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Steelers will Wing it at punter against Bills

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers punter Brad Wing boots a punt Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Alan Robinson
Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, 10:07 p.m.
 

Their long snapper is injured and out for a month, the veteran punter they signed in the offseason never reported to a training camp that's over.

With the season just three weeks off, the Steelers' punting game is down to a Wing and a prayer.

Former Bears and Jaguars punter Adam Podlesh still hasn't reported because he stayed with his wife during a difficult pregnancy, so former first-team All-American Brad Wing will be the lone punter again Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills.

“He's very athletic, he works great and he's got a strong-enough leg,” Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith said of Wing, who averaged 44.6 yards at LSU over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Upgrading their deficient punting is a priority for the Steelers, who had the NFL's second-worst overall and net punting averages last season, and were third from the bottom in 2012-13. During those two seasons, the Dolphins averaged 49.2 yards per punt to the Steelers' 42.1, giving them an extra 1,400 yards in field position.

“You've got have hang time, distance and placement. Those are the three real clear ingredients,” Smith said. “The good ones get two out of three. The great punters get three out of three. And those guys who get one of the three are the ones watching at home on TV.”

Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko, the Steelers' two punters last season, are sitting at home.

Wing, who played Australian rules football in his native country before being cut by his junior team, worried NFL scouts because of two off-field incidents at LSU, including his suspension for a bowl game, and an on-field taunting during a fake punt.

He wasn't drafted despite his top-of-the-class statistics, then was cut by the Eagles during training camp last year.

“Oh, definitely,” Wing said when asked if his well-publicized troubles hurt his draft status. “Going back I probably would have done things a little differently.”

Wing said he has since matured, in part because he's now the father of a 16-month-old boy whose picture serves as his cellphone screen shot.

“He's probably been the biggest turning point in my life,” Wing said. “I have somebody else depending on me now, and I have a whole lot of teammates depending on me.”

Wing averaged 36.5 on six punts against the Giants last week following a slow start, with a long of 54 yards.

So will the Steelers go into the season with the athletic and very promising Wing, bring in a veteran punter or wait for Podlesh to report? Wing must adjust Saturday to not having reliable snapper Greg Warren (knee).

Smith said it's simple: If Wing has excellent hang time — the Steelers want it to be in the 5-second range — he likely will be their man.

“He's got good credentials coming out of LSU, but you know this is a whole different ball game,” Smith said. “We're just bringing him along, and we'll see where he ends up.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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