During OTAs, when Chris Boswell said he's moved on from last season, it was more than just lip service. It's a mindset Boswell has to have after a disastrous 2018 season.
But when Boswell said he's back to hitting the ball cleanly, most people have to take him at his word. It's just something fans don't get to see and, quite frankly, nobody was tracking as the Steelers worked their way through their OTA sessions.
Well, nobody except Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith.
Smith has been tracking Boswell closely throughout the offseason workouts. And his assessment of the Steelers' placekicker is he sees a player who looks much more like the one who earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2017, rather than the one who made just 13 of 20 field goals in 2018.
"I agree with that. I really do," Smith said of Boswell's assessment a couple of weeks ago. "Obviously, we need an improvement there. He's been very good in the OTAs. It's got to carry into the team setting. We put him in team settings and he's responded. We know what he's capable of and he has responded. We've got to be get back to what he is capable of and what he has showed us. That's what he's done so far."
So far, so good. But Smith isn't ready to say Boswell is back to being the kicker who made 90 percent of his field goals in his first three seasons.
That proclamation will come at a later date.
"You'll know it when I know it. We'll see that (stuff) together," Smith said. "You're not going to have to ask me. You're going to know and I'm going to know. When he hits that first game-winner like he did and he's banging balls, you ain't going to come looking for me. Once that (thing) goes wide right and we're off that field 19-17, you'll come looking for me. We'll see that together. We'll find out really quick."
That's the hope for the Steelers. They can't afford for Boswell to be bad. They need him to bounce back.
The Steelers were banking on Boswell to be great in 2018 and beyond. It's why they gave him a four-year, $16.8-million contract extension last summer.
His cap hit in 2019 is $4.2 million and it would cost an additional $2.6 million against their cap if he's not their placekicker in 2019. So, you can imagine Smith and Boswell spent a lot of time in the offseason working on getting things turned around.
"There are a lot of things. I don't want to get into in public that I saw this step or this swing. It obviously was off. We've made corrections," Smith said. "We've worked hard at it together. I've seen a great deal of improvement. I'm in the mindset that he's got to be the guy we had two years ago. Right now, it looks like that's what we've got. We'll see when we get into the team settings."
But Smith expects Boswell to be better. He's been a special teams coach in the NFL since 2001. He's seen kickers go through rough patches and regain their form.
Of course, he's also seen that go the other way.
"Oh yeah. Quick like that. If there's a bounce back, it happens quick," Smith said. "Guys have had bad years. That's in all sports. You take the Pirates, the Penguins, the Steelers, everybody has had bad years. We'll see that soon. It isn't going to be 50-50. He's either back or he ain't. And we'll handle that appropriately."
That could mean moving on rather quickly if Boswell doesn't have it. It's not something the Steelers would welcome, considering that $6.8-million cap hit if Boswell is released.
But Smith is cautiously optimistic that won't be an issue.
"The key is to put him in those situations and the key is for him to hit those game winners like he's done," Smith said. "He looks good. He looks very good. I like where he's at today. But today we ain't winning any games. We'll see when we get into those game settings."
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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