Hunting for a Kicker: Steelers Trade for Josh Scobee
Steeler Fever asked me last week if I could write something about placekicker Garrett Hartley. What with one thing and another (mainly the Michael Vick fallout) I didn’t get to it, but planned to write it this week. I’ve learned my lesson—if you’re going to write about the kicker this season you’d better get the article up right away.
The Steelers seem to replace kickers at an equivalent rate to the one they traditionally replace head coaches. (I think a Head Coach year is equivalent to about two kicker years.) They installed Jeff Reed as the kicker in 2002, and replaced him with Shaun Suisham in 2010. Greg Warren has been the long snapper since 2005, and he has only worked with those two kickers plus the occasional camp body, one of which was Shaun Suisham in 2005.
So it must feel fairly odd to Warren to be on his third kicker this summer. It feels kind of odd to us, as well. The kicker is someone you don’t think about much unless he has just messed up. And messing up is something Shaun Suisham didn’t do a lot of.
So here we are, just over a week before the start to the season, and the Steelers front office had to run out and hunt for another kicker. And if you wonder why I’m using the word “hunt” so much, it seems there is a theme running through the kickers they’ve signed.
Garrett Hartley is famously starring in a reality television program about hunting called “Southern Chaos.” Or he was, at any rate, before the Steelers put in a call. As John Hayes of the Post-Gazette said in his August 29, 2015 article,
Making 3 for 3 field goals from as far as 48 yards in the preseason, Garrett Hartley is settling into his new position as the Steelers’ new kicker.
But, if that doesn’t work out, Hartley has a fallback job as a reality TV star.
I’m not sure how easily Hartley is going to crawl into those blinds now. The picture in the article shows him in camouflage clothing sitting half-way up a tree. However, he’s still under contract with the Steelers—I noticed in yesterday’s transactions he was put on Injured Reserve.
But since Garrett Hartley is no longer germane to the hopes and dreams of Steeler Nation it’s time to talk about this week’s “next man up,” Josh Scobee.
He isn’t really the “next man up,” of course, as the Steelers didn’t even bring a second kicker to camp. Instead they traded a sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for their gently used kicker. (“Gently-used” is perhaps an understatement since he’s been kicking for Jacksonville since 2004, and since that time I’m guessing he’s been responsible for a robust percentage of their total offensive points.)
I don’t know whether the Steelers organization has decided a hunting resumé is necessary to kick for the team, but the first thing I spotted under “personal” on Scobee’s Wikipedia page was this:
In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, fishing, and hunting.
Apparently he showed up to the facility today with golf bag in hand, but not a rifle as far as I know. Interestingly, the Wiki page already shows the trade to Pittsburgh. That’s some quick updating.
But before we hare off down a rabbit hole, let’s look at Josh Scobee the kicker.
I’m going to dust off the charts I put in the article I wrote about Suisham a couple of weeks ago. This is how much I love Shaun Suisham—it required two articles, a stats article and an article about him as a person. But the Kickin’ Canuck is on the couch, through some possibly foolish football heroics, so let’s have a look at his newest replacement.
Since Sebastian Janikowski was already on the charts for the Suisham comparison I left him there. He makes an interesting comparison, as he has been good for the Raiders for a long time.
The text on the charts is faintly blurry, so just remember the blue bar is always Janikowski, the green bar is Scobee, and the gold bar is Suisham.
First, let’s look at their percentages of field goals made from all distances. In this chart the first set of bars is the career average for each of the three. The second set is their 2014 average, and the third set is the average of their last five years (which is how long Suisham has been in Pittsburgh.)
The two charts below show the average numbers of field goals made at each distance for each kicker. For legibility, and since the point is the comparison between them, the top of the axis in the short field goals is 100%, and the top of the axis for the long field goals is 80%. By this you can see how much the accuracy drops over distance, which is hardly surprising. The 0-19 figures aren’t on the charts, because they all had 100% accuracy in that range. If you’re wondering what the extra bars are, the orange bars are Suisham’s career average, and the gold bars are his average with Pittsburgh. Interestingly it’s better in all cases except 40 – 49 yards.
As you can see the accuracy of all three kickers is quite equivalent, except when you get to over 50 yards. No one ever accused Suisham of having a “huge leg,” (which always sounded rather unattractive to me.) And as we go to the next charts we see this as well:
Note that while Suisham’s average distance for kickoffs from 2010-2014 isn’t very different than the other two men, the number of kickoffs which are returned is quite a lot larger.
I wondered why this might be, since the distances involved are a couple of yards at best. This could in some cases be the difference between a returnable ball and one which won’t be brought out, but doesn’t explain everything, I shouldn’t think.
So I looked at their average hang times. The difference between the three is just over a 1/10th of a second. I suppose the two things in conjunction could account for the difference, but I also wonder if it has something to do with the Steelers special teams, as they haven’t been particularly splendid over that time period.
Well, I think that we can look at these charts and feel that Josh Scobee is fairly equivalent in accuracy to Suisham and a definite upgrade in kickoffs. However, if his return rate suddenly goes way up, we might want to reconsider whether there is more to the story.
As far as accuracy, last year Scobee’s made field goal percentage was 76.9, which isn’t very good. But if you look at his career average it is distinctly better than this, and in fact last season was a complete outlier in the past five years.
I wanted to write something about Scobee as a person. This was more difficult than I anticipated, but here is an assemblage of random information.
Scobee played at Louisiana Tech and was drafted in the fifth round by the Jaguars in 2004. He was, until yesterday, the longest-tenured member of the team.
His most famous game is one many Steelers fans may remember. On October 24th 2011 he literally led the Jaguars to victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The final score was 12-7, and every single point came off of his foot. Three of the four field goals were from over 50 yards, which puts him in pretty elite company.
Kickers generally don’t get a lot of love, or write-ups. So I have been reduced to checking things like comments from Jags fans (apparently a popular player there,) his twitter feed (my favorite below) and such-like. The wife mentioned in the tweet is called Melissa.
He really really likes golf. He came in third in this year’s Celebrity Golf Tournament at Lake Tahoe.
Scobee was the kicker chosen for the 2011 All-Fundamentals Team. I discovered this in a fun ESPN article in which the author spends a day at training camp with Scobee to learn to kick. (He doesn’t.) You can read it here.
He and DeSean Jackson had a Twitter feud in 2011. No word on who won that one. Generally speaking both parties lose in a Twitter feud.
I’m running out of material here, as you can tell, so finally, here is a link if you would like to order your 2015 Scobee jersey. The only hitch is, it is in Jacksonville colors. Perhaps teal blue is the new market efficiency.
Oh, and welcome to Pittsburgh, Mr. Scobee. You may find the atmosphere a bit different here than you did in Jacksonville. That cuts both ways.
But we hope you enjoy it, and that you revert to your usual form. The Steelers enclosed the open end of Heinz Field just for you.
And do be careful on Thursday night. No tackling, please. It’s only the preseason, and I’m not sure any of us can bear to go through this again.
UPDATE: I just found an interview at Scout.com with Scobee, and he elaborates on the contract situation. I thought it was worth posting because of what it tells us about the sort of person he is. I’ll give a link to the article here, but you need to have a subscription to scout.com to view it, I think…
Q: Did you tell the Florida paper that the Steelers tried to add a year to your contract?
Q: And you turned them down?
JS: Well, first and foremost, Shaun Suisham has been an excellent kicker here. In the past three years he’s put up amazing numbers. I’m not trying to come in and take his job. I’m not saying that next year I’m going to be here, because I don’t know. You can’t guarantee anything. All I’m guaranteeing is this year. I told Shaun that. He’s done an amazing job and hopefully he rehabs and can come back, so I didn’t want to add on an extra year there. I just wanted to come in, have this year and see what happens after that and do what I can to help this franchise. If that’s continuing on after this year here, great. If not, we’ll see what happens.