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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The punting competition that wasn't supposed to be much of a competition has become something else entirely for Brad Wing and Jordan Berry.
In a largely meaningless game for every other potential starter on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, the two Australians have no idea how things are going to shake out in and 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 practicing 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 preseasons 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 4 yards better (40.9 to 36.5) but Wing has been the steadier of the two.
Of course, none of that could matter when the roster is trimmed to 53. Consider this: The Steelers have gone through eight punters since 2006, averaging basically a new guy back there behind long snapper Greg Warren every year.
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 U.S. 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."
Even if that leads to some counterintuitive thinking.
The only person in black and gold who gets excited on fourth down might be Wing. Sure, he wants the offense to score, but when that doesn't happen, he's only too happy to go out and do his job. The same goes for Berry, whose favorite kinds of games are the low-scoring variety that allow him to go out and let it loose.
Hey, it beats working at McDonald's, something Berry believes he's put behind him no matter how things fall.
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