When the Pittsburgh Steelers first re-signed veteran outside linebacker James Harrison after his unretirement during the 2014 season, they made sure to re-sign him early in the offseason, and they did so specifically stating that they view him as a leader and mentor for the younger defensive players on the team.
At age 36 at the time, he was of course already the veteran of the team, even though he is soon to turn 39 now. Harrison was never really viewed, from the outside at least, as a leader, especially not in the earlier days on a defense full of veteran leaders, but there’s no denying that he has lived up to his duties as motivator on this young defense.
The team’s website posted a video yesterday including snippets of some of the Steelers’ young defenders—a fourth-year veteran, a third-year veteran, and a second-year—all of whom talked about the impact that seeing Harrison work and train every day has had on them. “He’s really different”, Javon Hargrave said. “You can’t even explain it, to be honest”.
“He’s always working, so it’s kind of put that motivation in my head to keep it going and keep working”, Hargrave added, and Bud Dupree, Harrison’s battery mate, expressed the same sentiment. “I learned [from him that] work never stops. Even if you’re at home doing something, doing something is always good. Just make sure you’re not sitting around”.
“Just do something to make sure you catch the edge”, he went on. “What Deebo does is take care of his body all the time, spends a tremendous amount of money on his body, taking care of it. Offseason workouts, he does a great job of that. Even at his age, he still works like us like he’s trying to prove a point”.
“We respect him for that”, he added. “He drives us mentally and physically to push ourselves”. And that sure sounds exactly what the front office was hoping to get out of the arrangement. Vince Williams even get the mini Deebo moniker for his teammates due to his attempts to match the former Defensive Player of the Year in the weight room and elsewhere.
“He’s running out there as if he’s our age, making plays out there like he’s our age”, Stephon Tuitt contributed. “And he’s still better. That’s the crazy part. For somebody who’s 38 to play the position that he plays, that’s nothing but motivation. That’s nothing but determination on his part”.
Whenever Harrison retires, whether it is after this season, or after the next…or after the next…what he will have left behind in his wake is a generation of Steelers defenders who learned what it takes to play on this defense by studying him as an example.
His influence has been integral in establishing the young nucleus of players such as Tuitt and Hargrave and Williams and Dupree, not to mention Ryan Shazier, Sean Davis, and even Cameron Heyward. That is one of the reasons he was brought back, and he has lived up to that end at a bargain rate.