As much as any position, kickers are creatures of habit. They like their routine when it’s working and don’t want anyone to mess with it. But in the offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith approached kicker Chris Boswell with a message: We have to make a change.
Not in the technical aspects of Boswell’s game. His swing, his follow through, nothing like that. The only problem Boswell’s had in his career is staying healthy. When he wasn’t, it showed, and his production plummeted. So Smith put together a plan with the goal of keeping Boswell upright all season. Enjoying another great season with – knock on wood – no injuries, the plan has paid off.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Smith went into great detail about the adjustments he and Boswell made.
“I changed his routine,” Smith said via a team-provided transcript. “We do a different routine this year than we did a year ago. 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. And 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.”
In his ninth season with the Steelers, Boswell’s only had two “down” years, both tied to injuries. The most memorable — or if you’re Boswell, forgettable — came in 2018. Fresh off signing a long-term contract, he cratered, missing seven of the 20 field goals he attempted. His field goal percentage dropped to 65, down from 92 the year before. Pittsburgh stuck it out though barely, nearly releasing him before he suffered a Grade Two groin tear ahead of the team’s Week 16 game against the New Orleans Saints. He was placed on IR for the final game of the season.
In 2022, Boswell again struggled to stay healthy. He kicked in only 12 games due to groin injury that caused him to the middle chunk of the season before returning to finish the year. Even with the time to heal, his season didn’t turn around, and he missed four field goals over the team’s final five games.
It led Smith to change things up. To look at kickers who are the pinnacle of great play and great health. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker has never missed an NFL game in his now 12-year career. Las Vegas’ Daniel Carlson has had perfect attendance since finding his fit with the Raiders. How could Boswell replicate that?
“If you notice, he doesn’t kick at all on Fridays anymore,” Smith said. “He has 48 hours prior to a game, things like that. The number of kicks is a little bit more because you got to maintain a strength throughout the season. But we don’t, 48 hours he’s off prior to the game. And just working technique and things like that, snaps and hold, he doesn’t kick. That was one of the changes. There was about three or four, but that’s one of them.”
More kicking throughout the week but more downtime prior to a game. A way to keep his body as fresh as possible before Sundays. So far, the results have paid off. Boswell has been healthy all season. And successful. He’s missed just one kick, a 61-yarder at the end of the first half against Jacksonville, robbed of a 56-yarder after a questionable “offsides” call on OG Isaac Seumalo. Putting that missed moonshot aside, Boswell has been perfect. After another steady performance to beat the Green Bay Packers, making all three of his field goals, Mike Tomlin called him “automatic” and said the Steelers are “blessed” to have such a steady presence.
Not that it was always easy for Boswell to accept a different routine.
“It’s hard for him. It’s hard for any veteran. And thank God, it’s working because then it’s easier for me, and he really has bought in,” Smith said. “He’s done a good job.”
Given the strains of the Steelers’ offense, Boswell has become one of the team’s most important figures. He’s one of the NFL’s best at hitting the long ball, his 28 made kicks from 50-plus yards are more than every other kicker in Steelers history combined. Acrisure Stadium isn’t as tough of a place to kick as it used to be but it’s still one of the most difficult stadiums, especially as the weather turns sour in the winter.
For a Steelers team that wins nothing but one-possession games, every Boswell make matters. Every miss, the few times they happen, matter even more. Even with changes off the field, the results of his kicks are back where they should be. routine.