Suisham wins job, now must win over Steelers

Shaun Suisham knows there’s only one way to win over a Steelers

locker room that isn’t happy about the release of longtime kicker

Jeff Reed.

Don’t miss any field goal attempts.

He doesn’t plan to.

Suisham’s resume isn’t nearly as extensive as Reed’s, and he

missed important kicks last season for Washington and Dallas. But

he’s confident he can get the job done as Pittsburgh’s kicker,

something only Reed has done since the Steelers moved into Heinz

Field in 2001.

Suisham hopes his tenure, whether it’s measured in weeks or

years, is more like Reed’s than Kris Brown’s or Todd Peterson’s.

Both failed before Reed won the job midway through the 2002 season,

keeping it until he was released following a 26-yard miss Sunday

against the Patriots.

While Reed was let go after missing seven of 22 attempts this

season, Suisham won it with a lot fewer kicks than that.

With coach Mike Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin

Colbert watching his tryout Tuesday, Suisham was signed after

attempting only 10 to 12 kicks, by his own count. He also kicked

off four or five times.

After fewer than 20 practice attempts by a kicker who’s been cut

a half-dozen times in the NFL, Reed’s nine-season career in

Pittsburgh was over.

”I couldn’t believe it,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger

said.

”It was a big release; he’s a big-time player and we’re sad to

see him go,” linebacker James Farrior said.

Taking over a job in which a single failure at the wrong time

can result in a player’s release is difficult enough. Replacing a

popular player like Reed makes it more difficult still, if only

because Suisham knows his new teammates likely won’t trust him the

way they would Reed, who hasn’t missed in the playoffs since

2004.

Suisham also must deal with one of the NFL’s trickiest kicking

venues. Heinz Field is a particularly difficult for kickers from

late November on, due to the swirling winds off the three rivers

and the slippery and sometimes semi-frozen grass.

Heinz’s turf has been more stable since a hybrid surface that

incorporates tufts of synthetic turf was discarded several years

ago. Still, big chunks of loose sod were visible following the

Steelers’ 39-26 loss to New England on Sunday.

Reed blamed the notoriously bad Heinz turf for his missed

chip-shot attempt in that game.

”I kicked very well there,” Suisham said of his tryout.

”Whatever team you’re playing, the other kicker kicks on the same

field, so it’s even for everybody.”

Suisham is stronger on kickoffs than Reed, but his 79.1 percent

field-goal conversion rate is lower than Reed’s 81.9 percent, which

includes misses of 55, 51 and 49 yards this season.

The Steelers struggled for 1 1/2 seasons after moving into Heinz

to find a reliable kicker before settling on Reed. Brown missed 14

of 44 attempts in 2001, failing five times in the 30s and nine

times in the 40s. Peterson missed nine of 21 attempts, including

four of his last six, before Reed arrived in 2002.

”Playing in Dallas and Washington, larger markets, it (the

pressure) is part of being a kicker in the NFL,” Suisham said. ”I

love it. You learn to appreciate it a lot more when you’re sitting

at home watching football games.”

He was sitting at home in Ohio until now partly because of his

misses last season.

Suisham was cut by Washington in December, two days after

missing a 23-yard attempt that would have secured a victory over

New Orleans. The Saints came back to win in overtime.

”It was tough, it was just tough,” said Steelers wide receiver

Antwaan Randle El, who was with Washington last season. ”We were

upset, no question, but we knew that didn’t win or lose the

game.”

Suisham later signed with Dallas, for which he had kicked twice

previously, but he missed from 48 and 49 yards during a playoff

loss to Minnesota and was subsequently cut. Suisham was in the

Rams’ camp this summer, but was released after less than a

week.

”I never feel like I missed a field goal because I didn’t put

in the effort or put in the work or prepared myself the way I

should,” Suisham said. ”I never anticipate missing, but when it

does happen, I move on.”

Of course, he doesn’t want to move on the way Reed did.

”Jeff’s a great kicker. He’s going to get called at some point,

whether it’s the end of this year or next year,” long snapper Greg

Warren said. ”He’s going to be ready and he’s going to kick well

for somebody.”

Suisham expects to do exactly that for the Steelers (6-3),

starting Sunday against the Raiders (5-4).

”I don’t plan to miss any field goals,” he said.