Did Steelers 6th round pick Travis Freeney’s shot at getting a roster spot just get harder? Not likely, but the news out of Pittsburgh today slams the door on one potential roster spot opening in the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacking corps.
James Harrison is back. Again!
— Pro Football Rumors (@pfrumors) May 2, 2016
The news hardly comes as a surprise to either the Steelers organization or to Steelers fans. Shortly after the Steelers playoff loss to the Broncos, James Harrison headed off to Arizona to begin his off season training regime, saying he wasn’t sure if he would play or not. Everyone expected him to play.
- The more interesting question is what role will James Harrison’s 2016 snap count be?
A year ago, Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter promised to limit James Harrison to 25 snaps per game or less. As it turns out, Porter’s math was off by about 15 snaps per game, as Silverback logged 611 defensive snaps, which was good for about 55% of the Steelers overall defensive snaps.
- While that might not sound like a lot, Harrison played more than Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree or Jarvis Jones.
James Harrison’s snap count illustrates the problem of developing talent alongside a proven veteran. The Steelers both want and need to develop Bud Dupree and to find out if Jarvis Jones really is the long term answer at outside linebacker. But James Harrison has shown that he can still be a difference maker even into his late 30’s, and it’s hard to take players like that off of the field.
- While the Steelers developmental needs at outside linebacker are real, James Harrison gives them a good problem to have.
Beyond retaining his playmaking value, James Harrison is a locker-room leader whose mere presence helps instill the attitude and work ethic needed to win a championship. As the Steelers second Super Bowl era came to a close, the franchise made a conscious decision not to repeat the mistakes that Chuck Noll made in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, namely keeping around veterans too far beyond their prime.
- That’s a non-issue with James Harrison.
Deebo can still get it done on the field and leads by example off of the field. That fact alone transforms the “problem” of calibrating James Harrison’s 2016 snap count into a trivial one.