I wrote last week that this week of practice was an important one for Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who is trying to recover in time for the Sunday night opener in Denver following a minor procedure on his left knee in the middle of August.
Two practices in now, Harrison continues to be limited. While not confirmed, it likely means that he has yet to do much more than position drills so far with two practices remaining before the team boards a plane for their trip to Denver.
After practice on Monday, Harrison gave Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette the “A-OK” sign in regard to his knee, but on Wednesday, all of the positivity from the last few days had vanished as Harrison told the media when asked about his health and availability for Sunday night, “I don’t know, we’ll see. I’ll talk to y’all Friday. Peace out. Out of my face.”
Now Harrison of course is not found of the media and is most likely tired of getting asked the same question day in and day out, but when you look at the big picture, and more importantly, what has transpired since the Steelers first week of OTA\’s, you have to wonder if he has already been told that he will be down this week.
Now that\’s just speculation mind you, but in my opinion it would be the right call to make. Let\’s face it, Harrison has just two limited participations in practice dating back to late May. In addition, while he was on the PUP list during training camp, he was mostly relegated to working inside as opposed to outside with the other players that were on the PUP list at the time, according to several reports.
Now we all know that Harrison is a workout warrior and a freak of nature, but asking him to get into football shape over a course of one week\’s worth of practice to play a game in the high altitude of Denver is simply asking too much from even someone like him. Even if Harrison was to suit up Sunday night, how much playing time could the Steelers realistically ask of him, and more importantly, what level of play would they expect?
Last year in the opener against the Baltimore Ravens, Harrison was just another body out on the field after working his way back from two offseason back procedures. He still wasn\’t the same player we have been accustomed to seeing when he suffered a fractured orbital bone against the Houston Texans in week 4. If there was a positive to take from that injury, it was that it gave him four additional weeks to rest his back and he returned to action a much better player as a result.
The Steelers gave second year linebacker Chris Carter extensive work during training camp and the preseason at the starting right outside linebacker spot with both Harrison and Jason Worilds sidelined, and while Carter certainly will not be confused with Harrison, he most likely is a better option to use in the opener right now.
Allowing Harrison to play Sunday night could do more bad than good. Regardless of the outcome Sunday night, there will be 15 games left on the schedule. Merely allowing a much less than 100% Harrison to suit up and play 20 snaps could wind up setting him back, especially if he is not in football shape just yet. Preseason games are used to slowly work a player back into shape, not regular season games. That is what practices are for. Practices that Harrison has been limited in so far this week.
Hopefully the Steelers make the right call and sit Harrison this week. It is a long season and the Steelers will need him to be as close as 100% as possible.