Back in 2014, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison retired after last playing a down for the Bengals at the age of 35. Now, as he enters the 2017 season as the Steelers’ starting right outside linebacker once again, at the age of 39, it is safe to presume that retirement is not going very well.
The former Defensive Player of the Year has signed three contracts since retiring, meaning that he has made the decision to prolong his career on three separate occasions, most recently inking a new two-year deal to return to the team earlier this spring after being the team’s most effective pass-rusher in 2016.
But as he creeps closer and closer to 40, it’s easy to wonder how much he has left in the tank, and the Steelers are taking steps to assure that whatever remains will not be expended on offseason practices that mean little for a player who has been in the league since 2002.
While it is not the first of its occurrence, Harrison has virtually been a non-contributor, primarily a spectator, so far during the team’s offseason workouts. Outside of participating in some individual drills with the occasional rep against a sled to put his younger teammates to shame, the report is that he likely got very few reps in team drills.
He has spent most of his time during the past few months in a grey Steelers sweat suit. That will likely continue to be the case for much of, if not the majority, of the several weeks that the team will spend in Latrobe later this summer.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked about the Steelers’ plans to handle Harrison this offseason in order to protect him against himself from overwork. “How old is he, 39?”, he asked back. “Yeah, we’re going to try to handle him, but who has handled that dude? Nobody has”.
defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “We’re going to see how he goes and see what happens in St. Vincent. He’s not going to go the whole training camp without practicing at all, but that will be entirely up to Mike”.
Not that that stops him from being an absolute fanatic in the weight room, a fact that could hardly be more well-documented. It is the reason that he is ‘randomly’ drug tested so frequently by the NFL, or at least that appears to be the case.
At this point in his career, it is not as though there is anything that he doesn’t already know how to do in the Steelers’ defense. The only reason for him to take any reps is just to get into football shape, and that doesn’t require a full workload.
He is essentially an example and a tone-setter now. He serves as an inspiration and motivation for the younger players on the roster, showing them the way. And a lot of the time he can just do that in sweat pants. But I’m sure he’ll get in on the backs on backers drill.