I don’t have the data on me but if I had to guess, I think it’s a safe assumption James Harrison hasn’t played deep into a 4th preseason game in a long time. Probably not since Clark Haggans was probably still the starter and Ben Roethlisberger rocked a baby face. So seeing Harrison in the second half of last night’s contest was an unusual sight. But given the way Mike Tomlin has used him in camp, one that made sense.
“His process started a lot later than others,” Tomlin said after yesterday’s win. “That’s by design. We get him out of the way in the early portions of the process to provide a lot of reps for young guys like TJ and others. He requires less time to be ready to play. But he does require time. So tonight was part of that.”
Harrison wound up playing 21 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, tied for the second most of any outside linebacker. He picked up a sack in the contest, predictably looking good against reserve offensive tackles.
He spent the beginning of camp wrapped in bubble wrap, donning his grey sweats each practice, sweating through it by the end of each day. Harrison wore pads for the Family Night practice but didn’t participate in team drills and wound up not playing a single snap in team at Latrobe. All the more reason to get him game action in the final two preseason games.
While Tomlin has evaded questions, Joey Porter’s claim of Harrison taking a back seat seems more plausible. T.J. Watt played “starter” snaps for a game like this, seeing ten plays, the same number as Artie Burns and Bud Dupree. There still figures to be a rotation there but expect Watt to be the starting ROLB against Cleveland in Week One.
For Watt, his conditioning, work ethic, and football IQ have all played a role in seeing, and seizing, so much of the opportunity.