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James Harrison did not play again last Sunday. That makes four games he missed this season, two dressed, two not.
He has not been hurt. He’s played 29 defensive snaps, or 6.8 percent of the plays, through half a season. The franchise sack record-holder with 82.5 has one very big one this season which may have saved their victory at Kansas City at the end.
Yet, he languishes on the bench. Frustrated? Angry? Perhaps, but he has not lashed out, has not pulled a Martavis Bryant wholesale jerseys authentic or even an Antonio Brown. The simple fact of the matter is that James Harrison is 39½ years old, and the Steelers’ two young outside linebackers, rookie T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, are doing the job now and building toward the future. They also cover receivers better, and an outside linebacker’s job is not just rushing the quarterback and stopping the run.
“He understands,” position coach Joey Porter insisted. “I try to tell him how fortunate he really is and I know how hard he works in the offseason and it’s easy to get frustrated. I haven’t been around a player who doesn’t think they shouldn’t get more, so I get that, especially when you’re talking about the all-time sack leader for a franchise.
“So obviously he feels like he can go out there and do more. But you just got to understand his situation, like I try to tell him, you’re 39 years old … You’re in a fortunate spot to where a lot of people don’t get that. Nobody plays linebacker here at 39. When we hit 30 we’re always looking to do something different. So the simple fact that they still have you here, that just shows you how much loyalty they have to you and they still think that you can still play. As long as you know that, you can’t be mad at the situation.
“We want you to be here to win a championship; we want you to be part of it. No matter how we use you. And when we do use you, I know you’re going to go out there and make a play. As long as we have the same understanding and we don’t hide anything, he knows exactly what it is, there’s really nothing you can be mad about.”
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Porter explained the reasons why Harrison would be a “safety net” back in August, that they have two young outside linebackers they believe in and will play for now, for the future. Nothing changed since then.
“This year we actually have two young guys who actually play, not to say that James can’t play, but at the same time for those guys to grow and become the players in our future they have to be out there on the football field, so we’re playing them,” Porter said Tuesday.
They’re not quite “saving” the old guy for later, as they did last season, when he came on like the old Harrison in the second half after Jarvis Jones failed at right outside linebacker. This is different. They are delighted with the progress of Watt, in particular, as well as Dupree and backup Anthony Chickillo, who subbed for eight plays at outside linebacker Sunday in Detroit.
“James is never out of the picture,” Porter insisted. “We’ll use James when we feel it’s time to use James. The Kansas City game, we knew he was a good matchup against [tackle Eric] Fisher, and he came in there and closed the game like we thought he could.
“He understands the process, he’s not always going to be happy. I know he’s going to be frustrated at times because he wants to play. He’s been playing good the past three, four years, so why wouldn’t he want to play? He just has to understand where we are now, though.
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“It’s not like we’re rushing [the passer] every play. I mean, our outside linebackers are dropping a lot. When James goes in the game, you know he needs to go rush the quarterback. I’m not going to say he can sit up there and make those plays that T.J.’s making. T.J.’s 22, and James is 39.
“I mean having him out there covering, that’s not what he’s doing right now, that’s not his strong suit. His strong suit is when we get to this cold weather, if somebody comes here and tries to run the ball, I can put him in there and it’s not going to happen. If it gets cold here at playoff time, I can have him in those tough situations, go rush the quarterback and get a sack because the situation is not going to be too big for him.
“It’s just frustrating right now, but his time is going to come when we’re going to need him. If he is frustrated, he’ll tell me how he feels, but at the same time we’ll move on. It’s not like we’ll hold a grudge and he’s not going to talk to me for a day or nothing. We’re past that. He’s like my little brother.
“He knows it’s nothing personal. I mean we’re still trying to win a championship, and he knew what that was when he came back.”