Former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Greg Lloyd gregarious, gentlemanly pass rusher the team has had throughout its history. He was known for wearing a t-shirt that read “I Wasn’t Hired For My Disposition”.
And yet, ironically, it was that surly, nasty on-field disposition that did get him hired, in a sense, in that it made him successful on the field. Following a break in which Jason Gildon manned the critical right outside linebacker spot, Joey Porter became the spiritual successor to the enforcer role that Lloyd held with the team.
And after Porter was James Harrison, who took over the blindside pass rushing spot from his now position coach in 2007, and proceeded to reel off five straight Pro Bowl seasons, with a Defensive Player of the Year mixed in for good measure.
Now soon to be 37 years old, Harrison is outwardly as intimidating as ever—but that doesn’t mean that he’s exactly the same player that he’s always been. You even see it come out on the field, not simply in his adjusting his strike zone following a flurry of fines a few years back, but in the manner in which he conducts himself.
Back in 2009, during a Week Seven contest against the Minnesota Vikings, the Steelers held a 10-point lead with just four seconds remaining as Brett Favre attempted to lead his team down the field in a game he couldn’t win.
Harrison ended the game by planting Favre into the dirt with a sack, leaving his feet in the process and driving him down. He took a couple of seconds for himself to savor the moment before he drew the ire of Minnesota’s linemen. The NFL once fined Lloyd, back in 1995, for hitting Favre too hard, in case you were wondering.
Flash forward five years. It’s Week Nine and the Steelers are looking to get back at the Baltimore Ravens after an early season upset. Harrison was a wrecking ball, with seven tackles, two sacks, and multiple pressures that forced an interception and other incompletions.
Late in the second quarter, on a second and eight play, Joe Flacco looked for his tight end down the field, but Harrison came inside on the blitz and induced an errant pass. He leveled the quarterback, slamming him to the ground, but quickly offered a hand up and a pat on the helmet.
Now he’s back, and he brings the same nastiness on the field that he always has, when it counts—during the play, not after. He seems to enjoy the game more, to enjoy his surroundings more, cherishing the twilight of his professional career.
And according to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, part of that process has included taking on a mentorship role for what is largely a young linebacker group. He just recently had a bunch of them out west training with him, in fact, and Colbert cited his mentorship as the reason the team chose to re-sign him now rather than wait, which they considered doing.
We actually thought about [signing him later]. But the values that he provides right now for those young guys we think trumps waiting.
He’s valuable in the building right now. He’s been in the building voluntarily since really the end of the season. It’s been amazing to watch. And those young guys see it and they’re like, “OK, I think I’m supposed to do that, too”. They’re all kind of following his lead.
I really think he’s taken on a mentorship role and seems to really be enjoying it, and I think that’s important.
Those who were in favor of waiting on Harrison argued that he would be of little assistance to the development of the rest of the linebacker unit, who will have to take over when he leaves, and that signing him now would just be a detriment to his physical conditioning.
They evidently haven’t met the new James Harrison, who may lead by example more than in any other way, but nonetheless is helping nurture the growth of a linebacker unit that could certainly use a veteran such as himself to show the right way to go about his job, a job for which he very much has the right disposition.