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Steelers linebacker Harrison is heating up

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:38 p.m.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison drops Browns running back Trent Richardson for a third quarter loss Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Chaz Palla
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselback is sacked by the Steelers' James Harrison and Jason Worilds during the second quarter Thursday October 11, 2012 at LP Field. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler has coached James Harrison enough to know when he isn't healthy, and through the first month Harrison was on the field following knee surgery, Butler knew the All-Pro linebacker wasn't fully recovered.

For a player who bases his game on power and leverage, Harrison had neither.

“If you can't bend your knee … you don't have as much power,” Butler said.

Slowly, the power has returned and Harrison is rounding into shape as the Steelers head down the home stretch in what has become almost a weekly must-win situation.

Harrison has recorded a sack in back to back games for the first time since the start of the 2011 season and took his game to another level against the Browns last week when he added 10 solo tackles.

“The Cleveland game and the Baltimore game he looked like he was running like he usually does,” Butler said. “This was the first time I saw him look like he used to look. He looks like he is about there.”

It's been a slow and tedious process for Harrison, who sat out of the majority of offseason practices before electing to have surgery during the middle of training camp.

“Each week is better. Each week there's a little more explosion back in the knee,” Harrison said.

Harrison's knee won't likely get to 100 percent any time this season, but he now is healthy enough to pressure the quarterback from where it is most expected — outside linebacker.

The Steelers have 12 sacks by their outside linebackers: Jason Worilds five, LaMarr Woodley four, Harrison three. That projects to be the fewest from that position since coach Mike Tomlin's rookie year of 2007, when they had 16 12.

Overall, Steelers linebackers have only 16 sacks. San Francisco's outside linebacker Aldon Smith has 16 12.

“Yeah, that's not enough for us,” Butler said. “People are getting rid of the ball against us is one reason, but we want to have more than that, that's for sure.”

The Steelers are hoping that some of those sacks come from Worilds, who will fill in for the injured Woodley (ankle) Sunday in Baltimore.

Worilds leads the team in sacks despite playing only 40 percent of defensive snaps. That includes three games he didn't get on the field.

“It can be frustrating at times (waiting),” Worilds said. “Coach says that the hardest position on the field is being a backup.”

Worilds had his best game of his short career last week against Cleveland when he filled in for Woodley and had five tackles, two sacks and a pass defense.

“He is finally figuring out what he is supposed to be doing,” Butler said. “There was hesitancy when he started to play because he didn't know what he was doing.”

Worilds was drafted in the second round in 2010 and made the switch from defensive end to linebacker. The transition hasn't been smooth. He saw limited action his first two years and missed all summer and training camp workouts coming back from wrist surgery.

Butler has full confidence in Worilds if …

“As long as he plays with a sense of urgency, and that's my biggest fault with him up until this point,” Butler said. “When he does, he is a pretty good football player.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com.

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