Harrison working his way back with Steelers
At 36, a still-enigmatic James Harrison has been given a new lease on an NFL career that seemingly was over when he retired about a month ago.
The former All-Pro linebacker, who signed a one-year deal after passing a physical Tuesday, arrived at the Steelers' South Side facility before sunrise Wednesday. But it's unlikely the 12-year veteran will contribute much until he's whipped into playing shape.
“Before I said two or three weeks, but now I'm looking at three or four weeks,” Harrison said sarcastically when asked when he'll be ready to play. “I'll see what they have planned for me and go from there.
“It's been nine or 10 months since I've had to run,” said Harrison. “It's lot of difference between working out and being in football shape.”
Harrison is unsure of his role. The Steelers needed depth because of injuries to linebackers Jarvis Jones (wrist) and Ryan Shazier (knee).
“I have no aspirations or goals,” said Harrison, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. “I'm just trying to make it to tomorrow. If I didn't think I could do it, I wouldn't have come back.”
The Steelers announced they plan to start Arthur Moats at right outside linebacker when they face winless Tampa Bay on Sunday at Heinz Field. Sean Spence will replace Shazier at inside linebacker opposite Lawrence Timmons.
Harrison was typically stoic but uncharacteristically patient as he answered questions about his fitness following a one-year stint with AFC North rival Cincinnati.
“I know he's James Harrison, but he's coming back in a different role than which he left,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We've got to see what he's capable of executing in terms of assignments and see what he remembers.
“Obviously, his level of conditioning is going to weigh into any amount of the participation. So it's not as shiny as it appears, but we're excited to have him back.”
Harrison, released by the Bengals in March, said it was a difficult decision to come out of retirement. He had discussions with his family and several Steelers, including safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and defensive end Brett Keisel.
“The consensus was to come back,” said Harrison, who retrieved his familiar No. 92 from rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers. “It's hard to turn down family.”
“If my kids had said no and stuck with it, it wouldn't have mattered how much I talked to Keisel, Ike and Troy.”
Harrison, once among the league's premier pass rushers, played 29 percent of the snaps last season.
He graded out fourth-best against the run among linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Everybody likes to say he's old, and he doesn't have anymore, but there's a reason why we brought him back,” safety Will Allen said. “I believe he's going to be an asset.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.