On the Steelers: Changes made on special teams


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At least one head rolled because of the inability of the Steelers' kickoff team to make a tackle in the past four games, and coach Mike Tomlin even fired a zinger at his own return specialist as he tries to correct a problem that may have cost them the AFC North Division title.

Tomlin called the three kickoff returns for touchdowns against his team in the past four games "head-scratchers," but it did not prevent him from lopping off the head of one special-teams player.

Backup linebacker Arnold Harrison, who has two Super Bowl rings with the team and has overcome ligament surgeries to both of his knees, could not overcome the need to improve the kick coverage. He was waived, and linebacker Donovan Woods, who spent last season on both the practice squad and roster, was signed from the practice squad to replace him.

Woods is considered a good special-teams player, and it surprised some when he did not make the team to start the season.

"He's going to have an opportunity to run down the middle of that unit to see if he can bring some energy to the group," Tomlin said. "But it's not just about the addition of a Donovan Woods. Donovan Woods is not all of the sudden going to make us the most dynamic kickoff-coverage team in the NFL."

What might, then?

"It's detail. It's about shedding blocks and making tackles and being schematically sound. We're in the process of looking at all elements of that unit."

Two elements Tomlin expressed little concern over were the kickoffs or attempts at tackles of Jeff Reed.

"Man, I am not going to go down to evaluating Jeff Reed as a tackler," Tomlin said. "When it comes down to that, we have failed as a coverage unit. I don't lose any sleep on the quality of Jeff Reed's tackles -- or tackle attempts."

He also noted that what might, at times, seem like shorter kickoffs by Reed are planned as directional kicks, including the one returned 96 yards for a touchdown by Cincinnati's Bernard Scott, the only touchdown in the Bengals' 18-12 victory Sunday at Heinz Field.

"They have been adequate," Tomlin said of Reed's kickoffs. "We've got to do a better job covering. I liked the position and location of that kick to be honest with you. When you can pin somebody down in the corner and converge on the ball, usually you feel pretty good about it."

Stefan Logan, a 5-foot-6 former Canadian Football League player, made the team as a return specialist after he averaged 37 yards on kickoff returns and 21.2 yards on punt returns in the preseason. He returned one punt for an 80-yard touchdown and his longest kickoff return was 60 yards. Logan's kickoff-return average is 25.5 (56 long) and his punt-return average 8.8 (25 long) in the regular season. Those averages rank 12th and 14th, respectively, in the NFL.

"It's been the best we've had since I've been here," Tomlin said of his kickoff-return average, "but that doesn't mean it's acceptable, man, we're trying to search for the ceiling."

He acknowledged that rookie Mike Wallace, who returned his first kick Sunday, might get more of an opportunity doing that job.

Tomlin was asked about Logan's comments Sunday that lanes open on Steelers kickoffs but not on Steelers returns.

"That's the perspective of a kick-returner who hasn't run one back yet, so that perspective may not be reality," Tomlin said.

Good news on Polamalu

The news on Troy Polamalu's injured left knee was better than the Steelers first thought, Tomlin said, although he's not likely to play Sunday in Kansas City.

"Troy's status for this game is probably questionable at best, although we've had some favorable information in regards to where he is from a health standpoint," Tomlin said.

Polamalu has a "strained" posterior cruciate ligament. The Steelers feared he had re-injured the sprained medial collateral ligament that cost him games two through five.

"There is no setback in regards to his MCL," Tomlin said. "This is a PCL strain. We'll let that run its course, see how he feels, and, of course, listen to the expert advice of our medical staff.

"Everyone's initial response was it was a re-injury, and that appears not to be the case."

On three other injury fronts, rookie cornerback Keenan Lewis has a rib injury, and defensive end Travis Kirschke (torn calf) and fullback Carey Davis (hamstring) will work in individual drills at practice today as they try to return to play.

Just 'misconnects'

Those deep passes that Ben Roethlisberger underthrew Sunday were not the result of pressure up the middle or anything the Cincinnati Bengals did to prevent them.

"No, I just think they were misconnects," Tomlin said. "That happens from time to time. I'm sure that Ben will bounce back, as will we."


For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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