Can Chris Boswell rebound? That’s the $2 million question for Steelers kicker
The final drill of offseason workouts pitted Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell against his 2018 failures as much as it did Boswell versus his competition for a roster spot.
To conclude minicamp in mid-June, the Steelers conducted a hurry-up offense drill, with the goal for the offense to set up the kicker in field-goal range.
With time winding down on the clock, Boswell ran onto the field and pushed an approximate 45-yard attempt wide right. The same drill was run again, with undrafted free agent Matthew Wright brought in to try a field goal from about the same distance. Wright placed his kick between the uprights.
Boswell’s miss conjured visions of 2018 when, one year removed from playing in the Pro Bowl, he missed seven field goals and five extra points. And when training camp opens Thursday, Boswell will be one of the most scrutinized players on the 91-man roster.
The missed field goal, however, ran counter to the progress two of Boswell’s closest associates witnessed throughout those practices in May and June.
“This summer, he has been great,” said holder Jordan Berry, speaking a few hours before Boswell’s miss. “He’s been absolutely crushing the ball, hitting everything smooth.”
Earlier in minicamp, special teams coach Danny Smith also provided a glowing assessment of Boswell’s attempt to erase that erratic 2018 season from his memory bank.
“He looks good. He looks very good,” Smith said. “I’m very pleased with where he’s at today. But today we ain’t winning no games. We’ll see when we get in those game settings.”
Boswell’s future with the team will be judged on how he performs during the four-game preseason, which begins Aug. 9 against Tampa Bay at Heinz Field. The Steelers persuaded Boswell to delay receiving a $2 million roster bonus until after the final preseason game, which is Aug. 29 at Carolina. If he is on the team, he gets the money.
A year ago during camp, Boswell was coming off a season in which he made a career-high 92% of his field-goal tries and had four winning kicks, including three in a row with the clock reading 0:00 at the end of the play.
The Steelers rewarded Boswell, set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, with a five-year contract worth nearly $20 million and included almost $7.3 million in guarantees.
But after missing twice from 30-39 yards and five times from 40-49, Boswell was placed on injured reserve for the season finale. He enters training camp with competition from Wright, who made 77.4% of his attempts at Central Florida.
“We need an improvement there,” Smith said. “He’s been very good at OTAs and has carried into team settings. We’ve put him in some situations, and he’s responded. We know what he’s capable of, and that’s a positive. We’ve got to get back to what he was capable of, and what he showed us.”
Berry, the only holder Boswell has known since they joined the Steelers in 2015, said his teammate was fundamentally sound during offseason workouts.
“He’s working on not trying to smash the ball but hit it at 85-90 percent and keep that identical every time,” Berry said. “From what I’ve seen, he’s hitting the ball perfect.”
The Steelers likely won’t need Boswell to be perfect in the preseason — just to show the consistency he lacked in 2018. Otherwise, Boswell could be employed elsewhere and out a $2 million bonus.
“If there’s a bounce back, it happens quick,” Smith said. “Guys have had bad years in all sports. … We’ll see that soon. If he’s going to bounce back, he’s going to make it. It’s not going to be 50-50. It’s not going to be part time. He’s either back or he ain’t.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .