James Harrison has been through a lot in his time in the NFL. From an undrafted free agent out of Kent State, to being cut, signed, cut and signed again from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Defensive Player of the year and multiple Pro Bowl selections. Heck, he was even a Cincinnati Bengals player for a year. Talk about extreme.
Harrison has worn many hats during those years trying to make his name known. Angry rookie, special teams player, back up, spot starter, full time starter, Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion and wise veteran. There is only one hat he has yet to don in his time with the Steelers.
Fans, be prepared to meet James Harrison, the mentor.
When Harrison decided to return to the team in 2014 after retiring, he joined a team which was markedly different from when he jettisoned to Cincinnati. Gone was LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and Larry Foote. No Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith. Ryan Clark wasn't in the back end delivering big hits on wide receivers.
As Harrison looked around the locker room, he saw only Lawrence Timmons, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, William Gay and Troy Polamalu as the lone defenders from those incredible defenses who brought Lombardi trophies back in the late 2000's.
Then he saw Sean Spence, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Jason Worilds, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones as his linebacking corps. Suddenly when Harrison looked in the mirror he saw the crafty old veteran who has a chance to mentor this young group of linebackers. For them to learn from him and for him to leave an indelible mark on the organization off the field.
Harrison recently signed a new 2-year contract with the Steelers and is taking the mentor role to heart. Harrison always travels to Arizona to train in the offseason, but he didn't go alone this year. Harrison took Spence, Williams, Jones and Shazier out to the desert with him. A move which didn't go unnoticed by his head coach Mike Tomlin.
"I think it's immeasurable." Tomlin said to media at the owner's meetings in regards to Harrison training with the younger linebackers. "I think James is coming to realize that he is playing alongside a generation of guys that grew up watching him, and for them to get an opportunity to get behind the curtain, if you will, and see how he puts it together, how he prepares, how he gets singularly focused and how he gets him physically and mentally ready to do it, and to do it alongside of him, I think it's really special."
"You don't have unique results without a unique approach. Obviously James has had a uniquely successful career and it's because of his approach. And he is having an opportunity to share it with some young players, and I know they are going to benefit greatly from it. That's how it's done in our business. That's how it's done in any business. Best practices are passed down from generation to generation, if you will. I think that's just what is transpiring out here."
As Harrison prepares for his new role within the team in 2015, he has the chance pass more than production down to the next generation, but the chance to pass down what it takes to win a successful player in the NFL. Most importantly, Harrison is teaching the next generation what it takes to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.