Ever since suffering a knee injury at some point during the course of the game three weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison has been slow to return to the field. This was in spite of the fact that he had just recently taken over the starting position from Arthur Moats.
The Steelers were fortunate that they had the opportunity to take their time with Harrison returning because Jarvis Jones was activated from the short-term injured reserve list the same week Harrison suffered his injury.
Over the last two weeks, Jones has seen the majority of snaps as the pass rushing right outside linebacker, playing in the nickel while Moats has started and played in the base defense.
During his Tuesday press conference, however, head coach Mike Tomlin sounded optimistic that Harrison was among the injured players that he felt could return to health and be able to play for the next game.
The question now is, will he even play?
Harrison, of course, was only signed during the season after Jones was injured in the third game, and his signing was likely only a result of the fact that the team chose to carry just three outside linebackers on the roster, and it’s hard to get by for half a season with only two.
But over the course of the nine gamest that he did play, both his performance and playing time steadily increased to the point where he came out with the starting defense in the last two games that he played.
That was before Jones, the starter at the beginning of the season, and the player taking most of the snaps at the position, returned. And Harrison does not play on special teams. Is it possible that Harrison could be a healthy scratch due to this fact?
It’s certainly a possibility, though the Steelers have a few options in this regard. Obviously, the team will in all likelihood be committed to getting Jones his snaps, as he is, they hope, the long-term answer at the position.
It’s possible that the Steelers deactivate Moats, who does contribute on special teams, but is not often a factor in that regard. With the return of both Jones and Shazier, it’s possible that those special teams snaps could be absorbed in that way.
It’s also possible that the Steelers could sit down Terence Garvin, even though he is one of the team’s best and most consistent players on special teams. He has only seen a small handful of snaps on defense this year, coming in unusual goal line packages that featured five and six linebackers on the field together.
With other injured players possibly also returning to health, the inactive list will be even more difficult to fill, which would not play in Harrison’s favor. Should he be healthy enough to play, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers manage the inactive list from here on out, now that they have nine healthy linebackers.