I’m sure it was an odd sight for many of us who have followed the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past decade to see outside linebacker James Harrison spending so much time standing on the sidelines—even in street clothes—during games this year.
During his pre-game press conference earlier today, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said that he was open to seeing that change going forward following Sunday’s performance, during which the 39-year-old pass rusher recorded a key sack of Alex Smith on third and 10 from the Steelers’ 40-yard line late in a one-possession game.
Tomlin says he is open to Deebo getting more snaps moving forward. #Steelers
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) October 17, 2017
The former Defensive Player of the Year played just seven snaps over the course of the first three weeks, and then was a healthy scratch for the next two games, before the coaching staff decided to use him more actively Sunday because they liked the matchup against Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher.
While he still only played 15 snaps, Harrison did record three tackles and the sack—one of three on the day for the defense—as well as an additional pressure or two. The starting right outside linebacker, rookie T.J. Watt, recorded one tackle during the game.
Pressed further on the topic about Harrison and his playing time, and what the player wants, Tomlin told reporters, “James knows that I will put the needs of the great ahead of his desires”. This week, he felt that the team needed Deebo, and they got Deebo.
Tomlin: James (Harrison) knows that I will put the needs of the group ahead of his desires. #Steelers
— Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) October 17, 2017
Still, that does not guarantee he will continue to play every week when the team is fully healthy. He is still the only linebacker not in the starting lineup who does not participate on special teams, unless they completely remove Arthur Moats from that role and replace him with somebody else, which is not impossible.
But despite his chiding of his head coach about playing time, and making cracks about it on social media—he posted an image of him sitting on his helmet, saying that he was practicing what he does on Sundays—Tomlin said that Harrison is “an awesome, selfless team player”.
Tomlin on Harrison: “He’s an awesome, selfless team player.”
— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) October 17, 2017
With his sack of Smith, he also became the first player in Steelers history to record 80 sacks in his career, since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. That sack gave him 80.5 for his career with the Steelers and was his first of the season after recording at least five in each of the past three years. Including two with the Bengals in 2013, he has 82.5 sacks altogether.
Perhaps it is notable that Harrison also outsnapped Anthony Chickillo in the game, who played 11 snaps. the third-year outside linebacker had been the first player off the bench all year, and started two games on either side due to injury.