Steelers Inside the Ropes: Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry put on notice
Thursday’s Pittsburgh Steelers practice proved rookies Ian Berryman and Matthew Wright are pushing five-year incumbent punter Jordan Berry and kicker Chris Boswell, respectively.
Berryman and Wright were signed as priority undrafted free agents after the draft in April, and both have shown they possess NFL-worthy potential.
Berry and Berryman each showed off their legs during special teams drills, booming punts of more than 60 yards. Berryman appears to have NFL-caliber leg strength, though he has lacked consistency.
Though Berry was re-signed in the spring, his signing bonus was manageable enough that the Steelers would save salary-cap space by going with Berryman this year.
Although Berry struggled enough early last season that the Steelers auditioned potential replacements, Boswell’s situation is more well-chronicled. But Boswell’s pedigree and ceiling are higher than Berry’s. That means Wright’s chances hinge more on Boswell’s performance.
So far, Boswell has not missed a placekick during practice. On Thursday, he made at least eight kicks, all but one from between 32-40 yards. Boswell, who always worked with Berry as his holder, also made a 52-yarder that was during a “mayday” in which special teams coach Danny Smith counted down to simulate the pressure of a game-winner.
But Wright also made that kick (his was from the right hash, Boswell’s the left). Boswell’s traveled farther (it would have been good from perhaps 62), but Wright’s was more down the middle.
Wright worked with Berryman as his holder, and both kickers had the backup snapper in Vance McDonald. McDonald wasn’t perfect, and one of his bad snaps was not handled, so it cost Wright an opportunity.
Wright made each of his kicks, including the 52-yarder and (like Boswell) a practice-ender.
• The field-goal units also practiced fakes, with the holder rolling out for a pass. Once, Berryman hit defensive lineman Tyson Alualu with a tight spiral. Alualu collected it and sprinted into the end zone, drawing cheers from the crowd and a celebratory hip-bump celebration with assistant coach William Gay.
• The offense beat the defense in Seven Shots, 4-3. Ben Roethlisberger threw scores to JuJu Smith-Schuster (a leaping grab in the back of the end zone), Eli Rogers (in front of Terrell Edmunds at the goal line) and Diontae Johnson (on a pick play). Mason Rudolph connected with James Washington, who beat Marcus Allen. However, a Rudolph pass to Zach Gentry was intercepted by Jordan Dangerfield, and one to Trevor Wood was broken up by Robert Spillane.
• NFL officials were part of the practice, manning the lines and pointing out penalties. One called by the side judge was on rookie cornerback Justin Layne for defensive holding, negating a breakup he had on a pass from Rudolph to Diontae Spencer. The snap before that, Layne was beaten by Tevin Jones for a back-shoulder catch on a throw from Rudolph.
• Jones had a good practice, also catching a touchdown in seven-on-sevens.
• Is Kevin Rader improving his stock in the race for the No. 3 tight end? The Pine-Richland product repped multiple times Thursday, supplanting fifth-round pick Gentry. Known more for blocking, Rader showed good hands with multiple “traffic” catches, including a touchdown.
• Former rugby player Christian Scotland-Williamson had a strong practice, at one point sealing Anthony Chickillo on the edge with a block. But Scotland-Williamson mostly gained notice for a “combat catch” for a touchdown in an 11-on-11 red-zone simulation. Coach Mike Tomlin grinned and yelled, “You just scored in American football, baby! Nice play!” Then Tomlin pointed across the field to tight ends coach James Daniel and said, “I know ‘JD’ is excited about this!”
• Johnson is noticeable for his quickness and playmaking but also for some gaffes. During an 11-on-11 drill, an annoyed Tomlin told Gay, “He’s running like he’s playing seven-on-seven right now.” Gay yelled, “Hey, 18, put your pads down (while running with the ball).”
— Chris Adamski
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .