Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter made a lot of waves on Monday when he said that youngsters Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt are currently the planned starters this year and that veteran James Harrison would essentially be used as a relief pitcher should either of the two need a break during games. After Monday’s practice was over, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t confirm or deny Porter’s perceived plan and only said that Harrison would play as many snaps as he can handle and that he’s currently unsure what that number will ultimately be.
So far during training camp and the preseason, Harrison hasn’t done much of anything. In fact, he’s only put the pads on once and that was for limited work during the team’s Fan Fest practice at Heinz Field well over a week ago. In case you forgot, the Steelers took the proverbial wrapper of Harrison much earlier last year during training camp and that included him playing in the team’s first three preseason games.
With training camp coming to a close later this week, Porter was asked during a Monday morning interview on Steelers Nation Radio if he needs to see Harrison at all this week at Latrobe.
“Well, I need to see him around just to make sure hes soaking up the stuff we’re talking about because a lot things we do can change day-to-day,” Porter said. “I like him being around the guys and seeing what he sees. It’s always good to have an extra set of eyes out there, but actually seeing him work, no.”
Harrison apparently hasn’t been spotted at practice the last few days and when Tomlin was asked the reason for that following Mondays practice, he didn’t really provide much insight.
“We’ve got an alternate program for those guys in their late 30s,” Tomlin quipped.
Porter, however, went on to indicate that he would like to see a little bit more from Harrison prior to the preseason ending.
“We know what he can do, but at the same time, you want to see a little bit to make sure he’s still got it,” said Porter of Harrison. “Everybody has to be tested to see if he still got it. We can assume something, but this NFL thing, sometimes you just wake up one day and that pop is gone. There will be a time when we take the wrapper off of him and let him go out there to see is it still the playoff James from last year.
“Now, if it’s still that guy, we know exactly what it is. But it’s been a little time since then, so, just hoping you’ve got that and knowing it are two different things. Now, he works out like I think he still is that guy, but until we take the wrapper off of him and put him out there, we’ll play it by ear.”
While several seem to be speculating that Harrison is in the process of being run out of Pittsburgh right now and that his spot on this year’s 53-man roster isn’t as safe as many thought it was just a few days ago, Porter’s current plan for how he ultimately sees the rotation working out at outside linebacker in 2017 doesn’t really indicate anything like that.
“We have a plan set up and then if something happens, the plan can always change and right now,” Porter started. “The plan is get them young guys going, because they are our future with Bud and T.J. and Chickillo, and the other guys who are going to play. But at the same time, if they’re not playing to the standard, then we bring in the righty [Harrison], we bring in the old man.
“So, if we have to pull him off to close out a game, we will, but going in, that’s not the intention. That’s why he hasn’t taken any reps. The intention is to let the young guys eat up the reps. We’ve seen him at 15 training camps, so we know what he can do, but at the same time, if the young guys cant run him off, then that’s what happens.”
Sure, Harrison is 39-years old and while he is no longer and every down player, he still has value to the Steelers. Keep in mind that Watt is still a rookie who needs a lot of development and that Dupree has still yet to show he can be a week in and week out producer on the left side. While Porter might be hoping that both Watt and Dupree will play and produce during a high percentage of snaps in 2017, it’s still just hope until it actually happens. In fact, Porter admitted Monday that Dupree is currently dealing with a minor injury right now as is Chickillo.
The Steelers will play their second preseason game on Sunday and hopefully we’ll get a chance to see Dupree on the field with Watt. Chickillo also needs some work in that contest. As for Harrison playing Sunday night, it seems highly unlikely that he will unless he practices three consecutive days starting on Wednesday. If Harrison doesn’t ultimately play Sunday night against the Falcons, one would think the Steelers will finally unwrap him ahead of their third preseason game.