Let’s get one thing straight. Joey Porter likes to talk. He might put on the tough guy persona and shy away from reporters, but this is still the man who called the Peyton Manning led Colts “soft”, and the one who got into an intense, and mostly overblown, verbal sparring match with Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens prior to Super Bowl 40.
Yeah, J-Peezy hasn’t changed, even though he is now coaching and not playing.
So, when Porter went on several radio networks Monday and was asked about the starting outside linebackers, and a possible rotation, Porter said T.J. Watt will be the starting right outside linebacker to start the season.
“The plan is to get those young guys going,” said outside linebackers coach Joey Porter Monday, per Dale Lolley of the Beaver County Times. “They are our future with Bud (Dupree), T.J. and (Anthony) Chickillo. At the same time, if they’re not playing up to the standard, then we bring in the old man. If we have to pull him out to close out a game, that’s fine. But that’s not the intention. The intention is to let the young guys get the reps.”
In one fell swoop, multiple news outlets started writing articles about how James Harrison was left out in the cold, and will be used as nothing more than relief in the upcoming season.
To that, I say, did we all forget, and learn nothing from, 2016?
Last year it was almost a mirror image of the Steelers’ current situation. Simply take out Watt, and insert Jarvis Jones, and you have the same dialogue about rotating linebackers. Harrison would start on the bench, with Jones being the starter, and Harrison would come in as needed. How did the season end last year? With Harrison as the full-time starter and Jones only stepping on the field when Harrison needed a break.
I’m not suggesting Watt is similar to Jarvis Jones, or that he is incapable of being more productive than Jones, but the team, mainly Porter, seems insistent on constantly putting labels and numbers on how they will handle the outside linebacker rotation. Rather than suggesting they will “go with the hot hand”, or “wanting to see Watt prove more on the field before giving him the label of starter”.
When all is said and done, this will likely mean very little in the regular season. People will continue to pester Mike Tomlin about the situation, where he will shrug off the questions repeatedly, but it will mean very little. In fact, rather than fans focusing on numbers, or labels, the main focal point should be on the health of the outside linebackers. If Watt and Bud Dupree can remain healthy, it will allow Harrison to be a pass-rushing specialist, something he could still handle at his age.
However, if one of the aforementioned players get injured, it will cause Harrison into a heavier workload, and that could spell disaster for a defense needing a better pass rush from their front seven this season.
In the meantime, fans would be wise to look back at 2016 to show how this outside linebacker conundrum will be far from settled as the team departs Saint Vincent College and heads back to Pittsburgh at the conclusion of this week.