In any aspect of life, people have difficulty dealing with change. When folks are used to something it becomes comfortable and familiar. This is true of many things such as where folks are living, where they work and even how their favorite sports teams operate. That is why many fans have had a hard time letting go of a Steelers defense led by some familiar veteran faces.
This is the first season in a long time where I am really excited to see the Steelers' defense. I know they are going to be young and untested in a lot of areas, but I am OK with that. The team needs to build a formidable defense to utilize an offense that finished second in the league last season. An offense with an elite quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who recently signed what is likely to be the last contract of his career. An offense with an All-Pro wide receiver in Antonio Brown who is coming off one of the greatest seasons by a wide receiver in Steelers' history. An offense with an All-Pro running back who was one of the most explosive backs in the NFL this past season and now holds the Steelers' single-season record for yards from scrimmage in Le'Veon Bell. I could go on and on, but the Steelers did not lose to the Ravens in the playoffs last season because of their offense. They lost because their defense failed them like it did many times in big moments.
What has happened so far with the defense this offseason? Dick LeBeau left after 13 seasons and joined the Titans staff. The situation with Troy Polamalu hopefully resolves itself peacefully, but regardless, his return to the team is highly unlikely. The Steelers released Brett Keisel after a 13-year career with the team. Ike Taylor's contract expired after last season and no one has pursued him as of yet. That means all of the veterans from an aging defense that was 27th against the pass and 18th overall in 2014, with the exception of Lawrence Timmons who clearly has a lot left in the tank, are gone. It is a bit of fresh air after seeing a former dominant defense lose a step or three over the past few seasons. That is why the move to bring James Harrison back is puzzling to me.
I know fans rejoiced when they heard the news that the team would be bringing back the 12-year veteran, which is understandable. He is a crowd favorite and he was around for both of the team's recent Super Bowls. He represents one of the last remaining pieces of the latest version of the Steel Curtain. However, he is also going to be 37 in May and is one of the last remaining road blocks for the team to start fresh on defense.
Whether Kevin Colbert will admit it or not, Jason Worilds' untimely retirement forced the Steelers' hand to bring back Harrison. Then when he started to be courted by Dick LeBeau and the Titans, that pretty much put the full court press on the organization to make a move quickly. So, they signed him to a two-year deal.
Many news outlets reported Harrison would most likely fill in on a part-time basis. In my opinion, there is no way this happens. The team is very thin at outside linebacker with Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones the only others on the roster. Harrison will likely start for the Steelers next season, and that is a shame. I would much rather the team play someone like Shawn Lemon than turn to Harrison to save the day for one or two more seasons.
Lemon is coming off of a 2014 campaign with Calgary in the CFL that included thirteen sacks and eight forced fumbles, which tied the single season CFL record. Not that CFL success equates to NFL success, but it has happened before. After two years of tearing up the CFL, the Dolphins signed Cameron Wake in 2009. He has since become one of the most consistent defensive ends in the NFL and has been to four pro bowls and was voted an All-Pro in 2012.
The fact remains that James Harrison is at best a temporary situation to a deeper problem. The team should see what it has with some of the younger less proven guys on the roster to decide what areas should be a focus in the upcoming offseason. For a team that needs to turn the page and start fresh on defense, they just cannot seem to let go of the last cog from the old regime.