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.