Steelers LB Harrison ready to tackle expectations

By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

James Harrison got the Lambert seal of approval following a Steelers practice earlier this week. During a visit to training camp, the youngest son of Hall of Famer Jack Lambert said Harrison is his favorite current Steeler.

"He's amazing," 13-year-old Ty Lambert said Tuesday after meeting Harrison and getting an autograph from him.

The Steelers do not need Harrison to be amazing or to be another Jack Lambert. They are counting on his being ready to step in for Joey Porter at right outside linebacker and become a full-time starter in the NFL.

"I see him having 15 sacks," starting inside linebacker Larry Foote said.

That's pretty ambitious considering Harrison has four career sacks and has yet to prove that he can stay healthy.

But following Porter, who is fourth on the Steelers' all-time sack list, and dealing with the accompanying high expectations probably doesn't faze Harrison.

He knows the pressure of just trying to make a living in this game as Harrison signed with the Steelers in 2002 (he was an undrafted free agent) but got released three times before he stuck with the team for good.

When the team breaks camp Friday, it will do so with a guy who could have given up on playing in the NFL starting at one of the Steelers' glamour positions on defense.

"I really don't think it's hit me because I haven't gotten a chance to play yet," Harrison said. "I think it may hit me maybe three, four games into the (regular) season, if everything goes well."

The Steelers are counting on that even though they lost one of their top playmakers as well as their emotional leader on defense in Porter.

"Will you miss a player like that? Sure," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "In terms of replacing Joey, I have every confidence in the world in James."

Harrison, 29, might have more in common with Lambert than he does Porter.

Like Lambert, Harrison played his college ball at Kent State, and intimidation is part of his game as well as his persona.

Harrison has a flinty stare that can make one's knees wobble. The 6-0, 242-pounder also packs quite a wallop and doesn't hold back when he is on the field.

Verron Haynes found that out Tuesday during a linebacker-on-running back blocking drill as Harrison twice flattened the veteran on bull rushes.

"Pound for pound, he's probably one of the strongest linebackers in the league, and everybody knows that," Foote said.

What is not known is how Harrison's body will hold up over the course of the season, especially as a starter.

He missed the first two preseason games because of a rib problem -- Harrison said he had a little cartilage separation -- and is still working through some pain.

But he is expected to play Saturday night when the Steelers visit the Washington Redskins for an 8 p.m. game.

Harrison said he hasn't set any goals as far as numbers.

Even if he is not as vocal as Porter, Harrison wants to show that he can perform at an elite level like the player who had 60 sacks and made the Pro Bowl three times during an eight-year career with the Steelers.

"The only thing that I want that's personal is what everybody wants, a Pro Bowl," Harrison said. "After that it's what everybody wants again: a Super Bowl."