In their 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers, the Pittsburgh Steelers were ravaged by injuries – especially at the linebacker position. Both Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier are expected to miss extended time with their respective wrist and knee injuries. To fill in for the time missed, the Steelers have brought back James Harrison.
Harrison came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2002 and made his debut with the Steelers. He was never really able to stick with any team and bounced around the league until again landing with Pittsburgh in 2004. There he was finally able to find a solid home and spent the next eight years with the same team that has just now brought him back. In 2013, he then left the Steelers for their rival Bengals when Pittsburgh asked him to take a pay cut. He spent a successful year in Cincinnati but did not get an offer to return in 2014. Since no other teams offered him a deal in the off-season, he was forced to retire. He signed a one-day contract with Pittsburgh so he could retire from football as a Steeler, but has now made a return to the team.
During his time with Pittsburgh, Harrison had a ton of success, becoming a two-time champion and the 2008 defensive player of the year. From 2004 to 2012, he made the Pro Bowl five times and was twice named first team All-Pro. During his time, the Pittsburgh defenses were some of the most feared in all the league and Harrison was a humongous part of that. Pittsburgh fans will also remember him forever for making an incredible play that helped them win the 2009 Super Bowl over the Arizona Cardinals. His 101-yard interception return for a touchdown in that Super Bowl helped Pittsburgh win their sixth ring.
There is a reason Harrison was not signed until three weeks into the season, and it will take him some time to get back into game shape. No one can doubt his physical ability, as he is well-known for his prowess in the weight room, but that is very different from being physically ready for an NFL game. At 36, his return will be an uphill climb, but at this point, the Steelers need him immediately due to their holes at linebacker.
Coming into the season, the linebacker position was one of the Steelers’ strongest with veterans Lawrence Timmons and Jason Worilds along with high ceiling youngsters Shazier and Jones. Now, after injuries to Shazier and Jones, the linebacking core is greatly depleted on an already thin defense. Harrison’s return can hopefully help by both his play and his mentoring of other players like Sean Spence and Arthur Moats, who will need to step up in other players’ absence.
Harrison coming out of retirement to rejoin his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, may come as a surprise to some, but the array of injuries combined with his past with the team makes it a good fit. The controversial figure will come into a team that has just lost half of its starting linebackers in one game. Harrison will need to catch up to speed quickly in this time of need for the Steelers.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius