In a little more than a month from now Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison will turn 39 years of age. While Harrison has continued to fend off Father Time longer than most players are able to, perhaps he’s been helped in doing so by the way Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has handled him over the course of the last few seasons.
During his Monday interview with the Pittsburgh media in Arizona ahead of the league’s annual meetings getting underway, Tomlin indicated that he’ll likely handle Harrison much in the same way he did last season.
“We’ll be thoughtful about our approach in a similar way we were thoughtful about our approach a year ago,” Tomlin said of Harrison, who started seven regular season games last season on his way to playing 587 total defensive snaps, according to Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
After Harrison played very sparingly in the Steelers first three preseason games last year, he was held out of the exhibition finale. Once the regular season started, Harrison was used as part of a multi-player rotation at the outside linebacker position in the team’s first nine games of which he started just one of them.
Thanks to poor play by now former Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones in the team’s Week 10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Harrison found himself back in the starting lineup once again and he rarely came off the field from that point forward.
During the Steelers three playoff games, Harrison once again rarely came off the field on his way to registering 20 total tackles that included a team-high 2.5 sacks. While it won’t show up in any stats, Harrison also forced a holding call late in the Steelers Divisional Round playoff game win against the Kansas City Chiefs that nullified a potential game-tying two-point conversion try.
“I was comfortable with the way we walked it a year ago,” Tomlin said of the way he handled Harrison last season, according to Rutter. “It got to a point where it was ‘go’ time. And he was ready to go. Maybe the way we managed him over the course of the front part of the year allowed that to happen. So, the good thing is that it’s nothing new for us, it’s nothing new for (him). We’ll walk that tightrope again.”
With Jones now out of the picture for good, Harrison will more than likely head into this year’s training camp as the starter on the right side opposite Bud Dupree. The Steelers, however, figure to provide him some competition for that spot via the upcoming draft as their expected to select an edge-rusher somewhere in the first two rounds.
Harrison signed a new two-year contract several weeks ago and is currently getting his body ready for yet another season that he undoubtedly hopes will culminate with him celebrating another championship.