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There They Go Again … Disrespecting James Harrison

There has been a lot of “dissing” going on again with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

It was only last year during the offseason when NFL experts both local and far away were using the word “done” when discussing what was left in the career tank of James Harrison.

Too old. Too slow. Too…done.

In fact it took an injury to Jarvis Jones at the beginning of last season to get general manager Kevin Colbert to swallow his pride and offer James Harrison another opportunity to don Black and Gold.

All Harrison did was rise off of the couch and open a can of whoop on all of his opponents and his many detractors.

With the potato chip crumbs barely dusted off his temporarily retired jersey, Harrison stepped onto Heinz Field and instantly transformed a soft, backpedaling Steelers defense into one worthy of at least a little respect.

No. No one would have confused the 2014 Steelers defense with the Steel Curtain by any stretch, but Harrison’s return to the starting line immediately added some metal to the team’s defensive spine.

In several games, (and with apologies to Lawrence Timmons and Cameron Heyward), Harrison was hands down the best defender on the field.

Still, with the 2015 season yet to be hatched, the name calling of Harrison is happening all over again.

Mentor. Coach. Part timer. Role model. Substitute. Limited repper.

Really? How about “feared NFL player and one of the Steelers all-time greats”?

Yes. Thirty-seven is the one glaring stat that has drawn everyone’s focus. That is the number of years that Harrison has been here with us intimidating the planet.

But what his doubters seem to forget is the NFL was slow to discover Harrison’s greatness. Because of questions of his height, 40-times in boxers and an…uh um…ornery temperament…he was released by both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens on several occasions.

It took years for him to become a starter and initiate the heavy abuse of his body. Don’t forget that he didn’t play much in Cincinnati. From a wearability perspective his NFL age is more around 32 or 33 which is still within prime for edge rushers. Elvis Dumervil is 31. Mario Williams is 30. Terrell Suggs is 32. DeMarcus Ware is 32. Cameron Wake is 33. All of those old-timers broke double digits in sacks last season with Dumervil registering an impressive 17.

Also…there are few people in the NFL who take better care of their physique. Perhaps most important is that Harrison, unlike last year, has had an entire offseason to prepare.

His ornery temperament won’t ever age. And these rare dispositions are celebrated in Pittsburgh and are priceless in regards to the identity of the defense. In fact, many fans would have even given Joe Greene or Greg Lloyd a few reps at the beginning of last season when the Steelers were having their lunch money stolen before Harrison arrived.

Harrison also is playing a position that ages more gracefully than others on defense. He’ll be the strongest linebacker on the team until he is well past fifty and until then he’ll be the best at holding the edge. He doesn’t need to cover wide receivers on fly patterns and he never bothered dancing around tackles anyway, preferring to tip them over like cows across Wisconsin grasslands.

No. James Harrison isn’t “done” or just a back-up or there merely to help Jarvin Jones find his way. As the author of the greatest play n Super Bowl history, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and just eight sacks shy of the Steelers all-time record, Harrison’s legacy has many pages still in need of ink.

Think Harrison has given up on Hall of Fame contention? What would a dominating year this season and a Super Bowl victory do to heighten his chances?

Realizing there are about 31 offensive tackles in the league who would be thrilled to see Harrison on the sidelines, there shouldn’t be a single Steelers coach or fan who should wish the same.

Forget about all of this talk about edge rusher being a job for Jones to lose. Jones may one day become a great linebacker, but he has yet to truly show flashes of that potential.

After the Jason Worilds travesty do Steelers fans really want to sit Harrison just so Jones can get a chance to raise his free agency numbers in a couple of years? This doesn’t mean Jones shouldn’t get his shot. But why not let him battle it out on the left with journeyman Arthur Moats and rookie Bud Dupree?

Injury is certainly a possibility with Harrison’s age and that may allow Jones to seize the moment at that point. But if Jones wants Harrison’s job, he should earn it the old fashioned way. He can pry it out of Harrison’s clenched fingers.

Good luck with that kid.

Until that happens, Steelers Nation should celebrate the two year contract they have with James Harrison and cheer him heartily as he sacks NFL quarterbacks, his many naysayers…and even Father Time.

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