The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with a number of aging talents that epitomized success in the community during the height of their careers. While their on-field assets may have diminished over the years, however, one should not underestimate the ripple effect that their departures could have within the locker room.
While the concepts of camaraderie and leadership may be somewhat elusive when it comes to the team chemistry of a sports team, there is no doubt some truth to the idea that these qualities help build a winning team, especially when it comes to a game as interconnected with one another as is football.
The last several offseasons have seen some quality championship characters exit stage right, and their vacant lockers no doubt diminished the overall character of the room as a whole. Just recently, the team saw both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retire, even if their departures were already in the plans for this spring.
The question now becomes identifying who the new locker room leaders are, both now and in the future. I believe we do have some immediate answers, with a few waiting to be developed in the coming years, so let’s get to know some of these men who are leading the locker room these days for the Steelers.
While it may have once been unthinkable to say, outside linebacker James Harrison has become a leader late in his career in the locker room in ways that were seemingly unpredictable at the height of his career.
Often regarded as a sort of a lone wolf, particularly when it comes to dealing with the media, the elder statesman of the linebacker group has become a more amicable personality, and perhaps a more humble one, since returning to the Steelers.
Of course, he also thought that his career was over when he retired back in September, believing that he didn’t have a chance to play anymore, but a freak injury changed that, and with that, I think, came a deeper appreciation for the opportunity that lay before him.
His experience during the past season was so rewarding, both physically and emotionally, that he decided to come back for another season, which was unthinkable even to himself when he first came back, but he came out of the year feeling better than expected.
Even before actually being re-signed, though, Harrison was already working with the Steelers’ young linebackers, bringing them out to Arizona to train with them and to show them how he takes care of his body. And considering he’s soon to be 37, with the shape that he’s in, that will obviously have an influence.
And of course we learned that that influential role was a key factor in the Steelers’ decision to bring him back yet again on a two-year deal, though he’s not likely to see the second year of that contract.
I don’t know that he can teach Jarvis Jones to ever be a dominant pass rusher—that is more Joey Porter’s job, after all—but if he can instill his work ethic and determination upon this young linebacker group, and have that carry over by extension throughout the defense, then that shows just what type of leader he is in the locker room.