Steelers battle injuries in specialty areas
That injuries have piled up for the Steelers doesn't make them unlike many teams in the NFL.
Where the Steelers have been hit hard does set them apart.
Depending on how the Steelers' injury situation shakes out over the next couple of days, they could be down to their third punter and third holder this season. The Steelers will have a new long snapper for Monday night's game against the Redskins, as the team signed Jared Retkofsky Tuesday to replace Greg Warren, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
The team also signed punter Ricky Schmitt to the practice squad Tuesday and will promote him to the active roster if Mitch Berger, who is nursing a strained hamstring, is unable to play Monday night.
The rash of injuries to Steelers specialists has been almost freakish because those players are the least susceptible to getting hurt. And it is enough to make one wonder if somebody has been shattering mirrors at the team's South Side practice facility.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has, at least, kept his sense of humor about it.
While discussing contingency plans that the Steelers have at positions such as punter, long snapper and holder at his weekly news conference, Tomlin stopped himself.
"We're talking a lot about emergency plans," Tomlin said. "If I go down (assistant head coach), John Mitchell is the guy."
The Steelers were forced to use an emergency plan last Sunday in a 21-14 loss to the Giants. The results were not favorable, though somewhat predictable.
With Warren out, Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison had to snap when the Steelers punted from deep in their own territory in the fourth quarter. Harrison's snap sailed over the head of Berger, and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a game-tying safety. After the free kick, the Giants marched 53 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Harrison has been the team's emergency long snapper since Tomlin became coach in 2007. Tomlin said Harrison regularly practices snapping.
"In practice and at training camp is one thing," Tomlin said. "Inside the stadium and in the fourth quarter of a football game versus the defending world champion is another is another thing. I appreciate him. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same (thing)."
Retkofsky, who spent parts of the last two training camps with the Steelers, will allow Harrison to focus on what he does best: rushing the quarterback.
The 5-2 Steelers, however, may need to go with alternate plans at punter and holder against the 6-2 Redskins.
Berger, whom the Steelers signed after punter Daniel Sepulveda tore the ACL in his right knee during training camp, also holds for kicker Jeff Reed. Charlie Batch, the regular holder, is on injured reserve, and if Berger doesn't play against Monday night, wide receiver Hines Ward will be pressed into holding duties.
If Berger does play against the Redskins but gets hurt during the game, Reed would take over for the 14th-year veteran at punter.
When asked if he has ever seen this many injuries among specialists as a coach, Tomlin chuckled.
"Every day I walk through this door, I expect the unexpected," Tomlin said. "It's one of the exciting things about this job at this level in this league. If you don't like it, you've got a problem. I embrace it."Additional Information:
The Steelers could lose another starter to injury as free safety Ryan Clark isn't expected to play Monday night against the Redskins because of a dislocated right shoulder. Here is the list of key players that have missed (or will miss) at least two games because of injuries:
Daniel Sepulveda, P -- Season ended before it started when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during training camp.
Charlie Batch, QB -- Broke his collarbone in first exhibition game leaving Steelers little choice but to put Ben Roethlisberger's backup on injured reserve.
Deshea Townsend, CB -- Missed second and third game of the season with a heel contusion, giving Bryant McFadden an opening at right cornerback.
Brett Keisel, DE -- Left Browns game early with a calf strain and missed next three games.
Casey Hampton, NT -- Strained his groin against the Eagles and didn't return until Sunday's game against the Giants.
Willie Parker, RB -- Sprained his left knee against the Eagles and still isn't healthy enough to play.
Kendall Simmons, G -- Starting right guard ruptured his Achilles tendon against the Ravens and is out for the rest of the season.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB -- Rookie first-round draft pick fractured his shoulder against the Ravens, spoiling his first NFL start and ending his season.
Carey Davis, RB -- Starting fullback sprained his ankle against the Ravens and missed the next two games.
Marvel Smith, OT -- Starting left tackle left Jaguars game with cramps and has been sidelined the last two games because of back spasms.
Keyaron Fox, LB -- Special teams standout has missed the last two games because of a strained hamstring.
Bryant McFadden, CB -- Had been playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level until breaking his forearm against the Bengals; isn't expected to return until the latter part of November.
Greg Warren, LS -- Tore his ACL while covering a punt against the Giants; the season-ending injury proved costly later in the game.