P – While Australia narrow their NFL focus to Jarryd Hayne and his battle to make the San Fransisco 49ers squad, there’s another scrap close to being resolved on the other side of the United States.
Pittsburgh Steelers punter Brad Wing’s position in his side’s final 53-man roster is under threat – from fellow Australian Jordan Berry.
In fact, if Hayne makes it as a punt returner for the 49ers, he’s set to stand under the long bombs from one of his compatriots in round two when Pittsburgh host San Francisco on September 20.
In a largely meaningless game for every other potential starter on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, the two Australians will find out who gets the gig following Thursday night’s exhibition finale against Carolina.
Will it come down to one final kick? Or will it be an overall grade following six months of practising side by side? They haven’t a clue.
“You’ve just got to hope the work you’ve put in is enough for the coaches,” Wing said.
Their respective pre-seasons have been pretty much a wash. Berry is averaging 49.5 yards a punt, with Wing checking in at 49.1. Berry’s net is more than four yards better (40.9 to 36.5) but Wing has been the steadier of the two.
Wing was serviceable if hardly spectacular during his rookie year in 2014, winning the job basically by default after a family emergency forced Adam Podlesh to stay home.
He found himself an unlikely adversary over the winter when the Steelers signed Berry, who spent four years at Eastern Kentucky, then moved back to Australia.
He quite literally flipped burgers before taking an office job in hopes of earning enough money to return to the US and find a job as a professional.
The fact he got a chance in the NFL is merely a bonus.
The two countrymen aren’t friends exactly, but they aren’t enemies either.
“It’s not ideal, but that’s the way the system is set up,” Berry said.
And the system calls for there to be only one survivor. Wing likes to think the fact he has a full season of doing it when it counts gives him an edge, even if it’s only in his mind.
“I feel I have it over him,” Wing said. “I have the experience.”
The key for Wing will be finding a way to press it.
Special teams coach Danny Smith has taken great pains to make sure they get equal reps, though they both admit they don’t spend a lot of time watching what the other is doing.
They’re different kickers with different styles. A little tip now and then is appreciated, but it’s not like they’re going to make drastic changes.
“You can’t watch another punter and pick up their habits,” Wing said. “QBs don’t throw the same. You’ve got to watch yourself, work with yourself.”