Steelers believe poor field conditions in Canton led to Suisham's injury
The Steelers have a new kicker, but remain angry over the circumstances that prompted them to sign Garrett Hartley to replace Shaun Suisham, injured Sunday night on the opening kickoff of the second half.
Many blame the 11-year-old FieldTurf at Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio, for causing the injuries to Suisham's left knee, a torn ACL and meniscus that likely will cause him to miss the 2015 season. They say the turf caused him to lose his footing while he ran down under his kickoff.
They also wonder why the Pro Football Hall of Fame waited until after their preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings to tear up the old artificial turf in order to install a new surface.
"I hated that turf," said safety Robert Golden, who shared the special teams co-captain duties with Suisham in 2014.
"It was old, chewed up, very hard. I'm just happy most of our guys got off healthy. Now they're redoing it? I don't agree with that, that's bad, putting us at risk like that on that turf."
Golden was there but did not play Sunday because of a knee injury, but fullback Will Johnson played on it — and slipped on it as well.
"I actually watched the play [when Suisham was hurt] and it looked like it happened before contact," Johnson said. "It was an unfortunate situation, and I think a lot of it has to do with the turf itself.
"I had a couple of plays there, especially in the middle of the field, where I was sliding. I saw a lot of guys losing their footing."
Joe Horrigan, vice president of communications/exhibits for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said the FieldTurf playing surface passed the Clegg impact test administered by the NFL before the game and was rendered acceptable. He said the turf is being removed as part of the stadium reconstruction that is scheduled to begin next month in which the field will be lowered by 12 feet.
"It kind of just boggles my mind if they knew it was so bad that they were going to tear it up they wouldn't have replaced it before we played on it,'' tight end Matt Spaeth said.
"It's been a long time since I've seen something that bad ... I wasn't happy about it, that's for sure."
Said Johnson, "If you want us to play out there once a year — 180 guys or so out there — something needs to be done. It's unfortunate that they're doing something after the game."
Hartley has experience: Hartley, 29, kicked briefly for the Cleveland Browns in 2014 after spending parts of five seasons and another on injured reserve with the New Orleans Saints, where he earned a Super Bowl XLIV ring after going 3 for 3 on field-goal attempts in that game.
He put the Saints into the Super Bowl by kicking a 40-yard field goal in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship.
Hartley began that season dubiously when he was suspended for the first four games by the NFL for testing for a banned stimulant. He missed the 2011 season with a hip injury. The Saints released him in December 2013 — after he missed eight field goal tries inside the 50 — and replaced him with Shayne Graham.
He beat out Jay Feely and Alex Henery in the kickoff competition Tuesday at Heinz Field, where they put the goalposts back up after taking them down for the U.S. women's national soccer team's game Sunday against Costa Rica.
"It's tough to replace a guy like Shaun," Spaeth said. "He's a good teammate, he's a good leader, he's a great kicker and he'll be missed."
Suisham surgery: Suisham is scheduled to have surgery today. The Steelers want to wait until after the surgery before they make a roster move with him so they are assured there is no chance he can return at any point this season. He converted 49 of his 54 field-goal tries over the past two seasons and his 87.9 success rate since he joined them in the middle of the 2010 season ranks as the best in their history. He also holds the top two season percentage bests of .938 in 2013 and .933 in 2010. His 24 consecutive field goals made is another team record. He signed a new contract last summer through the 2018 season.
"He's a key component to our special teams," Johnson said. "We live and die with him. It's kind of a guarantee 3 points whenever we get inside the red zone. That's definitely going to be a blow.
"That's part of the game, you're going to lose men along the journey, but, hopefully, the next guy will help fill Shaun's shoes."
The Steelers have had success finding their past two kickers under such circumstances. They signed Suisham, who had been with five different NFL teams in one form or another, after they soured on Jeff Reed in the 2010 season.
They signed Reed following a multi-kicker tryout in the rain at Heinz Field in 2002 because of an injury to Todd Peterson.
Hartley, who played for Oklahoma, has made 85 of 102 career field-goal tries (81.7 percent). He was 3 for 3 for the Browns last season. He made it to Latrobe in time to practice with the Steelers, wearing No. 8.