Mike Tomlin Open To More Playing Time For ‘Selfless’ James Harrison

I’m sure it was an odd sight for many of us who have followed the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past decade to see outside linebacker James Harrison spending so much time standing on the sidelines—even in street clothes—during games this year.

During his pre-game press conference earlier today, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said that he was open to seeing that change going forward following Sunday’s performance, during which the 39-year-old pass rusher recorded a key sack of Alex Smith on third and 10 from the Steelers’ 40-yard line late in a one-possession game.

The former Defensive Player of the Year played just seven snaps over the course of the first three weeks, and then was a healthy scratch for the next two games, before the coaching staff decided to use him more actively Sunday because they liked the matchup against Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher.

While he still only played 15 snaps, Harrison did record three tackles and the sack—one of three on the day for the defense—as well as an additional pressure or two. The starting right outside linebacker, rookie T.J. Watt, recorded one tackle during the game.

Pressed further on the topic about Harrison and his playing time, and what the player wants, Tomlin told reporters, “James knows that I will put the needs of the great ahead of his desires”. This week, he felt that the team needed Deebo, and they got Deebo.

Still, that does not guarantee he will continue to play every week when the team is fully healthy. He is still the only linebacker not in the starting lineup who does not participate on special teams, unless they completely remove Arthur Moats from that role and replace him with somebody else, which is not impossible.

But despite his chiding of his head coach about playing time, and making cracks about it on social media—he posted an image of him sitting on his helmet, saying that he was practicing what he does on Sundays—Tomlin said that Harrison is “an awesome, selfless team player”.

With his sack of Smith, he also became the first player in Steelers history to record 80 sacks in his career, since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. That sack gave him 80.5 for his career with the Steelers and was his first of the season after recording at least five in each of the past three years. Including two with the Bengals in 2013, he has 82.5 sacks altogether.

Perhaps it is notable that Harrison also outsnapped Anthony Chickillo in the game, who played 11 snaps. the third-year outside linebacker had been the first player off the bench all year, and started two games on either side due to injury.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • srdan

    It’s confusing. I’m sure there was a similar comfort to go with gay in week 1 vs hilton, like you’d have with james vs tj watt. But man you assess it here 6 weeks later and it’s evident who the better player is. I’m not sure how he can assess the OLBs and sit james.

  • Biggie

    With the offense still attempting to find itself, rotating the OLBs and for that matter the DL to keep them fresh for the end of the game only seems logical. In 2nd half other than the TD drive and 2 play kneel down at the end we ran 20 plays and punted 4 times on 4 drives, thus putting on defense on the field constantly. For now we need to keep defense fresh by rotating in Harrison, Chickillo, Alualua, Dirty Red and it can’t hurt to get the dbs rest too. We’ve been outscored 65 to 46 so far this year in the 2nd half. Part of it is due to the Defense being tired at the end of games, part due to offenses lack of holding onto the ball with sustained drives and a large part due to the coordinators play-calling on offense trying to run clock down (run, run, pass) and putting Ben into predictable passing downs on 3rd and long as well as the stupid prevent defense when the pressure throughout the game is what got us there. We have not show the Killer Instinct it takes to win a championship in a long time. Put the peddle down and don’t take your foot off until the game is over.

  • nutty32

    Would love to see Watt go to LOLB when 92 comes in. 3 man rotation is all you need, really.

  • Conserv_58

    What Steelers fan doesn’t love seeing Deebo do what he does best. At the same time we must be cognizant of the fact that at 39 years of age, Deebo’s contributions need to be measured. He may be a physical freak at his age, but his energy level needs to be closely monitored so as not to over use him. Deebo needs to play because he is still a pass rushing stud, but on a limited basis. I’m sure that Joey Porter fully realizes this and thus will rotate T.J., Deebo, Ckickillo and Moats, when needed.

  • Steeldog22

    I agree. I’m not sure why so many see this as an either / or issue. Rotate fresh bodies when you can, especially when the capability is there.

  • pittfan

    In addition to James’ skills, the team needs him suited up for the attitude he brings to the sideline. At 39, this man is a WARRIOR. The first 5 games the team I think suffered from a mental lethargy which leads to missed blocks/tackles, dumb penalties, lack of effort etc. James leads by example and best exemplifies STEELER football. Sure, you need to watch his gas tank BUT not using him IMO is ridiculous.

  • Dan

    So are we looking at a Watt/Harrison/Dupree/Chickillo rotation? I love having Watt in there getting snaps, just to get the rookie reps. Harrison is the most skilled out of them but is almost 40, Dupree can pass rush but struggles Vs the run, and Chick just seems ok at everything.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I still wouldn’t play him more than 25% of the defensive snaps. Not until midway thru the season at least. He can still produce with less snaps anyway.

  • JohnB

    I like seeing him in there but I don’t want him taking Watts snaps unless its just to spell him.

  • Brenton deed

    It looked like Fisher was tired too …. not fair against a daisy fresh Deebo

  • Conserv_58

    I couldn’t care less that Fisher looked tired. Even if he wasn’t Deebo owns him, mind and body. Deebo is in his head before they take the field. I’m sure that when the Chiefs’ OL coach goes over film of their last meeting he tells Fisher, “The Steelers haven’t been playing James Harrison much at all this season so I don’t expect that to change. Even if they do the guy is 39 years old. He can’t have much left in the tank.”

  • Conserv_58

    You’re preaching to the choir.

  • pittfan


  • Steve

    James is Tomlins ace in the hole, willing and able to help where he can.

  • Steve

    Have seen Ben throw on 1st down Vrs the Chiefs a few times and it really surprised me.

  • Steve

    Watt has played LOLB in preseason. Not sure if it was experimental.

  • Steve

    Well James sure proved them wrong and hope this continues.