Saturday, November 28, 2015

Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run

Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, 5:42 p.m.

Even at 37, linebacker James Harrison is confident he'll have enough stamina to help the Steelers down the stretch.
Harrison began the season knowing linebackers coach Joey Porter wanted to limit his snaps. But the 13-year veteran has been a fixture in the rotation, splitting duty with third-year right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
“I don't think there was ever a snap count,” Harrison said this week. “It's something that was said, and people just ran with it.”
Porter hasn't calculated Harrison's snaps and seems willing to have the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year's playing time be determined by his productivity, not the number of snaps played.
So far, Harrison has had unspectacular numbers. He has two sacks, eight quarterback pressures and one forced fumble while playing 51.2 percent of the team's defensive snaps, fourth best among linebackers.
“James Harrison is going to play the role we asked him to play,” Porter said. “I am not counting every snap, saying he's at this number and he can't go back in. (Harrison) is going to be in there when he has to.
“I still keep an eye on him to make sure I don't overwork him. At the same time, he's been playing when we need him to play, and he's played a good number of snaps.”
Harrison, who signed a two-year, $2.75 million deal in March, is reluctant to accept a reduced role in the thick of the AFC playoff race. He insists that a sore knee that forced him to sit against Cleveland on Nov. 15 won't sideline him when the Steelers (6-4) play at two-time defending NFC champion Seattle on Sunday.
Harrison said it's a sprint to finish. So he is prepared to floor it on every play in every game, including matchups against four playoff contenders: Seattle, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Denver.
“I don't care who you are or how old you are, if you're going 100 miles per hour every play, you're bound to get tired,” said Harrison, who hasn't played a complete season since 2010. “It's just part of the game, but as you get older, fatigue comes faster. But rotating the linebackers is something that keeps all of us fresh.”
Porter hopes Harrison is fresh for a postseason run. With an improving Jones and the versatile Arthur Moats, depth at outside linebacker has saved Harrison's legs.
“I'm comfortable wherever they want me to play,” Harrison said.
He concedes there are a few changes when it comes to assignments, but it's nothing he hasn't seen.
More important, Harrison is impressed with how first-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler has demanded a more aggressive, physical style for a defense ranked fifth in scoring.
“The defense is all right, but it could be better,” Harrison said. “We can be better against the run and the pass. We can be better all around.
“Everyone has gotten an opportunity to get game experience because of the way (Butler) rotates players.”
Everyone in the Steelers locker room, it seems, is confident Harrison will add a spark down the stretch.
“We don't know what plays he's going to make,” cornerback William Gay said. “What we do know is we have the world's strongest man — mentally and physically — on our team. I'll line him up with anybody. Win, lose or draw, I want No. 92 on the field.”
Defensive end Cameron Heyward said the stat sheet doesn't reflect Harrison's value to a defense that is back among the league's elite.
“James is a true Steeler, and he makes sure we all want to hold up our end of the deal,” Heyward said. “It's a privilege to play with a guy like that. When we're out there, he's talking about assignment football and about playing all out.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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