LATROBE, Pa. – This really is no time to go shopping for a long-snapper.
With a second day of joint practices with the Buffalo Bills to begin in a few hours, with the team about to break training camp and head back to Pittsburgh, with a second preseason game looming at the end of the week, Greg Warren injuring his knee on Wednesday threatened to cast a cloud over what had been a relatively healthy stay at Saint Vincent College.
In his Wednesday post-practice press briefing, Coach Mike Tomlin said Warren had sustained a potentially serious leg injury, and that seemed especially ominous in light of the fact Warren had ended both the 2008 and 2009 seasons on injured reserve because of torn knee ligaments.
A subsequent examination of Warren revealed his injury to be to the meniscus in his right knee. Tomlin said Warren will have the meniscus repaired and could be sidelined somewhere in the neighborhood of four weeks.
"Greg Warren has been evaluated. He has a meniscus injury," said Tomlin. "That's going to be fixed soon. He's going to be out for a period of time. I don't have a detailed picture of what that is, maybe four weeks or so. We'll get him fixed and get him back to us."
Three bones meet to form a knee joint: the thigh bone, or femur; the shin bone, or tibia; and the kneecap, or patella. Within the knee joint are two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as shock absorbers between the femur and the tibia, and those are the meniscus, which cushion the joint and keep it stable.
Because NFL rosters currently are set at 90 players, the Steelers do have a backup long-snapper available, and Tomlin said Bryce Davis will handle those duties primarily in Saturday's preseason game against the Bills at Heinz Field.
"Bryce is the leading candidate," said Tomlin, "and that's why he was brought in here. He kind of plays tight end on the side."
Take a look at photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers practicing with the Buffalo Bills on the 14th day of Training Camp.
If Warren misses the full four weeks, or possibly even more, the Steelers will have to assemble a 53-man roster with a long-snapper other than him for the initial stage of the regular season. Maybe that turns out to be Davis, or maybe the team is forced to look for one when teams cut their rosters to 53 on Aug. 30. Either way, Tomlin doesn't take the job for granted, nor the players who do it.
"Like a lot of tasks, long-snapping doesn't get a lot of attention unless it's negative," said Tomlin. "I have a lot of respect for what Greg is capable of and the importance of the position."
That point was driven home in somewhat dramatic fashion back in 2008 when Warren tore his ACL during an Oct. 19 game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants at Heinz Field. With Warren suddenly unavailable, the Steelers had to turn to James Harrison as the long-snapper.
With 6:48 left in the fourth quarter of a game in which the Steelers held a 14-12 lead, Harrison's snap sailed over the head of punter Mitch Berger and out of the end zone for a safety that tied the game. After the free kick, the Giants drove for the touchdown that gave them the victory, 21-14.
As for the game against the Bills, Tomlin said the initial plan is for the first units to play more than they did in the preseason opener against the Giants. Traditionally, this has meant the starters playing into the second quarter.
"We're really going to take a similar approach that we took last time, in terms of we're going to play everybody who's healthy and capable of playing," said Tomlin. "We're going to play the first team more than we did against the Giants. I haven't really looked at a snap allocation yet, but rest assured we're going to get more exposure for those guys in this football game. It's a necessary step for us."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We have some guys who are potentially questionable in terms of their participation in the game against the Bills, but like the preseason opener we're going to hold out until the 11th hour to make a decision whether they're available or not. We want to try to give everybody an opportunity to play in this game. Jarvis Jones is nursing a groin; Ryan Shazier is nursing a knee bruise. Rob Blanchflower (ankle) is working his way back, he has worked extensively in the past couple of days and we expect him to participate in the game. Vince Williams (concussion) has a possibility of playing, and we'll see what he looks like from the ImPACT test standpoint."