At the age of 31, new Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Ryan Harris is under no illusions. He has seen a little bit of everything over the course of his nine-year career. When he signed with the Steelers, he knew that he would not be handed over a starting job, even if he has several times more experience handling the job than does the team’s incumbent, second-year tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
And that’s a good thing, considering the position he is coming into. The veteran and recent Super Bowl champion with the Broncos recently talked to Jeremy Fowler for ESPN and discussed his prior experiences as a player who is accustomed to scrapping for everything he has earned in the NFL.
Fowler writes that Harris recalls having only entered a season twice in his career projected as a starting lineman, in 2008 and 2010, and yet, in every season in which he has been healthy, he has ended up starting at some point, for one reason or another. He started 16 games, plus the playoffs, for the Broncos last year due to injuries.
If the story is a familiar one to you, it is to me as well, because it feel somewhat reminiscent of the journey of the man whom he may be playing right next to, left guard Ramon Foster. Entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Foster was never penciled in as a starter until 2013, and yet has always managed to start. He has compiled 87 career starts since then. Harris had 70 starts on his resume.
Twice a 16-game starter, with 15 starts in 2014 as well, Harris is by no means unfamiliar with the competition that he will experience in training camp as he sets to wrest the starting left tackle position away from Villanueva, who started 12 games, including the playoffs, last year in his first NFL season.
With the team not fully comfortable with handing either one of them a job, they will have to fight for it, with the best man winning—and playing. Which is fine by Harris, who told Fowler that he is “used to the competition”.
“I love it”, he said of the nature of competition for a job. “That’s why I’m in the NFL. Pick up a shovel and dig. The focus isn’t on another player or trying to get a spot. My focus will be making it through training camp healthy and proving every day what I can do”.
It’s an attitude that will serve him well in training camp, and into the season. And he will serve the Steelers well even if he fails to win the starting job as a player who says that he understands more than ever the importance of a 53-man roster after seeing it in action leading to a title last season.
So why did he come to the Steelers in particular, especially to a place where he knew he would be competing for a job? The reason is simple: because he would also be competing for a championship in Pittsburgh.