PITTSBURGH – Steelers special teams coach Bob Ligashesky smiled and said little when asked about Anthony Madison.
“We coach the guys we got,” Ligashesky said.
Madison led the Steelers last season with 25 special-teams tackles, and then led them in postseason tackles with 7. But he was cut after camp and picked up by the Cleveland Browns, who just released him this week.
Madison played against the Steelers, and tackled Stephan Logan on the opening kickoff after Logan appeared to have burst into the clear. Madison held contain and made the tackle, something the Steelers haven’t done well the last two games.
The Steelers have given up touchdown returns of 98 yards to Josh Cribbs and 88 yards to Percy Harvin the last two games. The last time the Steelers allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season was 1994.
The unit that ranked first in the league in covering kicks last year (19.1) now ranks 23rd at an all-time franchise high (stats go back to 1969) average of 24.5 yards per return.
Well, besides Madison, James Harrison and Andre Frazier, the Steelers believe it’s fundamentals. So they went back to basics this week, breaking out the sleds and the tackling dummies and the ball-on-a-stick from the shed.
“We re-emphasized those fundamentals at the time of the bye week,” Ligashesky said.
“That’s all it is,” said Arnold Harrison. “It’s the middle of the season and we’ve got to remember all the things that got us to the point we’re at. It’s all about getting back to the basics. We’re going to be fine.”
A splash of talent wouldn’t hurt. The Steelers admitted their mistake once in cutting Chidi Iwuoma. They re-signed him during the Bill Cowher era. Why not admit the mistake and re-sign Madison?
“I’m not going to get into that,” said Keyaron Fox. “But you definitely can.”
Madison (25) and Fox (21) were the only special-teamers last season with more than 12 tackles. Madison has been replaced by an array of gunners and contain men to little success.
Perhaps the Steelers will need Keiwan Ratliff as a spare safety on Monday, and perhaps a game-day roster opening affords rookie Keenan Lewis an opportunity to showcase his talents. If Mike Tomlin remains displeased after the game, he could bring Madison back in the future.
And what about James Harrison? An explosive special-teams coverage man the last five seasons, Harrison has yet to cover a kick this season. Might he make a surprise appearance Monday night to help contain Broncos return man Eddie Royal?
“I guess you’ll have to find out,” was all Ligashesky would say.
Of course, the Steelers will have Frazier back. In spite of missing the last two games with a quadriceps injury, the reserve linebacker has 10 special-teams tackles to remain second on the team to Fox’s 12.
Frazier’s absence the last two games has been cited by some who attempt to explain the two touchdown returns.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that,” Frazier said. “They know that I love to make the tackles, I love to be the guy getting patted on the back, so maybe that’s why my name’s being thrown around.”
It’s all about the standard remaining the same with Tomlin, no matter who steps in and plays. Yet, the numbers say otherwise. They say the standard has slipped dramatically, even historically.
NOTES – The only players to miss Thursday’s practice were Travis Kirschke (calf) and Lawrence Timmons (ankle).