Everything has been late coming for Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison over the course of the past year. Around this time in 2014, he was gearing up to retire after not receiving a contract—or at least one that he was comfortable signing—until the Steelers came calling in September with a need at the position.
Despite coming back as arguably their best outside linebacker by the end of the season, the Steelers did not re-sign him right away in the offseason, working out a deal with Arthur Moats first and bringing in other pass rushers to augment their losses.
After eventually being inked to a two-year contract, he took a back seat during the spring, working with the second-team defense. And now, to start training camp, head coach Mike Tomlin kept him on the sidelines in sweat pants for the first couple of weeks.
That is until he was unleashed yesterday on a day that for many seemed like the true start of the Steelers’ training camp following a fairly dismal showing in a 14-3 loss to the Vikings during the Hall of Fame game.
Indeed, after a relative lull in activity late in the week prior to the game, in part due to the number of injured players out in the sideline, training camp reports today excitedly described a much more spirited session on both sides of the ball, with Harrison’s debut playing a key role in that.
Of course, a number of other players returned from injury, including all 22 starters on both sides of the ball, although two continued to sit out team drills as a precaution. With so many key figures back in action, perhaps it’s not so surprising to see that there was a different energy level than in the few practice session prior.
However, there is certainly a sense that Tomlin walked a line between aggression and pacing the action in the first two weeks of camp, knowing that the Steelers had an extended preseason schedule as one of the two participants in the Hall of Fame game, and that the energy would pick up after the first game.
Tomlin ended up sitting more than half of his starters for the Hall of Fame game, and his team managed to produce just three points. But the veteran head coach got the opportunity to get a long look at some key players, including young starters, players with question marks, and longshots to make the roster.
It should be expected that the Steelers will resume a schedule more reminiscent of how the rest of the league is going about their training camp sessions, and will be particularly obvious in the preseason participation charts.
Harrison, of course, will make sure to keep the energy level up during practice, as Heath Miller was reminded yesterday. The 37-year-old is a tone-setter for the team, something that Tomlin knows, so it should be no surprise that his training camp debut coincides with the sort of unofficial second beginning of training camp.