By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Brian Moorman has been there before, and he believes a little competition never hurt anybody.
Moorman, a 13-year NFL veteran punter, was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers this year to compete with incumbent Drew Butler, who kicked for the club last season as a fresh-faced rookie from Georgia. To get some perspective, Butler’s father, Kevin, a long-time place-kicker in the league, was out of football just four years when Moorman was a rookie in 2001.
So, one’s career is winding down, while the other’s could be taking off.
“I think they’re both good punters,” Steelers long-snapper Greg Warren said. “Brian’s been in the league for a long time, so we know what he can do. And Drew, he’s already better now than he was last season, so I think he’ll be in this league for a long time to come. They both do good things, so I don’t know who’s going to win that battle. I’m just glad I don’t have to make the final decision.”
Moorman kicked for Buffalo for more than 11 seasons, and then they unceremoniously dumped him in 2012 for a younger guy. He was signed by Dallas and finished the season there before the Steelers scooped him up before spring practice.
“There were trying to get rid of me in Buffalo the last couple years,” Moorman said. “So the competition thing is nothing new. 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.”
In 12 NFL seasons, Moorman has averaged 44 yards per punt with a net average of 37.7 yards. He has had just two blocked punts, one as a second-year player and one in 2011. And until last season, he never had a kick returned for a touchdown. Then, he had two, one each with Buffalo and Dallas. Moorman was a first-team All Pro and two-time Pro Bowl performer from 2005-06, and he also was punter on the All-Decade team of the 2000s.
Butler averaged 43.8 yards per punt last season with a net kick of 37.8 yards. He also had one blocked and one returned for a touchdown. The key for Butler isn’t necessarily to increase his distance, but to improve his consistency. By his own admission, he would get off a booming punt on one occasion and then flub one when the Steelers were backed up near their goal line.
“It’s a good feeling having that first year under my belt, so there’s a different comfort level for me in training camp this year,” Butler said. “I know what the expectations are, and I feel a lot better than I did last year. I’m a lot stronger, a lot more consistent, and I’m out here getting better every day. … Basically, I think it was all a matter of my inexperience last season.
“I think I did pretty good as a rookie, all things considered, but after watching the film there were a few kicks I would have taken back — if we were backed up in a jam, I wish I could have gotten more yards for our defense or keep a couple balls from bouncing into the end zone that I shouldn’t have. But just tightening up those things (and) getting more consistent, that’s what I want to do.”
Butler also has put on 16 pounds since last season, so he has 220 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame. Moorman is smaller and much lighter, and while size — or lack of it — certainly isn’t a barometer for kicking success, it can’t hurt Butler.
“I just feel a lot better,” Butler said. “We’re going to have inclement weather at Heinz Field, and with a little more mass behind the ball that should help me kick against the wind there. But, if I recall, the weather wasn’t too bad last season. And, as Coach Tomlin says, you can’t control it so why worry about it.
“(But) I feel good, just as athletic, and I believe it will help over a long season. So, we’re both out here competing. Brian’s a great guy, and his resume speaks for itself. I’ve already learned a lot from him, and I’ll continue to learn. (And) whichever one of us ends up here the Steelers are getting a good punter.”
Note: The last time the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2008, journeyman Mitch Berger was their punter. He averaged 41.3 yards per punt, including a net of 36.4 yards, but he was about as consistent as a yo-yo.