Steelers ‘Going To Try To Handle’ James Harrison In Training Camp

Back in 2014, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison retired after last playing a down for the Bengals at the age of 35. Now, as he enters the 2017 season as the Steelers’ starting right outside linebacker once again, at the age of 39, it is safe to presume that retirement is not going very well.

The former Defensive Player of the Year has signed three contracts since retiring, meaning that he has made the decision to prolong his career on three separate occasions, most recently inking a new two-year deal to return to the team earlier this spring after being the team’s most effective pass-rusher in 2016.

But as he creeps closer and closer to 40, it’s easy to wonder how much he has left in the tank, and the Steelers are taking steps to assure that whatever remains will not be expended on offseason practices that mean little for a player who has been in the league since 2002.

While it is not the first of its occurrence, Harrison has virtually been a non-contributor, primarily a spectator, so far during the team’s offseason workouts. Outside of participating in some individual drills with the occasional rep against a sled to put his younger teammates to shame, the report is that he likely got very few reps in team drills.

He has spent most of his time during the past few months in a grey Steelers sweat suit. That will likely continue to be the case for much of, if not the majority, of the several weeks that the team will spend in Latrobe later this summer.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked about the Steelers’ plans to handle Harrison this offseason in order to protect him against himself from overwork. “How old is he, 39?”, he asked back. “Yeah, we’re going to try to handle him, but who has handled that dude? Nobody has”.

defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “We’re going to see how he goes and see what happens in St. Vincent. He’s not going to go the whole training camp without practicing at all, but that will be entirely up to Mike”.

Not that that stops him from being an absolute fanatic in the weight room, a fact that could hardly be more well-documented. It is the reason that he is ‘randomly’ drug tested so frequently by the NFL, or at least that appears to be the case.

At this point in his career, it is not as though there is anything that he doesn’t already know how to do in the Steelers’ defense. The only reason for him to take any reps is just to get into football shape, and that doesn’t require a full workload.

He is essentially an example and a tone-setter now. He serves as an inspiration and motivation for the younger players on the roster, showing them the way. And a lot of the time he can just do that in sweat pants. But I’m sure he’ll get in on the backs on backers drill.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Conserv_58

    Deebo, the man beast, the terminator wins his matchups before he even steps on the field.

  • WreckIess

    I don’t remember how they managed him last year, but they should keep it similar to that IMO. Unless they’re going give Watt a chance to win the job in TC (which I don’t see happening), I think Harrison should take a back seat in TC and let Watt take most of the reps so JH can be fresh to start the season and Watt can get a logbook of experience. If they do want to let them compete though, that’s a different story.

  • Dave

    Agreed, let Watt get a lot of reps and keep a fresh Harrison for the playoffs. Release the “Beast” when it’s money time and let him retire with a SB MVP performance. I really think those two guys will feed off each other as they’re both passionate players.

  • Steeler Fan J

    i agree with this. let Watt get the experience and reps. let Harrison do just enough to make sure he is in game shape conditioning wise and mentally (we all know physically he is more ready than any other person in the nfl). I will be interested to see how the split goes when the season actually starts. Does watt get a decent amount of reps early and we keep james rested and ready to dominate come playoff time, or does TJ earn enough respect to get a decent amount of snaps on a weekly basis and james is used in a more limited role that allows him to still be nasty but doesn’t overwork or overtax his body at all.

  • WreckIess

    I think how they’re used all depends on where the teams values are. Typically they value upside over experience, but with Harrison it hasn’t been that way. I’d like to see Watt take a good part(maybe even a majority) while Harrison comes in to spell him or when we really need that pass rush. Maybe a 55/45 or a 60/40 spilt favoring Watt.

    I know I’m jumping the gun with that, but from what we’ve heard so far, the mental part of the game hasn’t been an issue for Watt and I’m confident that his brothers and Coach Porter can get him ready for the physical aspect.

  • Gloria Burke

    I keep hearing in pod casts from this site that they are “going to blow him out at the beginning of the season” to get what they can from him. I’m not sure that I like/appreciate/want that to happen. I want him to be as productive as possible when we need him most. I guess it depends what happens with the LB crew as the off-season and training camp progress. In any case, he’s a Steeler stalwart and I appreciate every moment he takes the field.

  • Dshoff

    I think this season works out perfectly to have Harrison start and play most of the snaps. Then sprinkle Watt in after the first 4 games. After the first half of the season, Watt should be taking the majority of the snaps. This philosophy gets the best player on the field at the beginning, and saves Watt from suffering a big time case of rookie hitting the wall.