improvement on every kick, which seems likely, then positive change is almost guaranteed.
The team seems to have addressed some of the coverage problems by bringing in veterans like Will Allen and Arnaz Battle as well as young, hungry linebackers. Tackling is sure to be improved. Sepulveda represents the second half of the equation.
If the Steelers start the season using Jeff Reed for kickoffs then Tomlin and new Special Teams Coordinator Al Everest will have some explaining to do. The Steelers clearly had a problem in this area in 2009, and they seem to have a solution in Sepulveda.