The NFL is a brutal sport. For players on the bubble, they’re often asked to play through injuries with the realization that each practice, each game missed is one step closer to turning in your playbook.
It’s a position former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Josh Harris is all too familiar with. Harris originally took to Twitter (Edit: A now deleted tweet) to note that he played through a torn labrum and turf toe during the preseason.
He suffered the shoulder injury early in camp, an MRI revealing the torn labrum, and wound up missing the Hall of Fame game against the Minnesota Vikings. Harris returned the next week but injured his toe on his second carry against Jacksonville, forcing him out of the following week’s contest against the Green Bay Packers.
Harris told me directly that he was “forced to show his toughness and ended up looking soft and slow on tape.” He says he struggled as a runner because of his injured shoulder that that routinely popped out of place.
He played in the final two games against Buffalo and Carolina but clearly didn’t look the same, averaging 2.2 yards per carry and allowing three sacks in pass protection. Poor play that according to Harris, were in large part due to the injuries he was forced to play with. He estimates he was playing at “60%” health, unable to pass protect because he couldn’t shoot his hands without aggravating his torn labrum.
Being asked to play through injuries in an effort to demonstrate toughness isn’t new to the NFL. It’s always been around and it’s not going anywhere. But it helps explain why players with talent can suddenly look significantly worse. The toll backup players like Harris have to go through to try and achieve their dreams.
Harris says there is a chance he could return to the Steelers later in the season once the injury heals, but that he and the team are also entertaining the possibility of an injury settlement.