Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison might not ever be 100% healthy this season, but 13 weeks now into the 2012 season he his certainly playing like he is close. In the last 3 games Harrison has totaled 3 sacks and 24 tackles, which is nearly half of the tackles that he has been credited with all season.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was asked on Thursday if he thought his linebacker is getting back to where he was a few years ago.
"I think some time ago James turned the corner in terms of complete rehab and football conditioning and things like that, said LeBeau. "He’s been getting better every week. But I think he’s playing at a very high level right now."
Playing at high level at this time of the season is certainly good news for the Steelers and bad news for opposing linemen. Sunday at Heinz Field Harrison will get a chance to extend his consecutive game sack streak to four games against a San Diego Chargers offensive line that has been decimated by injuries.
How bad are those injuries? Kevin Haslam, who was on the Chargers practice squad just a few short weeks ago might very well start at left tackle if starter Mike Harris can\'t overcome his ankle injury. Even if Harris does play, he certainly won\'t be 100%.
If that is not bad enough on the left side for the Chargers, they will also likely have to start Rex Hadnot at left guard as Tyronne Green is expected to miss the game Sunday because of a hamstring injury suffered last week. Hadnot replaced Green last week and did not play well and Harrison will get some shots on him in the game via some twist stunts coordinated with defensive end Brett Keisel.
Harrison missed all of training camp, the preseason, and the first three games of the regular season with a knee problem that plagued him the entire offseason. It finally required minor surgery and he certainly wasn\'t effective getting after the opposing quarterback once he did start playing after the bye week, but his quality of play over the last 3-4 weeks has increased noticeably.
Harrison needs to stay healthy as the Steelers are currently very thin at the outside linebacker position right now as left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is expected to sit out again with his injured ankle. That means Jason Worilds, who has also played very well this season, will likely make his second consecutive start on Sunday. Behind both Harrison and Worilds on the depth chart sits veteran Brandon Johnson and rookie Adrian Robinson. Johnson has played all of two snaps this season on defense at inside linebacker while Robinson has been relegated to only playing on special teams.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been sacked 36 times so far this season and has thrown 15 interceptions in his 12 games played. Harrison was asked on Friday what he thinks about the poor numbers put up by the Chargers quarterback this season.
"I\'m not worried about that, said Harrison. "I hope they get lower. That\'s not my problem"
Rivers problem this Sunday? It could be Harrison.