<
>

Pittsburgh's secret weapon

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LATROBE, Pa. -- The booming punts in practices this summer haven't been seen around these parts in quite some time.

They are high, extremely long and constantly backing up returners trying to field them.

And they're coming off the leg of third-year punter Daniel Sepulveda -- Pittsburgh's newest secret weapon.

"Oh, I'm back," said an excited Sepulveda. "I'm here to deliver a competitive advantage for us this year."

It has been two seasons since Pittsburgh's punter last kicked in an NFL game. Yet he remains one of the most important additions this year for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Last season, Sepulveda tore his ACL in his knee during training camp. What followed was a string of poor punting all year by Pittsburgh. But with an elite defense it didn't cost the Steelers a run toward their sixth Super Bowl win.

Meanwhile, Sepulveda got his first ring but it was somewhat bittersweet while watching from the sidelines and rehabbing on injured reserve.

"I got a heavy dose of perspective last year being put through that situation," Sepulveda explained. "But it made me a better person. So there were some things I missed out on, but there was some growth there."

Sepulveda said he's ready to play his role in Pittsburgh's quest to repeat.

A former fourth-round pick in 2007, Sepulveda was one of the NFL's top young punters his rookie season, averaging 42.4 yards per kick. He looks good thus far and the Steelers are hoping he shakes the rust early. Sepulveda believes getting the most out of training camp this year and the preseason will be key, and Pittsburgh's first exhibition game is Thursday against the Arizona Cardinals.

Quality punting for the Steelers would give an additional boost to the NFL's top-rated defense, while at the same time erasing one of Pittsburgh's few glaring weaknesses. Health permitting, Sepulveda could be one of the most underrated additions in the AFC North this season.

"If you're going to stay on top as a team, you have to keep getting better," Sepulveda said. "So that's what I'm going to try and do for our punt team."