It was, in a lot of ways, a typical Pittsburgh Tuesday in November. Gray, rainy, not cold but not a nice day to be outside, either. And the Steelers trying out a new kicker.
It was a Tuesday in November 2002 – Nov. 19 – a day not unlike today in terms of climate, when the Steelers conducted a workout at Heinz Field that found them a placekicker. On that 2002 Tuesday, Jeff Reed emerged from the pack and took Todd Peterson's job. On this 2010 Tuesday, Shaun Suisham emerged from a workout at Heinz Field and took Reed's job.
"Jeff has had a distinguished career here," said Coach Mike Tomlin about the team's decision to cut Reed. "He has had a lot of individual success and contributed to our success as a team, but at this juncture we thought it was appropriate for us to make a change on our football team at that position."
And so it was that the Steelers parted ways with Reed, who had carved out a nine-year career where he rose to No. 2 on the franchise's points scored list with 919. Reed had come into 2010, his ninth NFL season, having made 83.3 percent of his field goals, and in the playoffs he was 16-of-18 for his career, with the only two misses coming in his rookie season of 2002. But after nine games this season, Reed was making only 68.2 percent (15-of-22).
"It's more of an accumulation with where we are," said Tomlin in explaining the decision. "The kicking position is one that merits a special consideration. It is unlike other positions where you can simply bench someone and go to the backup. There's only one kicker on a football team, so you don't take these decisions lightly when you have to make a move. We are very respectful to the work that Jeff has done here, but at this time we thought it was appropriate we make a change."
Back in 2002, the Steelers were hunting for a kicker who wouldn't be intimidated by Heinz Field, and the search wasn't going well. Kris Brown decided to leave the team via free agency after one season kicking at Heinz Field, and Peterson didn't even last a full year. Reed was the next choice, at least partly because he seemed to be immune to the many issues that make Heinz Field so difficult for kickers, from it being at outdoor venue in the Northeast, to its open end that faces the rivers, to the natural grass surface that cannot be pristine once winter sets in.
But in 2010, Reed seemed to lose a bit of his mojo at Heinz Field. He missed a 40-yarder vs. the Falcons on Sept. 12 that would have ended a game in regulation the Steelers then won in overtime on Rashard Mendenhall's 50-yard touchdown run; he missed two attempts (49 yards and 45 yards) in a 17-14 loss to the Ravens on Oct. 3; and then he missed a 26-yard attempt last Sunday night against the Patriots.
After the game, Reed didn't help himself with his comments to the media. "I'm not one to make excuses. I'll take the credit for the miss. It was a great snap, a great hold, great protection. It's kind of hard when you plant your foot and the hole – a piece of ground moves where the ball's under the holder. I almost missed the ball completely. I'm not going to make excuses. If you've played any kind of sports in your life, you realize that what we play on is not very good turf. It happens."
When asked specifically about what Reed said and whether that was a contributing factor in the decision, Tomlin again focused on what was happening on the field. "Again we just looked at the cumulative body of work, where we are and how we move forward. We felt like at this time it justified a change."
During the playoffs, specifically the team's two Super Bowl championships in 2005 and 2008, Reed was money. He was 3-for-3 in 2005, including a 47-yard field goal to open the scoring in the AFC Championship Game in Denver, and he was 5-for-5 in 2008, including field goals of 34, 42 and 46 yards in that AFC Championship Game vs. the Ravens at Heinz Field.
But now the job belongs to Suisham, whom the Steelers originally signed as an undrafted rookie in 2005. His role that summer was as an extra leg in training camp, and he made his only field goal attempt of the preseason – from 46 yards.
Suisham has had two separate stints with both the Redskins and Cowboys, and he has made 87-of-110 field goal attempts (79.1 percent), with a long of 52 yards.
"Shaun Suisham was available, we worked him out, we like his resume and how he performed here today," said Tomlin. "He's experienced, of course, being here before. He is a veteran guy, no stranger to NFL competition, so we are extremely comfortable with the change and moving forward."
With nine years as the Steelers kicker, Reed was in a longevity class with the likes of Roy Gerela (eight seasons) and Gary Anderson (13 seasons) as far as recent franchise history. Gerela was the kicker on three Super Bowl championship teams, Matt Bahr on one and Reed on two.
"It comes with this position," said Tomlin about having to cut Reed. "I have to embrace the unpleasant things that come with this position like I embrace the pleasant things. I don't shy away from it by any stretch. It's apart of this business, one that I acknowledge. It's not an easy conversation, but we did have it."
INJURY UPDATE: Said Tomlin, "Will Allen (concussion) is still a question mark. Crezdon Butler had a quad strain in the game. He can be characterized as questionable. Brett Keisel is still working on his hamstring. We'll see where he is later in the week. Chris Kemoeatu has an ankle sprain. We're going to get him going here, and hopefully he's going to be available to us. Lawrence Timmons has a hip contusion. It may limit him in the early portion of the week. We expect him to come back. Troy Polamalu has a right Achilles strain. We're probably going to slow him down for the early portions of the week just like Heath Miller last week, with an eye towards practicing at the latter part of the week, and being able to play. We expect him to be able to play."
About Hines Ward, Tomlin said, "I expect Hines Ward to be available for this upcoming game. He was diagnosed with a concussion, and he cleared the post-concussion test. We will continue to be conscious as we move forward. We've seen things change courses, as we saw last week with Will Allen. He had sustained a concussion a few weeks ago and cleared. As the week wore on, he had experienced a headache Saturday morning. We acted appropriately, as we will do."