15 Months After Back Surgery, James Harrison Still Limited In OTA Sessions

Ah, don\’t you just love the smell of overreaction and speculation in June? It must mean that training camp is getting even closer for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team has been conducting their 2012 OTA sessions the last three weeks and it was reported today by Mark Kaboly of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that outside linebacker James Harrison has worked out, but has not practiced since the first week of organized team activities.

While it is way too early to run to your closest bridge to prepare for your jump because the 34-year old linebacker is not playing football in shorts in early June, it is worth notating that he is not on the field right now. While the reason is unknown as to why, we can only speculate that it might have something to do with his back or knees.

Harrison was first diagnosed with a herniated disc in his lower back in October of 2010 and at that time he was presented with the option of having surgery then, which would have shelved him for the rest of the 2010 season, or play through it and put off surgery until after the season ended. Harrison opted for the second option and he had the first of his two back procedures done just over two weeks after the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Nine days after that he needed a clean-up procedure done in addition.

At the time of the surgery by Dr. Joseph Maroon told Harrison that his recovery time would be 12-18 months, but Harrison was on the field in week one when the Steelers played the Baltimore Ravens. Harrison was clearly not himself and told Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider as much just a few weeks ago when the Steelers started their first OTA session. Harrison told Wexell that it was tough even for him to make it through some training camp practices because of constant back pain.

Harrison also called the orbital bone fracture that he suffered against the Houston Texans in week four a blessing of sorts, as it gave him four additional weeks of rest. Even then, Harrison admitted in the interview that he was only at best 90% when he returned to the lineup. Harrison claimed during the Steelers first OTA session of 2012 that he is doing a whole lot better than he was last year at this time, but that he has since toned down his workouts to twice a day instead of three times a day.

After Harrison had his first surgery, he became active on Twitter during all of his down time, and has posted several photos of his acupuncture sessions that seem to be very common occurrence for him. He is now slowly approaching the 16 month mark after his second back procedure took place, so it likely shouldn\’t be surprising that he is not yet working fully and on a regular basis. With mandatory mini-camp scheduled for next week, it would be surprising to hear that the former undrafted Kent State product is on the field participating fully, if any.

Marron was quoted in a story that ran Sunday in the Trib as saying in regard to the discectomy performed on Harrison, ” Surgically, you do the best you can to decompress the nerve, then hope the rest of the disc stays intact.” My thoughts are, let\’s hope it can stay intact one more season.

The start of training camp will be the real test for Harrison, as that is when he should be getting up to full speed and his conditioning should be ramping up for the start of the 2012 season. He is under contract through the 2014 season and the Steelers chose not to restructure his contract to free up much needed salary cap room this off-season even though Harrison reportedly was willing to do so. Had they indeed restructured him, it would have been a huge gamble with future cap money based on his age and the beginnings of his back problems.

Let\’s face it, while it is only early June, it\’s not too early to be concerned that Harrison will not miss any games this year because of his back. At the very least he will likely need to be spelled more than he would like this upcoming season in an attempt to save as much wear and tear on his back as possible. It will be curious to see how many days Harrison misses once training camp gets underway and how much work third year linebacker Jason Worilds gets at the right outside linebacker spot during the preseason.

To end this piece on a positive note, Harrison still managed to record 23.5 sacks in the last two seasons including the playoffs with nearly all of them coming after he was first diagnosed with his disc herniation. Talk about super human. Let\’s hope that I never have to reference this post any during the regular season, and that it is just looked back on as an overreaction to a player with back problems not playing football in shorts in the early part of June.

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