Jordan Berry seeks better start to training camp, season with Steelers
The first two balls that left Jordan Berry’s right foot foreshadowed the type of season the Australian punter would have for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.
On the fourth play of season, in the season opener at Cleveland, Berry hit a punt that traveled just 31 yards and went out of bounds at the Browns 36. On Berry’s second attempt, he boomed one 43 yards that was downed at the Cleveland 14.
Such inconsistency plagued Berry throughout the early part of the season – to the extent that coach Mike Tomlin brought in two punters for tryouts before Week 3. Berry held onto his job and was given a two-year contract in March, but it’s far from a lock that he will be the team’s punter when the regular season opens Sept. 8 at New England.
Berry is keenly aware that he will be punting for his job in training camp and the preseason.
“I have to try to make sure I have a better start than I did last year,” Berry said during minicamp. “I feel like everything is going well. I’m hitting the ball well and getting some power in the leg. I’m trying to get as many reps as I can.”
The Steelers signed undrafted free agent Ian Berryman of Western Carolina to compete with Berry. It’s not the first time the Steelers have provided competition for Berry, who unseated fellow Aussie Brad Wing for the job in the 2015 camp. Berry held off a challenge last summer despite having inferior numbers to Matt Wile, who landed with the Minnesota Vikings.
“Jordan needs to be consistent,” special teams coach Danny Smith said. “Jordan is an explosive guy and Jordan has played well at times, and he’s played very average at times. He just needs to relax. He’s quite capable, but we need a consistency level from him.”
Berry didn’t disagree with any of Smith’s points, particularly the part about needing to be more relaxed when he steps on the field on fourth down.
“I can get amped up at times and really try to smash the ball,” Berry said. “More often that not, that’s not a good thing. You want to try to hit the ball at 85 percent because that’s where you’re going to get your best ball. Sometimes I try to smash a big one, and that’s where it doesn’t pan out.
“You have to find that medium where you are consistent, but hit it nice and powerfully.”
Berry said his issues began last year at training camp when rain washed out a few practice periods devoted to punting. He and Wile also had to split time getting snaps from Kam Canaday, the lone long snapper in camp.
“I hadn’t done that before,” he said.
Berry had a net average of just 35.1 yards on 12 punts during the preseason. He had a 37.1 net average on seven punts in the season opener against Cleveland and a 31.6 net in Week 2 against Kansas City.
That’s when Tomlin brought in two punters for tryouts. At the time, Berry ranked 30th with a 34.8 net.
“It wasn’t an awakening,” Berry said. “I just had a couple bad games. It wasn’t like I was slacking off. I did the routine I did other years.”
Berry’s numbers improved in Week 3 against Tampa Bay – he had a 41.6 net on five punts – and he finished with a 38.8 average that ranked No. 27. He also ranked No. 11 with 28 punts inside the 20.
“It’s just getting into a rhythm,” he said. “I wasn’t hitting the ball right the first couple of weeks. With this becoming a 90% mental thing, once you don’t hit one right, you start thinking about things and it can put you off.”
The Steelers kept Berry from hitting free agency by giving him a two-year, $3.7 million contract, although nothing is guaranteed beyond the $750,000 signing bonus.
Berry realizes he’ll need to be sharp from the beginning of training camp if he wants to spend a fifth consecutive season with the Steelers. And it all starts with consistency.
“You want to go out and hit your best ball every single time,” he said. “You have to be able to execute whether it’s weather, field, snap, drop hands – you have to make sure all of those things come together and be as perfect as you can get them every single time.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .