Harrison a game-time decision for Sunday's contest vs. Broncos
Steelers linebacker James Harrison, still recovering from minor left knee surgery last month, did not practice again Friday and appears unlikely to play Sunday in the season opener at Denver.
“The knee didn't feel too good, and they (team physicians) want to let it rest and see if rest will help it,” said Harrison, who also didn't practice Thursday. “They'll make a decision when the game comes.”
Under coach Mike Tomlin, players who have not practiced Friday typically have not played that week.
Harrison said he prefers to play, but second-year linebacker Chris Carter is likely to get the start against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Carter, who played mostly special teams last season, started all four preseason games at right outside linebacker.
“I'm just trying to stay prepared for any situation,” Carter said. “I really don't try to get too involved with what's going on with James. If he can't play, then I have to be ready.”
Harrison missed five games last season after suffering a fractured orbital bone in Week 4. He missed another because of a suspension following an illegal hit on Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy.
It's a setback for the nine-year veteran, who earlier this week appeared confident he would be ready to play in the rematch of the wild-card game Denver won, 29-23, in overtime. Harrison was held out of practice the past two days, partly because of irritation and soreness on his surgically repaired knee.
“There was a little swelling, but nothing major,” Harrison said. “There was more irritation, a little pain and some soft tissue hasn't healed yet.
“If the game was today, I couldn't play. It's just sore.”
Harrison's absence is significant. The inexperienced Carter will be tested by one of the league's best quarterbacks, Peyton Manning. However, most of his teammates are confident Carter can fill the void.
“We still have play on Sunday,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “It's nothing against James; we can't be disappointed by guys you may not have when it's time to play.
“I think each and every one of these guys on this defense believes in Chris Carter. If he wasn't any good, he wouldn't be in there.
“You've got to work with what you've got,” Woodley added. “In the NFL, that guy behind you should be ready to go and happy the opportunity is there.”
Still, nose tackle Casey Hampton suggested it would give the Steelers a lift to have Harrison in the lineup.
“It definitely gives us a boost having him out there,” Hampton said. “But we can't have a dropoff with the young guys replacing him.”
Hampton said he expects if there's any chance Harrison can play, he will. However, it's a chance safety Troy Polamalu cautions against taking.
“It's important to get healthy because it's such a long season,” Polamalu said. “There's been plenty of times when I should have taken quite a few games off from injuries.
“A guy like (Harrison) has made his name off pushing through and overcoming a lot of things. A lot of guys play injured, and some have been literally paralyzed almost, not being able to feel their legs or having tingling in their legs. It puts a lot of things in perspective about sacrifice and commitment.”
Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.