PITTSBURGH -- As veteran James Harrison and rookie Ryan Shazier look to get increased playing time, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau must find the right combination with a full complement of linebackers this week.
"They'll all play, and I think they're all going to be back,'' LeBeau said. "But you can never have too many good players. In the early part of the year, we were looking around to see if we had four to play.''
Harrison missed the past two-plus games with a knee injury, while Shazier primarily was relegated to special teams play after missing the majority of his rookie campaign with two separate injuries. Harrison said he's ready to go against the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) after a late-season respite.
"It just gave me a little more time to let my knee heal up, rather than trying to rush back and play through it,'' Harrison said. "So, I probably feel as good as I've felt all year, and it must have been good for the team because we came away with two wins.''
LeBeau noted that Shazier will play more snaps in the base defense after making an impact in just four last week. LeBeau was unaware of Shazier's official snap count, until a media member informed him of the number, but he acknowledged that it should increase considerably.
"I know he played a lot on special teams, and he did a great job on special teams,'' LeBeau said. "And we'd like for him to get a few more snaps than four. ... I think he's at about 100 percent now. That was good to see. He's a tremendous athlete. He can really run, and we really like him.''
Harrison wouldn't say one way or another if it has been worth it concerning his return to the Steelers this season. He'll wait until the season ends to see if his original goals are met. He came back to shore up the team's sagging linebacking corps and to win another Super Bowl.
"I came back with the hopes of helping the team win,'' Harrison said. "That's the same reason I went to Cincinnati last year, to help them win. So, this is no different, and I feel like I'm heading in the right direction. I feel good, and I'm ready to go.''
The Harrison of old -- the one who earned five Pro Bowl trips and an NFL defensive player of the year award -- showed up Oct. 26 against the Indianapolis Colts and the following week as well against the Baltimore Ravens. Just when Harrison appeared to be on top of his game, he suffered a knee injury Nov. 30 against New Orleans that forced him to miss the past two games.
After three good practice days this week, Harrison appears to be ready to return to bolster the Steelers' pass rush.
"He probably needed a little football early on when he came back, but he had that early,'' LeBeau said. "Those two games back to back when he had the multiple sacks (two in each game), that's when he got into football shape. He's been ready to go ever since then. And I think he's ready to go now, so I'm sure he's 100 percent.''
Harrison was confident that he would play against the Chiefs, and he believed the Steelers success would continue as their health and execution on defense steadily improved as well.
"The best way to go into the playoffs is winning,'' Harrison said. "That's the only way to do it, whether you have to win or don't have to win to get in. You want to go in on a winning streak. So, we're getting a little better each week, and we hope to get on a little roll going into the dance.''
Shazier's presence also should bolster the linebacking corps.
"I felt pretty good out there, just getting back in the groove with everything,'' Shazier said Friday. "So, I'm just waiting for the coaches to give me the opportunity to get in there. And when I get in there, I want to take advantage of it. So, it felt good to be back out there and get my feet back under me.''
Shazier was told that LeBeau said he would play more snaps this week.
"I'm really excited about that, because it's been hard for me this season with the injuries and not playing much the past couple weeks,'' Shazier said. "So, I've been learning a lot from the guys in front of me right now, and I'm doing whatever I can to get better and help this team.''
If the Steelers are victorious against Kansas City Sunday, they clinch a playoff spot. And then they only need to beat the Bengals at home the following week to win the division and get a home playoff game.