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Tomlin defends using LB as emergency snapper

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin vigorously defended his decision to use Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison as an emergency long snapper, a move that may have cost the team its game against the Giants on Sunday.

Tomlin denied Tuesday the team didn't have an emergency snapper ready after Greg Warren tore a knee ligament, saying two linebackers -- Harrison and James Farrior -- practiced the specialist's role.

Age: 25

Height: 6-5  Weight: 260

College: TCU

Experience: 1st season

"James snaps at least once a week, every week since I've been here," Tomlin said of Harrison, a Pro Bowl starter and team MVP last season. "In practice and training camp is one thing. Inside stadiums and in the fourth quarter of a football game against the defending world champions is another thing. ... If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing. I'd hope for a different outcome, but I'd do it again."

Harrison's snap sailed over punter Mitch Berger's head for a game-tying safety in the fourth quarter. Given excellent field position following the ensuing free kick, the Giants drove for the decisive touchdown with about three minutes remaining and a 21-14 victory.

Some fans questioned why Tomlin didn't use center Justin Hartwig or right guard Darnell Stapleton, a former Rutgers center, for such an important snap. Tomlin explained that punt snapping is much different from centering the ball to the quarterback, even in a shotgun formation.

"Two totally different skill sets," Tomlin said.

Tomlin gave a lengthy explanation for a decision that made the Steelers (5-2) look ill-prepared. On Monday, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he has three players capable of being a long snapper, including his backup center.

Being a center doesn't prepare a lineman to snap, Tomlin said, because velocity is as important as accuracy -- one reason why NFL teams carry a player who does nothing but snap to the punter.

"A center in shotgun snaps with one hand," Tomlin said. "When you're a long snapper in a punt situation, you're a two-handed snapper. Velocity is very important. Operation time, snap to kick, defines you.

"Velocity and accuracy are less important from a center standpoint because you cut down on distance. Really, it's a significant distance. Anybody is capable of delivering a shotgun snap."

Warren was placed on injured reserve and is out for the season. Jared Retkofsky, a rookie free agent cut during training camp, was signed to replace him after the Steelers worked out three other snappers.

With punter Mitch Berger's sore left hamstring also a worry, left-footed punter Ricky Schmitt joined the practice squad. Schmitt, from Shepherd University, was cut by the Cardinals in 2007 and the 49ers this year.

As a result, the Steelers may have a new punter, long snapper and holder for Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins (6-2). Berger also is kicker Jeff Reed's holder so, if he can't play, wide receiver Hines Ward would hold.

Backup quarterback Charlie Batch was the backup holder last season, but he is out with a broken collarbone.

"Hines has done it every week, twice a week since Charlie went down," Tomlin said. "Hines has a little comfort and continuity with Jeff."

And if a punter gets hurt in a game, Tomlin said, Reed can punt.

The Steelers also are expected to be without safety Ryan Clark (dislocated shoulder) against the Redskins, his former team.

Unlike last season, when Anthony Smith started after Clark developed spleen and gall bladder problems following a midseason game against Denver, Tyrone Carter probably would replace him in Washington.

Smith created a stir by guaranteeing the Steelers would upset the then-undefeated Patriots, only to be benched one game after being beaten on several pass plays during New England's 34-13 victory.

Left tackle Marvel Smith, whose back problems may be worsening, remains listed as day to day. Running back Willie Parker, out for four games with a knee injury, worked out Tuesday and hopes to play.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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