James Harrison was held out of practice the past two days. According to Mike Tomlin it was to protect Harrison from himself. Certainly Harrison has kept himself in top physical shape and he is more than familiar with the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Judging from how much Harrison was sweating yesterday, it is fairly certain he wasn't just sitting out. He was working out. Harrison is 37 and has a throwback mentality about working out in an old-school sweat suit. "I work out in my sweats," he said via Steelers.com. "It makes me burn more calories."
With twelve seasons under his belt, Harrison has been on the team when its defense was dominant. What does he think the defense needs to do to rise to the top once again? "I want to see hitting. I want to see a nasty demeanor." That hard-hitting style of football has been a trademark feature of the Steelers defense that has fallen by the wayside in recent years.
In 2014 the Steelers finished the regular season with 33 sacks, 10 interceptions, and 1,005 tackles. Compare that to 2008, when the defense had a plus 4 turnover ratio, 1,125 tackles, 20 interceptions, and an astounding 51 sacks. With Keith Butler in the role of defensive coordinator for the first time, some of his strategies are yet unknown.
Harrison has a pragmatic attitude about the defense's improvement saying, "You want to get back to the elite status of the defense in the league. It's not going to happen overnight. That is why we are here trying to figure out where we are and how far we need to go to get where we need to be."
The Steelers' legacy of great teams has always involved elite defensive play; and elite defensive play from the Steelers always involves some of the most intimidating players in the NFL. Whether it's Jack Lambert, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter or James Harrison, "nasty" is part of the persona of those defenses. Harrison was the leader of the team's mean streak in their last Super Bowl victory, but he was not alone. Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton and several other defenders could be included on that list. The tenacious defense of the Steelers is part of why Renegade is even a thing that gets all of Heinz Field on their feet. For the defense to return to its former glory, tough, hard-hitting defenders who set the tone against opposing offenses is needed. And James Harrison knows something about doing that. It will take more than just one player to have that mentality, it will take a nucleus of young players to emerge and set the bar for the entire unit, and warn all those who face them to fear a new edition to Blitzburgh.
Hopefully Harrison can contribute to the effort by schooling younger players in the Art of Playing Nasty.