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Mike Tomlin’s explanation for James Harrison not playing in Week 2 provides more questions than answers

The Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader didn’t play a snap vs. Minnesota, and Mike Tomlin’s explanation didn’t provide much clarity to the situation.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start by saying I love Mike Tomlin. If you are on the “Fire Tomlin” bandwagon, then I am on the “Keep Tomlin” bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of the head coach I wish were better. Tuesday, during his weekly press conference, would be one of those occasions.

Tomlin is a wordsmith, and is one of the reasons I enjoy listening to him talk to media about his team and upcoming matchups. However, there are occasions when his long and winding answers leave us all scratching our heads. For a man who can be very succinct and to the point regarding some aspects of his job, others he talks about everything except the question at hand.

I get it. This is what coaches do. “Coach speak” has become as common in the NFL as the forward pass, but when the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader doesn’t play a snap when the starter, T.J. Watt, leaves the game with injury, there should be a clear answer.

Here is what Tomlin said Tuesday:

“Is he dropping or are other guys ascending,” said Tomlin when asked if Harrison fell down the depth chart. “Bud (Dupree) missed some time in Week 1 and Chickillo was able to start. Chickillo produced two sacks. We respect those contributions. T.J. got hurt Week 2 and we wanted to leave the hot hand in there with Chickillo being the hot hand.”

Wait, what?

Ascending and descending?

If Anthony Chickillo has become the new swing linebacker, and James Harrison isn’t even worthy of a few snaps on a day the man ahead of him on the depth chart leaves the game with a groin injury, why give him a helmet on game day?

Oh, but there was more...

“We appreciate James and we know what James is capable of,” Tomlin said. “James will ready himself. There will be a time in the season where we will call on his services and he will deliver and he will deliver in a big way. Much like he did in the latter part of 2016.”

“In the meanwhile, we are going to continue to roll people and play guys who we see fit and not do a real good job of describing our mindset or outlining our attentions because part of it is gamesmanship and part of it is because it will define itself as we move forward,” Tomlin said.

I didn’t think I could be more confused after an answer to a question, but I truly feel I have zero grasp on how the team is deploying their outside linebackers. To be honest, I wonder if they even have any clue how they are deploying this position group.

This isn’t a knock on Chickillo. Chickillo has earned his stripes, and has proven to be a player they like both on defense and special teams, but to say his two sacks against the Browns in Week 1 is the reason you are playing him in Week 2 doesn’t add up to me. I wonder how many sacks Harrison would have registered in Week 1 had he played more than one series?

To make matters even more foggy, Ben Roethlisberger was asked about this situation on his weekly radio show on 93.7 the Fan in Pittsburgh, and he essentially said he spoke with Harrison, but no one really knows what is going on with the situation.

Harrison is 39 years old, and fans have been wanting to find the heir apparent to the outside linebacker throne, and it looks as though Watt will be able to fill that role when healthy. Nonetheless, if Harrison is going to be on the active roster, why not use him? Why not let Harrison get used to the game speed of the regular season again, you know, in case the team needs him down the stretch?

What exactly is the plan here?

Sadly, I don’t think anyone really knows.

In the meantime, let’s hope Watt is healthy enough to play in Week 3, and if he isn’t, maybe Harrison will at least get a chance to show what he can still do, and not simply be a spectator from the sideline for the third straight week.