Steelers respond to specials teams issues by cutting Harrison

PITTSBURGH -- He's watched game tapes, analyzed and criticized, and now coach Mike Tomlin is doing something about the Pittsburgh Steelers' miserable kickoff coverage.

Backup linebacker Arnold Harrison was waived on Tuesday, making him the first player to lose his job after the Steelers allowed a league-high three kickoff return touchdowns in four games.

Harrison had played for the Steelers since 2005, although the former Georgia player missed last season with a knee injury. Donovan Woods, an undrafted linebacker from Oklahoma State who played in five games last season, was promoted from the practice squad.

Until now, the only previous season Pittsburgh allowed as many as three kickoff return touchdowns was 1986.

"We're looking at schematics and potentially making some changes, but we're also moving some people around, putting some new people in position to play," Tomlin said. "He (Woods) is going to have an opportunity to run down the middle of that unit to see if he can bring some energy to that group. But Donovan Woods is not all of a sudden going to make us the most dynamic kickoff coverage team in the NFL. It's detail. It's about shedding blocks and making tackles."

Kickoff returns are only part of the Steelers' problem. They have allowed a return touchdown -- on kickoffs, fumbles or interceptions -- in seven consecutive games, one off the team record of eight in 1993.


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The poor coverage and ill-timed turnovers are overshadowing an excellent season by a Steelers defense that has permitted only 11 touchdowns in nine games.

What's perplexing to Tomlin is how the Steelers have gotten so bad so quickly.

Last season, the Super Bowl champions had the NFL's best kickoff coverage unit, giving up an average of 19.1 yards and no touchdowns.

This season, the Steelers (6-3) are the fourth worst in kickoff coverage, yielding an average of 25.9 yards per return. Only the Raiders, with two, have permitted more than one kickoff return touchdown, and 23 of the league's 32 teams have allowed none.

Tomlin can find no trend or single reason why the coverage has slipped.

"No, they're all head-scratchers," Tomlin said. "You can just say it's an epiphany. You can say, `Wow, that's an interesting play.' But I don't choose to have that response. I look at it scientifically, if you will. For those things to happen there must be other elements at work where we're falling short. That's why we're working to make those necessary corrections."

Bernard Scott's 96-yard kickoff return score was the only touchdown for either team during Cincinnati's 18-12 victory Sunday that moved the Bengals (7-2) into first place in the AFC North.

"The ball was put in the corner, he started to the (middle of the) field, he stuck his foot in the ground and came to a complete stop, then redirected and went vertical and continued in the direction he initially started," Tomlin said. "Usually when kick returner comes to a stop, the play's usually dead."

Jeff Reed only halfheartedly tried to bring down Scott, but Tomlin won't blame a kicker for the latest touchdown. Kickers rarely have the speed, mobility or quickness to do more than get in the way of a returner downfield.

"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."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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