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Comfort zone helping Steelers' Sepulveda

| Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011

Invariably, numbers matter when two players contend for a lone roster spot. However, the intangibles are immeasurable, especially when there's only a marginal difference.

Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda survived a strong preseason challenge from Jeremy Kapinos, in part, because of the comfort level the coaching staff has in its fifth-year veteran.

"I've heard in the past that coaches like to be comfortable with their guy," Sepulveda said. "So, it was certainly beneficial to me that Coach (Mike) Tomlin drafted me.

"I don't know what the difference was. It's not for me to concern myself with. It's something beyond my control. I didn't factor anything into that decision other than what I put out on the field."

It didn't matter that Kapinos out-performed Sepulveda mathematically during the preseason, averaging 49.8 yards per kick with a 44.6 net, compared to Sepulveda's 45.7 and net average of 36.2.

Even more impressive, Kapinos averaged 51 yards on three kicks in the Steelers' Super Bowl loss to Green Bay.

"In retrospect, it was a unique opportunity for both of us to grow the past month," Sepulveda said. "I think we challenged each other, and we both responded well.

"I saw him kick pretty well, and I felt good about my kicks. It was neat to have that kind of competitive spirit coming into camp, and I think it brought out the best in us."

It could be argued that Kapinos began training camp as the incumbent. But he faced an uphill climb to replace Sepulveda, who twice in the past three years had season-ending knee injuries.

Training camp for Kapinos became an audition for other teams, mostly because the Steelers invested heavily in Sepulveda by making him a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft.

"I'm thankful to have been given the opportunity, especially given the fact that I tore my knee up before my senior season (at Baylor)," Sepulveda said. "Right now, I'm here to make the most of another opportunity and to show I can play in this league."

Sepulveda likely will be tested Sunday when the Steelers open the regular season against AFC North rival Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, where he was sidelined for the season after tearing his right ACL during a 13-9 December victory that helped propel the Steelers to the division title.

"The irony isn't lost on me that my first game back is in the same place I messed my knee up," said Sepulveda, who also suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008. "I'm excited about this game. It'll get my mind past any thoughts of holding back."

Sepulveda didn't hold back during the preseason. But his job wasn't secured until the Steelers made their final round of cuts this past Saturday following a 33-17 win at Carolina a week ago.

Clearly, Tomlin and special teams coach Al Everest are confident and comfortable with Sepulveda heading into the Steelers' showdown with the Ravens — a game in which the punters can easily dictate the outcome by influencing field position.

"It's why teams value specialists," Sepulveda said. "We play in a league that, for the most part, the outcome comes down to a couple of plays. Sometimes, on special teams."

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