Outside linebacker James Harrison may be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rarely-used ‘relief pitcher’ at the position this season—he has only played a couple dozen snaps to date through the halfway point—but he is not finding much relief in his lack of playing time.
That is not overly concerning to his position coach—and former teammate—Joey Porter, who is only about two years older. “He understands the process, and we know he’s not always going to be happy”, he told Joe Rutter yesterday. “I know he’s going to be frustrated at times because he wants to play”.
Harrison has only seen snaps in four of the team’s eight games this season. He was even inactive for two of them. In two others, he dressed but did not play. That included Sunday’s game in Detroit against a neophyte at left tackle making his first start.
Porter said that the Steelers liked the matchup between Lions tackle Brian Mihalik and T.J. Watt just fine. He said that Matthew Stafford was getting the ball out very quickly, and was able to find a few escape lanes, when he was asked if Harrison would have made much of a difference.
He also pointed out that Harrison doesn’t really fit, overall, what the Steelers are looking for at this point of the season at the position—but that his time will come.
“T.J. is 22. James is 39”, stating the obvious in pointing out the significant age difference. “Having him out there covering, that ain’t what he’s doing right now. That’s not his strong suit”. The rookie Watt has been spending a considerable portion of his snaps on passing downs dropping into coverage, more than anybody I’m aware of anticipated.
“[Harrison’s strong suit is when we get to this cold weather and someone is going to try to come here and run the ball, I can put him in there and (running) isn’t going to happen”, Porter said of the man who replaced him in the starting lineup in 2007.
“We get into the cold and playoff time, I can have him in those tough situations and go rush the quarterback and get a sack because the situation is not too big for him”. He added, “it’s frustrating right now, but his time will come when we’re going to need him”.
This isn’t all too terribly shocking, but one has to wonder exactly what he has only averaged about seven snaps in even the four games in which he has played. Are they really doing so many things that don’t suit his strengths that they are not playing him?
Are they really simply holding him in reserve in order to prevent him from wearing out late in the season, as many are inclined to believe? Is it about allowing Watt to establish himself, while the fact that they have been winning has largely made the point moot?