Head coach Mike Tomlin preached caution when it comes to expecting the newly re-signed James Harrison to contribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ winning efforts on defense, emphasizing that little is determined at this point.
While that may be true, he gave a similar speech regarding the participation of another veteran re-signing late in the process, defensive end Brett Keisel.
While Keisel is not yet starting, he is logging as much time as starting left defensive end Cam Thomas is on defense. He did not participate in the first game the Steelers played during the preseason after his signing, but he did get a long look in the finale.
Meanwhile, Harrison has a notoriously physical and demanding workout regimen, and is known to take care of his body. While he acknowledged that he is in shape, but not football shape, simply because he hasn’t played, I don’t expect it to take too long to get him there.
Harrison is probably healthier than he had been from a physical standpoint during the last few seasons of his tenure with the Steelers. He had an admittedly lighter workload playing rotationally in Cincinnati’s 4-3 defense, and has only been left to his own devices throughout the offseason.
In other words, I don’t believe that physical limitations will be a concern for Harrison’s contributions within a week or two. I made that mistake as I preached caution about Keisel being worked into the fold, and if he was able to do it, Harrison should be able to as well.
The greater concern for Harrison, of course, would be Arthur Moats, who joined the Steelers not conceding to being a backup. Moats, in fact, might be the team’s best option at outside linebacker right now, even if Jarvis Jones were healthy.
The former Bill came in and filled in very well for Jones on Sunday night, logging his first sack with the Steelers and consistently pressuring the quarterback, which isn’t really something anybody on the team has quite managed yet.
The other major concern, from my perspective, regarding getting Harrison on the field, is that the team simply doesn’t rotate linebackers the way they do defensive linemen.
On this defense, reserve linemen can be expected to play in excess of 30-40 snaps per game, either in sub-packages or just rotating to give the starters a rest. While the Steelers have been rotating linebackers a slight bit over the last two years, it’s not comparable.
The linebacker rotation has actually largely been due to inexperience, as was the case with Jones and Jason Worilds rotating last year. Likewise with Kion Wilson and Vince Williams, and then Williams and Terence Garvin.
I suspect that the Steelers will use Moats and Harrison in a platoon before much longer, but I don’t believe that will apply to the left side. Worilds has played all but one snap on defense thus far this year, and that one snap came during the one instance of the Steelers running the big nickel with four defensive linemen and no outside backers.