Updated: 8:20 p.m.
Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons dreaded the cut that would release long snapper Brad St. Louis. But in the end he concluded, "We've got to put this fire out."
St. Louis' distinguished career of 10 years and 144 games came to an end Tuesday when the Bengals decided they could no longer afford the inconsistencies of his short snaps that took at least 11 points off the board this season and turned to 25-year-old Clark Harris, who has snapped in just four regular-season games, all in the final month of last season for the Texans.
"It's nothing you ever want to do to a guy you've worked with for seven years," Simmons said Tuesday night. "Brad is a guy we all admire, but we have to put this fire out."
The 6-5, 257-pound Harris, a seventh-round pick of the Packers in 2007, is a little taller, heavier and younger than the 6-3, 243-pound St. Louis, 32. But Simmons doesn't care as long Harris provides no drama on field goals and extra points.
"(Harris) is a good young snapper on the rise who long snapped (for Houston) in the preseason," Simmons said. "He's a got good velocity and he's a good athlete, a tight end in college, so he can cover."
Even though the Bengals play the Texans on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, this isn't a move to pick up a guy to help with the playbook, although it probably won't hurt. But it is a move with much larger ramifications. St. Louis, a seventh-round pick himself in 2000 and the last Bengal left from PBS' inaugural team, is the only snapper kicker Shayne Graham has ever had in his seven seasons with the club and is an integral part of Graham's fourth-place ranking on the NFL's all-time accuracy list at 84.69 percent.
St. Louis would have held the fifth-longest consecutive games streak in Bengals history if he played against Houston. Instead, he's now tied with tight end Tony McGee at 117.
But a total of six inaccurate snaps (mostly high) forced the Bengals to move on and has contributed to Graham's two blocks this season on seven field-goal tries. He's only 4-of-7 and missed a 52-yarder on which the snap looked decent.
Yet a high snap during the opener cost the Bengals an aborted short field goal in a 12-7 loss to the Broncos and another high snap cost them an extra point in the 23-20 win over Pittsburgh Sept. 27.
The problems became more glaring the last two weeks. A high snap on a short field goal attempt in Cleveland resulted in a block at the end of the first series and a wayward snap prevented Graham from kicking the winning extra point with 1:55 left in regulation on another block. But St. Louis snapped the winning 31-yard field goal with four seconds left in overtime.
On Sunday in Baltimore, Graham hesitated on a 32-yard field-goal attempt on a snap that holder Kevin Huber had to reach up to grab and it got blocked. After Graham made a 32-yarder later in the first half, St. Louis wheeled an extra-point snap several feet over Huber's head. But an illegal formation call against the Ravens allowed the Bengals to kick it over and the next two extra-point snaps turned out to be good.
It was that ability to always end the game on a positive, as well as St. Louis's superb punt snapping, that prevented the Bengals from pulling the trigger. A bad punt snap can cost a team seven points in the form of a touchdown rather than merely a field goal or extra points.
"Brad is the best I've been around when it comes to knowledge of what the other teams are going to do against us on punt rush," Simmons said. "He's an extension of a coach; he is like a coach out there."
But the missed points were beginning to mount.
It wasn't always like that. The problems seemed to come out of nowhere. Teamed with St. Louis, Graham made the first 160 extra points in his first three-and-half-years with the Bengals as well as becoming the team's most accurate kicker of all time and a perennial top five all-timer. St. Louis did have three bad extra-point snaps in '06, the most notorious of which was one with 40 seconds left that would have given the Bengals a tie in Denver in the next-to-last game of the season. The Bengals had to win just one of the last three games to make the playoffs and lost them all.
After the Denver fail, Graham hit his next 58 PATs until St. Louis sailed one over Huber's head against Pittsburgh three weeks ago.
Harris, a New Jersey product who played tight end at Rutgers, was also a seventh-round pick. The Packers drafted him in 2007 before he spent time on the Green Bay and Detroit practice squads. After he got cut in this preseason on Cutdown day, he resurfaced on the Texans practice squad for a week before getting cut last week.
The move makes wide receiver Chad Ochocinco the senior Bengal with 126 games in nine seasons.
Simmons knows another argument for staying pat is even though the operation was struggling, they were used to each other. Now Harris comes in cold Wednesday to work with Huber and Graham.
"What does it matter? We have to be able to snap the ball, hold the ball, and kick the ball," Simmons said. "It doesn't matter if it's me or Marvin (Lewis) long snapping. We've got to do all those things."