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Steelers’ Special Teams Battles Heat Up in Preseason Finale

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CHARLOTTE – Most NFL teams do not keep two long snappers on their active 53-man roster throughout a season.

For the past four years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have entrusted snapping duties on punts and field goals to one man, Kameron Canaday. And the Portland State product has been serviceable in that role. Long snappers are rarely noticed unless they make a mistake, and Canaday has played an unnoticeable brand of football, which is a good thing.

But the Steelers have another long snapper in camp this preseason, and his play on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers should at least make Mike Tomlin’s decision – as to whether or not he should take up a roster spot – a bit more difficult.

Christian Kuntz handled long snaps for each of the Steelers eight punts on Friday in a 34-9 loss to the Panthers, and also snapped on good 52-yard field goal from Chris Boswell. Kuntz got the nod at snapper because Canaday was sick during pregame, according to Tomlin.

Additionally, Kuntz made a pair of special teams’ tackles. In the second quarter, he dropped CJ Saunders inside the 20-yard line on a Pressley Harvin III punt, pinning the Panthers back deep. And in the fourth quarter, Kuntz wrapped up DJ Moore on a Jordan Berry punt, allowing Moore to scamper for just seven yards before being tackled.

A Duquesne graduate and a native of Pittsburgh, Kuntz has spent the past four years on-and-off preseason and practice squads in the NFL as a long snapper and linebacker. He’s spent time with the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Steelers, but has never played in an NFL game. He did play in five games with the Dallas Renegades of the short-lived second version of the XFL in 2020.

Kuntz’s linebacker skills make him valuable in the punt coverage game. Often, a long snapper can be the first tackler down the field to wrap up the punt returner. Kuntz showed that against the Panthers, and it’s one of the reasons that former Dallas Cowboys’ fullback Daryl Johnston signed him to the Renegades. In college, while playing for the Dukes, Kuntz was a two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Tackling alone hasn’t gotten Kuntz onto an NFL roster, but that combined with his snapping talent might. The question now is, has he done enough to unseat Canaday, who missed the game with an illness? Tomlin will have to find that answer in the coming days.

“Yea, I wasn’t laying direct eyes on the snappers,” Tomlin said after the game. “So, I got to look at the tape and all of that. It wouldn’t be the appropriate thing to evaluate his performance in this setting.”

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Of course, carrying two long snappers on a roster isn’t unheard of. And some Steelers fans probably still have nightmares about a 2008 game against the Giants, in which former linebacker James Harrison filled in for an injured Greg Warren. Harrison sailed a snap way over the head of punter Mitch Berger, which resulted in a game-tying safety for the Giants, who went on to win. That is a scenario Steelers fans do not want to relive.

Elsewhere along the special teams depth chart, both Harvin and Jordan Berry launched multiple punts Friday night, and their numbers ended up looking very similar. Neither one really outplayed the other.

Harvin, a hefty seventh-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech this past spring, booted away four balls for an average of 42.3 yards per-punt. One his punts was downed inside the 20-yard line – the previously mentioned tackle by Kuntz. Harvin said after the loss that he’s looked up to Boswell and Berry, who have helped him transition from the college game.

“(Berry has) been a big help throughout this process of getting me adjusted because it’s a different game,” Harvin said. “It’s the same job, but it’s a little bit different. Everything’s weighted a little bit more. It’s definitely been a journey. I’m definitely appreciative of it too.”

Berry, a 30-year-old who has been in Pittsburgh since 2015, punted four times for an average of 43.8-yards per-boot. He too had one punt that pinned the Panthers inside the 20.

Tomlin wasn’t impressed by much in the lopsided loss to the Panthers, but he did respect the attitude both Harvin and Berry put forth.

“I thought they represented themselves solidly tonight,” Tomlin said. “And largely it’s been a really competitive thing throughout this process and we’re appreciative of that effort. They’ve both been varsity.”

In the return game, Eastern Michigan product Matthew Sexton may have hurt his case for a roster spot, as he fielded just two punts for negative-two yards, and fumbled away one of those returns. Tony Brooks-James fielded the Steelers’ only kick return, running it back a respectable 26 yards.

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