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Steelers have battle at punter

August 5, 2013
By Chris Adamski - The Associated Press , The Altoona Mirror

LATROBE - Perhaps if it was as easy to make a living in track and field as it is in professional football, Brian Moorman wouldn't be spending these later-summer weeks in a Rooney Hall dorm room at St. Vincent College.

After all, Moorman was merely an All-America selection for NCAA Division II for football. In track and field, he's a Hall of Famer.

"I still love to run," Moorman said between Pittsburgh Steelers training camp workouts Sunday. "Even when I'm retired, I wouldn't mind maybe signing up for a track meet or two."

Moorman has no plans to retire anytime soon. For the first time since 2000, he's in an NFL camp other than that of the Buffalo Bills. At 37, he's seven years removed from the second of being honored as the NFL's All Pro punter in consecutive seasons.

"I honestly feel like I kick better now than I did then," Moorman said. "I feel like I could still be 23. Really. I don't feel any older."

Ironic, because Moorman is competing for a job with a player who became the Steelers' punter as a 23-year-old last season. Moorman, a three-time national champion in the 400-meter hurdles while at Pittsburg (Kan.) State, is out to "hurdle" Drew Butler on the Steelers' punting depth chart.

"To me, it's not about competing so much against a guy; I'm just going out and competing against myself every day to get better and make sure I'm doing what I know I'm capable of doing," said Moorman, who punted the final 12 games of last season for the Dallas Cowboys after being released during the first month of his 12th season with the Bills. "Nobody can be a bigger critic of me than me - and I know that's probably a cliche, but truth be told that's just how it is."

Moorman, a 2006 NCAA Division II Track and Field Hall of Fame inductee, has established quite the football standard to strive for. He was the named to the NFL's all-decade team for 2000-09.

His gross punting average last season (44.8) was the fourth-best of his career and better than the combined average of the 2005 and '06 seasons in which he was first-team All Pro.

But Moorman's net averages were hurt by two returns for touchdowns after no one had scored against him over his first 11 NFL seasons.

"That's how it goes sometimes - but you bounce back from it, and that's in the past," Moorman said. "Those are the types of things you can't look back on. Just look forward."

If the end of Moorman's career is closer than its beginning, Butler hopes to have many seasons yet to look forward to.

Butler, the son of former NFL kicker Kevin Butler, had a 43.8 gross average last season after beating out incumbent Jeremy Kapinos in training camp. However, Kapinos was limited because of a back injury, and he didn't have the pedigree Moorman has.

"It's competition," Butler said. "Brian's a great guy, and his resume speaks for itself. The Pittsburgh Steelers believe in competition, and so do I. He's a great punter and he's a great competitor and I've learned a lot already and I'll continue to learn a lot.

"Moorman is an All Pro, the punter of the decade, and you look up to guys like that. Now I'm working next to him and so it's pretty interesting. I'm taking full advantage of it, and this competition has definitely made me better."

Moorman had a somewhat similar situation while he was trying to break into the league. He was invited to the Seattle Seahawks' training camps in 1999 and 2000 when former All Pro Jeff Feagles was the team's punter.

Moorman spent two seasons kicking for the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe before sticking with the Bills in 2001.

But the circumstances differ today because it is the veteran trying to unseat the youngster instead of the other way around.

Moorman said he was told by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin that he would be given a chance to compete to earn a roster spot.

"I'm just glad I don't have to make the final decision," long snapper Greg Warren said. "Both can hit the ball with distance, and they both have good hang time. They're two really good punters, and I think both will be kicking in the league this season."

That's a sentiment both Butler and Moorman reciprocate about each other. Like anyone in their profession, each says striving for consistency is most important.

Last season, that was an area in which Butler struggled at times. He added more than 15 pounds of muscle this offseason and made an effort to improve his footwork.

"This year, I know what the expectations are," Butler said. "I feel a lot better than I felt last year - I'm a lot stronger, a lot more consistent and out here getting better every day."

New special teams coordinator Danny Smith - who held that position for three seasons in Buffalo while Moorman was there - said each punter will have opportunities to kick during preseason games.

Truth be told, though, their kicks during practice will be the ones more heavily-scrutinized by Pittsburgh's coaching staff. Head coach Mike Tomlin has long emphasized special teams - three months into his coaching tenure, the Steelers traded up in the draft to select punter Daniel Sepulveda in the fourth round. During weekend workouts at St. Vincent, Tomlin has been among his most vocal during punt/punt-return drills.

"I came here just for an opportunity and [Butler's] got an opportunity as well," Moorman said. "It's one of those things it's a crazy business."

While familiarity with Smith was one reason Moorman chose to sign with the Steelers in April, another factor weighed on him. During none of the 12 NFL seasons Moorman has played has his team qualified for the playoffs. Although 8-8 last season, Pittsburgh has appeared in three of the past eight Super Bowls, winning two.

"I hope to be here, but if they decide to go another direction I'm confident I can still punt the ball," Moorman said. "I can still punt it at a high level, and I hope to be a Pittsburgh Steeler."

Notes: Tomlin, when asked why S Troy Polamalu did not practice Sunday: "He's got a contusion to the birth certificate. It's from the 70's; he'll be OK." Polamalu, in fact, was born on April 19, 1981. ... Rookie RB Le'Veon Bell and veteran DE Brett Keisel were among those back participating after missing previous days' work. ... CB Curtis Brown joined three other players at his position - presumptive starter Cortez Allen, rookie Terry Hawthorne and veteran DeMarcus Van Dyke - as being absent from practice. ... LB Larry Foote also did not practice, and QB Ben Roethlisberger left the practice field with his right knee and right elbow heavily wrapped in ice. "Obviously we've got a number of bumps and bruises associated with this time of year," Tomlin said. "We'll do the best we can to treat those guys and get themy out there as quickly as we can."

 
 
 

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