PITTSBURGH — After his star kicker, Chris Boswell, had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2022, Pittsburgh Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith was sure that something needed to change. But he wasn’t sure what.
The problems with Boswell were two-fold. The 31-year-old was less accurate in 2022 than he had been in all but one season in his eight-year NFL career. Boswell made 71.4% of his kicks in 2022. His career average is 86.9%. He’d been at 90% or higher in each of the three previous seasons.
Boswell also wasn’t healthy. He missed five games with a groin injury. The combination didn’t lead to a lot of optimism for the Steelers’ kicking game in 2023.
Instead, Boswell has been the NFL’s best. He’s missed just once all season — a 61-yard attempt after a bogus penalty on Isaac Seumalo wiped out his made 55-yarder against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 29. He’s also 13 for 13 on extra points. Only Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs has been similarly perfect from the attacking side of midfield, and not only is the malaise of 2022 behind Boswell, this is shaping up to be a year that he could finally break through for an AFC Pro Bowl nomination.
So what changed?
This offseason, Smith tried to figure out a better way to structure Boswell’s game-week routine, in order to keep him healthy and also get him primed for performance in games.
“I changed his routine,” Smith said. “We do a different routine this year than we did a year ago. I did a lot of studying over the offseason, with guys who don’t get hurt, and guys who do get hurt, age groups, things like that. There are some quality kickers in this league that kick a lot, that are never hurt. I really studied it, and I met with him about it, and we set up a program.
“We’re getting a little fruit off that tree on that program. But it’s been different. It’s worked. His week’s work is different than it was a year ago.”
For starters, Smith has Boswell kicking more during the course of a game week, but all of that work is coming earlier in the process. He hasn’t kicked on Fridays or Saturdays all year, leaving 48 hours before the start of every game. The idea is to give him enough work to maintain his strength and not put him at risk for injury, while also giving him a long lead time in between that training and the actual game.
“The number of kicks is a little bit more because you got to maintain strength throughout the season,” Smith said. “But 48 hours, he’s off, prior to the game. … That was one of the changes. There was about three or four, but that’s one of them.”
Boswell has been one of the best kickers in the NFL for a long time, and so Smith knew that taking to a completely different strategy might be a tough thing for him to swallow. Kickers are notoriously routine-based and can be superstitious. But Boswell has embraced the changes that Smith laid out, backed up by the research he did.
“It’s hard for any veteran,” Smith said. “Thank God, it’s working. Because then it’s easier for me, and he really has bought in. He’s done a good job. He really has. … He understands it, he understands the importance of it, and he’s done a very good job.”