A lot has been made about Pittsburgh Steelers veteran outside linebacker James Harrison not playing a single snap in the team’s Sunday home win over the Minnesota Vikings. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained during his Tuesday press conference that Harrison not playing Sunday was more of a result of fellow outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo currently being an ascending player on defense right now and a “hot hand” and why the team handled the position group rotation on Sunday in the manner that they did.
“In the meantime, we’re going to continue to roll people and play and play guys that we see fit and not do a real good job of maybe describing our mindset, or outlining their intentions, because part of it is gamesmanship and part of it will define itself as we move forward,” Tomlin said.
To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talk during his Tuesday interview on 93.7 The Fan, Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers coaching staff probably didn’t outline their intentions to Harrison ahead of Sunday’s game against the Vikings.
“Yeah, I talked to him yesterday and just kind of asked like, ‘What’s going on, what happened?’ And he just gave me this look like, I have no clue,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday when asked if he’s had a chance to talk to Harrison about him not playing Sunday against the Vikings. “So, we talked a little bit about it, but there’s no real answers. He didn’t have any answers for me, so I dont know if he has any answers. So, I was kind of confused by it, but I’m not really sure what the reasoning was on it.”
While Harrison not playing Sunday after rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt was forced from the game in the first half because of a groin injury was probably a bit surprising to some, it’s important to remember that he only played 4 defensive snaps in the team’s Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns. Sure, the circumstances were different, but had Watt not gotten injured this past Sunday, Harrison might have remained on the Steelers sideline all game just the same.
Way ahead of the Steelers 2017 regular season getting underway, outside linebacker coach Joey Porter made it known that Watt and Bud Dupree would be the team’s starting outside linebackers in 2017 when healthy and that Harrison would likely be used as a “relief pitcher.” Had Chickillo not played as well as he did in place of an injured Dupree in the Steelers Week 1 win over the Browns, perhaps Harrison would have taken over for Watt on Sunday when he left the game injured.
Harrison said several weeks ago that he’ll play whatever role during the 2017 season that he’s asked to play. With that said, it sure doesn’t sound like he knows what that role is at this point and especially not ahead of Sunday’s game against the Vikings.
While Harrison and several fans of the team might be somewhat upset right now with the way the team has handled the linebacker’s playing time so far, at least he’s still fresh and ready for action. He’s probably going to have to play more at some point during the regular season for whatever reason and Tomlin pretty much indicated that on Tuesday.
“We appreciate James,” Tomlin said. “We know what James is capable of. James will ready himself. There will be a time in the season where we’ll call on his services and he’ll deliver and deliver in a big way, much like he did in the latter part of 2016.”
In the meantime and assuming Watt and the other currently injured players are healthy enough to play on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, you really have to wonder if Harrison might just wind up being a candidate for the Week 3 pre-game inactive list.
We already think we know that quarterback Joshua Dobbs, tackle Jerald Hawkins, guard Matt Feiler and wide receiver Justin Hunter are likely to be on that list and potentially along with one defensive lineman and one defensive back. Will Harrison be No. 7? The Steelers dressed all nine of their linebackers currently under contract against the Vikings and being as Harrison doesn’t play on special teams, it really makes you wonder if that will be the case. We’ll see and if that’s ultimately what happens, hopefully Harrison will be told way ahead of the inactive list being submitted.