A couple days back, I wrote an article from Matt Bowen talking about how the offseason has changed under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which limits the amount of practice time, coaching time, and, frankly, hitting time that players have. While this is particularly troublesome for players trying to make the roster, it does affect all players.
In that article, I also mentioned that those veteran players more able to afford it also spend a lot of their own time and effort in getting their body into shape and even in working with unaffiliated coaches to improve their game during the offseason. Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison is certainly one of those players who puts a great deal of time and money into his body, and his game.
That is part of the reason that the Steelers were so eager to re-sign him to a two-year contract last offseason, and why they crossed their fingers hoping he would choose not to retire after last season ended, because of the role that he plays in the greater makeup of their roster.
Because Harrison has in his later years become more than just a player on the roster; in many ways, he is also another position coach, and another strength and conditioning coach, and his words are heeded all the more eagerly by his peers because he is the one doing it all with them, and delivering the on-field results that prove to them that it works.
That is why the younger linebackers, and some players from other positions, have spent time during the past couple of offseasons out west in Arizona, where Harrison spends part of his time training, and where they have gone once again this offseason.
It’s a role that he enjoys, according to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, being a sort of mentor to the younger players on the roster. Steelers general manager talked openly about Harrison’s ability to serve in that sort of role when the team re-signed him in 2014.
Many of the young linebackers, such as Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, and Jarvis Jones have trekked out west with Harrison over the past two years, and he knows why. “They got great results”, he told Cook. “When you get great results and things are working, you’re going to go back”, which explains why he has had repeat customers.
“Anything that’s going to help you get better, it’s not going to be easy to do”, he said. “It should hurt. If you can go through a workout and not get sore, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough”. He has certainly made sure that young Bud Dupree and the rest have taken that lesson to heart.
At age 38, it’s unknown how much more time Harrison might have playing this game. The odds might well favor this being his final season. But the hope is that his presence will still be felt in that locker room for years to come through the wisdom that he passed down to the next generation.