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Perhaps it is actually time for James Harrison to take a seat on the bench

Does James Harrison have enough left in the tank to make a huge contribution at right outside linebacker in 2017? If rookie T.J. Watt is the real deal, that shouldn't matter.

NFL: Preaseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

So who is going to start for the Steelers at both outside linebacker spots in 2017?

According to position coach Joey Porter, who addressed the question while speaking to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer Ed Bouchette on Monday, perhaps it will be the two guys the team picked in the first round in recent years:

"We have two guys who are first-rounders, we drafted them for this," Porter told Bouchette in a quote courtesy of "Now you have to turn them loose and let them play."

Obviously, Bud Dupree, the team's first round pick in 2015, has the inside track over on the left side, even if veteran Arthur Moats looked like a man among boys in the 20-12 victory over the Giants in the first preseason game last Friday (or an 11th grader among smaller boys, according to head coach Mike Tomlin).

But what about the right side, a spot the legendary James Harrison has made his for most of the past 11 seasons?

Going by Porter's words, T.J. Watt, the Steelers most-recent first round pick, will start over on that side.

Based on the accolades the rookie from Wisconsin has received since he first put on a black and gold helmet back in the spring, as well as the two-sack performance in his professional football debut last week, maybe it is Watt's job to lose.

Kind of a weird thing to say about a Steelers rookie defensive player, huh?

Maybe that's why the Steelers made more tantalizing news on Wednesday, when their latest depth chart listed Harrison as the starter at right outside linebacker, with the rookie Watt backing him up.

But what about those things Porter told Bouchette on Monday that also included: "So we're not going to stunt their growth and pull them out when they're not doing anything wrong. We're going to let them play."

As Jeff Hartman wrote on Tuesday, it is kind of foolish to make a big deal out of anything Porter says about his stable of outside linebackers in August, especially when you consider how 2016 unfolded, with Harrison stepping in mid-season and performing as if time and age didn't matter.

But what if time and age do matter?

I'm not referring to Harrison, but rather Watt, who, again has drawn about as many raves by this point in his career as center Maurkice Pouncey did during his rookie training camp seven years ago.

Pouncey jumped right in and started for a Steelers offensive line that needed all of the studs it could handle. And not only did he quickly emerge as the team's best lineman; he was considered the best center in the league before his rookie season was even over.

If you can call a center a phenom, Pouncey was the last Steelers rookie to earn that distinction.

As for rookie defensive phenoms, even Troy Polomalu had trouble cracking the starting lineup on his first try at professional football back in 2003.

Believe it or not, defensive rookie phenoms are a thing. No, not for the Steelers, but you look around the league each year, and you'll find a few first-year guys who are really tearing it up and letting their natural athleticism and football instincts run wild on opposing offenses.

Unfortunately, in Pittsburgh, it has been a tradition for youngsters to sit on the sidelines and learn the sophisticated defense before finally getting elevated to the top of the depth chart.

At least that's how it used to be under former defensive coordinator Dick DeBeau.

As for current defensive coordinator Keith Butler, he has relaxed that stance a bit and is more inclined to let his young charges step in and play right away, as evidenced by the starting roles rookies Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave each earned as 2016 evolved.

A lot of this was/is out of necessity and an outgrowth of trying to rebuild what was once a legendary defense under his predecessor.

But that's kind of the point.

If Watt's performance dictates it, why shouldn't he be allowed to jump right in as a rookie and not only start, but play the vast-majority of defensive snaps in 2017?

Yes, I know what Harrison did last year, but let's not forget why he had to be called from the bullpen, so to speak. It was because Jarvis Jones, the guy originally drafted to replace the released Harrison four years ago, wasn't getting the job done.

All I've heard from local beat writers who have been covering training camp this summer is that Watt is everything Jones wasn't. What that tells me is that it may have taken them one more first round pick than they wanted to spend, but the Steelers have likely found Harrison's permanent replacement.

True, Watt hasn't proven a thing so far, other than he looks impressive in August.

We don't know if he can consistently get after the quarterback, like Harrison did during the prime of his career, and even the past few seasons, when he recorded a combined 15.5 sacks after ending his brief retirement in September of 2014.

We don't know how well Watt can play the run, a part of Harrison's game he doesn't get nearly enough credit for.

But what if Watt really does have all the tools? What if he really is the real deal? What if he really is the all-too rare Steelers rookie defensive phenom?

Would it be fair for him to lose snaps to a 39-year old player (even if that player is the team's all-time sack leader)?

Perhaps you think Watt needs to earn his playing-time, but why?

Isn't it about putting the best 11 players on the field?

Isn't it about winning?

Going by his performance in 2016, Harrison still has a lot left in the tank.

But football is a young man's sport, and if T.J. Watt proves right away that he's a special kind of player, it shouldn't matter how much James Harrison has left in the tank.