I think we all realize that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is better with James Harrison on the field than off. You could certainly argue even at 75% Harrison would be a better option than either Chris Carter or Jason Worilds. The problem really doesn’t revolve around that though because what it deals with is simply getting Harrison on the field period.
I found myself at one point in the second half of that atrocious loss in Oakland wondering if the grounds’ crew couldn’t get Harrison out on the field with a Bobcat and just drop him there in his outside linebacker position. I’m fairly certain he could have gotten more pressure on the quarterback than anyone else was at that time.
So what do the Steelers do? All accounts so far during the first week of the bye are not good. He practiced on Tuesday but hasn’t seen the field since as the balky knee is obviously not responding the way he wants it to be responding. If he can’t participate in a game by mid-season the question has to be asked, how long do you continue to keep him on the 53-man roster?
There is no ‘replacement’ for Harrison in terms of adding another OLB in his place should the team ultimately shut him down for the season. Worilds and Carter are doing their best impersonations of him but the act is falling flatter than Pauly Shore comeback. However, with the current offensive line situation, an argument could be made about whether or not a roster spot could be used for an eighth offensive lineman seeing as how we have dressed just seven so far this season.
Perhaps the wide receiver position is another area of consideration for Harrison’s roster spot. So far to this point we have remained healthy there but it could be an area of concern as the season wears on.
The bigger question in the grand scheme of things is whether or not James Harrison ever plays again. At 34, he is almost considered ancient in today’s NFL, but he also seems intent on continuing his career and the ‘retirement’ word never really crosses his lips. Still, with the nagging knee injury and past problems with his back, it has to be a possibility sooner rather than later.
Often the argument is that due to Harrison’s early struggles to make an NFL roster, he doesn’t have the ‘wear and tear’ on his body that other 34-year old defenders might. Not sure I buy that anymore. Have you ever watched the way this man plays with such reckless abandon? His body has easily seen plenty of wear and tear and we really shouldn’t be surprised by his physical ailments.
The coming weeks will tell us a lot about both James Harrison and the direction the Steelers choose to go with him. While he will always have a place in Steelers’ lore, I hardly think this is the way he or anyone else wants to see his career come to a final conclusion. Hopefully the knee comes around and Harrison can play before the season is over, but right now, I think it’s a long shot.