Steelers

No extended look for Boswell in preseason opener

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Placekickers Matthew Wright (16), Chris Boswell (9) and punter Jordan Berry (4) -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

LATROBE, Pa. -- A big part of the Steelers' struggles in 2018 could be summed up in the issues placekicker Chris Boswell suffered through.

A year after making 92 percent of his field goal attempts and earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl, Boswell was miserable in 2018, making just 65 percent of his field goals. His 12 misses -- including five PATs -- were among the worst in the league and were just one fewer than he had in his first three seasons combined.

The Steelers put Boswell on notice late last season that his job could be in jeopardy by working out three veteran kickers before sticking with the struggling incumbent.

They also have given rookie Matthew Wright solid opportunities to beat out Boswell for the placekicking job throughout the offseason and into training camp here at Saint Vincent College.

Apparently, that will continue into their preseason opener Friday night against the Buccaneers. Mike Tomlin said Wednesday the team will alternate placekickers in the game against Tampa Bay, giving each man presumably equal opportunity to show what they can do in a game setting.

"Our intentions are to go every other kick, regardless of circumstance. We've done that out here, you guys have seen that, whether it's punting or kicking," Tomlin said.

"(Boswell) has been solid, but we haven't done anything yet. We're stepping into the stadium for the first time. That's exciting. We've put him into some situations out here, but we're just beginning to unfold the storyline of the consistency there, not only for him but for all of those guys."

The Steelers have good reason to want to see Boswell bounce back to being the kicker who made nearly 90 percent of his field goal attempts in his first three seasons.

They signed him to a contract extension during training camp a year ago and he's due to count $4.2 million against the team's salary cap this season. If he's released, he would still count $3.2 million against the team's cap.

The punting job, meanwhile, also is in competition. Veteran Jordan Berry averaged 43.7 yards per punt last season, which ranked 30th in the league. He was, however, tied for 10th in the league with 28 punts downed inside the opposing 20 despite being one of just two kickers who had fewer than 70 punts among those in the top 10.

He's being challenged by rookie Ian Berryman. Berry is slated to make $1.525 million this season. Berryman would earn $495,000 if he can beat out Berry.

QUARTERBACKS TAKE CENTER STAGE

Tomlin said Ben Roethlisberger will not play in the preseason opener. Josh Dobbs will get the start, while Mason Rudolph also is expected to play.

Undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges has been impressive at times throughout training camp. But Tomlin refused to commit to playing the rookie against the Bucs, though it could happen in the team's second preseason game next week against the Chiefs at Heinz Field.

Still, he's liked what he has seen of the former Samford star.

"The moments out here haven't been too big for him. Obviously, the confines of a stadium are different," Tomlin said. "We'd like to get him some play. We'll see how the flow of the game goes. We're working with the intention of doing that, but sometimes the game unfolds differently once you get inside stadiums. Those are the intentions. He's been deserving of the opportunity. He'll get it this weekend or the next."

NO INJURY CONCERNS

Other than Roethlisberger and some other unnamed veterans, Tomlin wouldn't rule anyone out for Friday's game. He's even leaving the door open for some of the team's injured players to see time.

Free safety Sean Davis had been out for over a week with a deep laceration on his hand but returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt also has been a full participant this week after being activated from the PUP List last Sunday because of tightness in his hamstring.

Both could see time Friday.

"We're not going to exclude anybody from potentially participating in the game from a health standpoint," Tomlin said. "I know there have been a number of guys who have missed a day or two here. We're hopeful, knowing that the opportunities to play are few and far between. We're going to try to be as inclusive as we can. There will be some established veteran guys who won't play, not having anything to do with them and their overall readiness, but in order to provide snaps for guys that we don't know a lot about."

LOLLEY'S VIEW

Boswell has clearly been better than Wright thus far at training camp. He's looked good.

But, as Tomlin noted, it's still just camp. The Steelers want to see him have a good preseason before they declare him fixed.

As for the QB rotation, that's not all that surprising. They're going to give Dobbs and Rudolph every chance they can to see who can be the No. 2. That could include Rudolph starting next week against the Chiefs. And at some point, the Steelers do want to see what Hodges can do.

Don't expect to see Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva or even Ramon Foster play much if at all Friday night. The same could go for inside linebacker Vince Williams. The team wants to get newcomer Mark Barron and rookie Devin Bush as much playing time together as possible.

 

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