Posted: 8:15 p.m.
Clark Harris, the new Bengals long snapper, always wears gloves. Now the idea is to make him fit into the Bengals special teams like a glove.
Harris is a loosey-goosey guy that can give a good quote and won't mind doing so. But on Wednesday after dealing with the biggest media horde since he caught 143 balls in his career at Rutgers, he offered, "As long as you don't hear my name after this week, I'm happy."
Brad St. Louis, who has long-snapped 144 games during the past decade, heard his name much too much this season because NFL long snappers are supposed to be like children and seen not heard.
"A new beginning, a new day," special teams coach Darrin Simmons said as he came in off the practice field after Harris' first snap for a field goal was right on time for Shayne Graham's perfect 35-yarder in the opening of individual drills. "We couldn't keep going on the same road we were going. Especially the way our season is starting to shape up. We felt like we couldn't do that anymore."
The total was three missed field-goal chances and two for extra points this season, largely because of high snaps. When St. Louis couldn't snap out of it, Simmons concluded it wasn't just a phase, but a problem.
That's how it all ends in the NFL after a decade. Not with a bang or a whimper. One day there's just a new guy in the locker room.
"I've been cut before," said Graham in an understatement because it's been five times. "But I never had that feeling when I had family and kids and a wife. There's a big impact there and that's emotionally hard. But Brad understands the business. He's seen what's gone on. He's a grown man. He understands it and he was professional about it and we'll continue to be friends."
St. Louis is the only snapper Graham and Simmons have had in their seven seasons in Cincinnati and he has been a key figure in Graham becoming the only Bengals Pro Bowl kicker, owner of several of the club's kicking records, and the fourth-most accurate kicker of all-time.
But Graham has been around long enough to know that things change. He got his own shot because of injury and he recalled when he arrived here off the waiver wire in 2003, he had the same amount of time to get in sync with St. Louis and holder Nick Harris before the opener. He went on to hit every extra point that year and set a team record hitting 88 percent of his field goals.
He also remembers signing with the Panthers in 2002 moments before getting on a plane to Green Bay and not working with his holder and snapper until pregame.
"We already have our timing," Graham said. "We expect him to fit right into our timing, so we're not going to put any pressure on him to change a thing to fit us. It's going to work smoothly and just like changing a piece out of a machine and putting a new piece in, you expect it to work."
The 6-5, 256-pound Harris is what came out of the crate Wednesday and Graham says it won't take very long to get into sync with him and holder Kevin Huber.
"I don't think it's going to be a thing that is going to be a hard-to-get-used-to-thing because just watching him practice, he snaps it very smoothly," Graham said. "He's relaxed and seems very confident and confidence is something Kevin and I have to maintain no matter what. We automatically think it's going to be good no matter who the snapper is. We're going in there thinking he's going to do a good job for us."
Simmons likes Harris's easy, outgoing New Jersey (Manahawkin) personality because Simmons gets the sense not much is going to affect Harris, as well as his experience as a tight end both in college and on his three-year sojourn around the NFL.
"It's not like the pressure of the game affects him," Simmons said. "I think that's a little different with position players as opposed to specialists. They don't think about the situation, they just react because they've played so much."
What Simmons has in mind is Harris' first NFL game back on Dec. 7 on the Lambeau tundra when he snapped Kris Brown's winning fourth-quarter 40-yarder to give the Texans a 24-21 win over Green Bay in what he called two-degree temperatures.
What Harris has in mind is that the Packers were the team that drafted him in the seventh round. Now he's playing the Texans this Sunday. As he did that day in Green Bay, he'll be wearing gloves.
"I always wear gloves," said Harris, who picked up the habit during his three-and-a-half seasons as the Rutgers long snapper as well as the tight end.
"I didn't wear them in high school, but they were free in college so I started using them," Harris said. "But when we had to punt, I had to run to the sidelines, throw my gloves off, wipe my hands on a towel and run back out. I was getting more tired doing that, so I slowly learned how to snap with gloves and now I love it. Every ball feels the same."
Besides the media, Harris has to make one other adjustment to a regimen he's never known during practice squad stints with Green Bay, Detroit, Houston, and his four-game stretch with the Texans last year in the regular season. Harris has always worked with the tight ends in practice while fitting in the long snaps during the specialty period. But in Cincinnati, he'll be with Graham, Huber and Simmons the entire practice.
Early on Wednesday, Harris reminded Simmons that he's never snapped so much and he was worried about overdoing it. Simmons gently reminded him this wasn't exactly his first rodeo and proceeded to give him a combination of at least 50 field-goal snaps and punt snaps.
"He's going to understand real quick the amount of time and energy we put into this thing," Simmons said.
And Harris is ready to do it after banging around to tryouts since the Texans cut him after this past training camp. He watched every game he could once the season started, especially those of the teams that worked him out. But even before the Bengals worked him out last week he said, "For some reason I was following them. I don't know why."
He has also already viewed every snap of the last two games and is looking forward to the extra work.
"It will help me refine my skills," he said, "but I know my body and I'll be able to tell if I wear down."
One of the overlooked elements of the move is St. Louis' ability on the punt team. A major reason the Bengals didn't cut him after four snafus on field goal and extra points in the first four games is because his punt snapping was still quick and impeccable and his knowledge of the opponent in pass protection and cover skills was highly valued until the mistakes kept mounting.
Don't laugh but Simmons, 35, a former punter at Kansas, feels pretty comfortable about Harris' blocking skills because Simmons couldn't beat him on the rush in the tryout. Simmons figures if he sees that Harris has what he needs and he's not beating him ("If he beats me I know there are plenty of other guys that can beat him," Simmons said) then he ought to be OK.
"He should be fine. He's a big athletic guy that can move his feet," Simmons said. "We certainly don't want to make sure we get field-goal snaps and then end up getting punts blocked. Field goal is just half the equation."
Graham took the blame for last week's 32-yard blocked kick, when he appeared to hesitate on a high snap. That was clear evidence the trust Simmons talks about the trio needing had been broken.
"There's always some adjustment time. They need to react like a quarterback and wide receiver and I fully anticipate us to be fine," Simmons said.
Simmons urged Graham that he has to keep moving forward, trusting that the ball is going to be on the spot. Graham admitted that he can't think about any variables: "We know he'll put the ball there."
Still, St, Louis wasn't far from their thoughts Wednesday. Simmons thinks he has to step back, clear his head, get away from it all, and then take another shot. He wouldn't even rule out St. Louis, 32, surfacing at Bengals training camp next year.
Much, of course, depends on if Harris can glove the job or if St. Louis can cure the yips.
"I've witnessed this guy do a lot of good things over the years," Simmons said. "He's had a rough stretch here without question. The past couple of years haven't been good and I think he knows that and we're all aware of that. I know damn good and well Brad doesn't want to go out like that. It's just a matter of him getting his mind right whether it's here or someplace else. I think he can still play."
But Harris is the one playing Sunday, gloves and all.
He's just hoping nobody knows it.