clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Steelers OLB James Harrison taking a wait-and-see approach to reported snap count in 2015

New, comments

The Pittsburgh Steelers want James Harrison to do what he does best, but not as the full-time starter. Harrison is aiming to be the starter, not just a part-time player in 2015.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

By Dale Grdnic

PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison said Tuesday that he'll believe he can play more than 25 snaps per game when he's 50 years old, and who could doubt him?

The 13-year veteran linebacker has proven doubters wrong since he entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2002. And he's been an enigma ever since.

Harrison, 37, was coaxed out of retirement last year to solidify the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacking corps, but he has been asked to take a lesser role this year behind younger players. Harrison isn't looking too far ahead.

"It's a snap count that they want me to be around, but there was a snap count that they wanted me to be around when I came back last year,'' Harrison said. "They wanted me to be around 15 plays, but I ended up playing 37. So, we'll see how it plays out.''

Despite no offseason program or training camp, Harrison was still a force for several games after he got into playing shape. Fortunately for the Steelers, young linebackers like Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and now No. 1 pick Bud Dupree can learn from one of the best to play the position in the past decade.

"I feel good,'' Harrison said. "I'm in a far better position than I was last year. Better shape. So, I can hit the ground running, I guess. My mind is better this year, because I'm already into actual football compared to where I was last year. Last year, I was just working out to get into shape, but now it's actual football work and football conditioning. So, it's different.''

Still, Harrison expects to be the starter when the season begins.

"Nobody wants to sit and be a backup player,'' Harrison said. "If that's your mentality, then you're not in the right sport. Everybody wants to start. But there are roles that you have to play, and you have to do the best that you can and try to make a difference.''

Harrison said that his role is whatever the Steelers need him to do, and being a mentor to the younger players is part of it.

"It's a role that's easy to embrace,'' Harrison said. "I show what I do by going out there and actually doing it. I don't talk to you about it. I just do it, so if you just watch what I do and follow me it shouldn't be that hard to do the things that are necessary. ... They ask me questions. They want to know what I'm doing and where I do it.''

The Steelers' past three No. 1 picks -- Dupree, Shazier and Jones -- have been watching a lot of video on past Steelers defenses and ask Harrison about it, since the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2008 had a starring role.

"It just happens to be a lot of film that they're showing on previous defenses has me (on tape), because I've been here for a while,'' Harrison said. "So, I'm in a lot of the film.''

The Steelers expect their young backers to take a more prominent role this season, especially Jones and Shazier, after injury-plagued starts to their careers. Harrison might have something to say about their playing time.

"My motivation is what people tell me that I can't do,'' Harrison said. "Tell me what I can't do, and I'll show you that I can do it. I was the first pick of the 10th round, and I'm where I'm at now. So, that's the road I took. It's nothing different. I've been told that I couldn't do this or couldn't do that, but I'm still here. And I'm focused on doing whatever's necessary to help the team.''

The Steelers defense has been overhauled for several years in a row, now, as two more long-time starters are gone. Coordinator Dick LeBeau also has left, but Harrison said it's still an easy transition because "we're basically almost like the same defense.'' New coordinator Keith Butler was the linebackers coach for the previous 12 years, so any changes likely will be minimal.

That has Harrison fired up for another NFL season.

"We haven't done too well the last year or two here on defense,'' Harrison said. "So, we want to go out and get this defense back to playing at the level that the Steelers defense is used to being at.''

If history is an indication, there's no reason to doubt that Harrison will be an integral part of taking the Steelers defense back to that level.