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Steelers: Will 2015 be a Steel Curtain call for James Harrison?


The professional career of Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Many athletes throughout the world of sports achieve fame and success early in their careers but, for Harrison, a much longer and frustrating path was taken.

Harrison was signed and cut by the Steelers on three different occasions after they signed him as an undrafted free agent following the 2002 draft. After stints with the Baltimore Ravens and NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire, he would make his way back to Pittsburgh at the start of the 2004 season. Making the final roster, the man that would soon be known as “Silverback” found a permanent home.

Slowing making a name for himself on special teams, Harrison only contributed three sacks and an interception on defense for the next three years. In 2007, under newly appointed head coach Mike Tomlin, he was named starting linebacker after Joey Porter was released by the team. The next six years would define the athlete that was once deemed “too small” to play at the professional level.

60 sacks, 29 forced fumbles, and five straight Pro Bowl apperances from 2007 to 2011 would be added to his resume’ as he struck fear into any team daring to oppose the right side of the Steelers’ defensive line. Not to mention both being voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year and adding another Super Bowl ring to his collection in the 2008 season.

Where he only recorded three special teams tackles in his first Super Bowl appearance, Harrison would help secure the Steelers their sixth Super Bowl championship on a 100 yard interception returned for a touchdown that would give Pittsburgh the lead going into halftime over the Arizona Cardinals.

He would help guide the Steelers to an eighth Super Bowl berth in 2010, but would not be on the side of victory after a heartbreaking loss to the Green Bay Packers. From there, Harrison’s play would regress from the what it was once known. Multiple back surgeries, surgery to repair a broken orbital bone, and knee surgery forced him to miss a significant amount of time over the next two years.

In 2013, the Steelers felt it was time to start to look toward the future at linebacker. The selection of Jarvis Jones in the draft that year proved that the were looking for an insurance policy should their star defensive player become injured once again. The organization insisted he take a pay cut due to salary cap purposes but, after neither side could negotiate a proper amount, Harrison would be released by the Steelers for the fourth time in his career.

Still feeling he had enough left in the tank to perform well, Harrison took his services to his home state of Ohio for a one year stint with the Cincinnati Bengals. Starting in ten games for his new team, he would go on to record two sacks and an interception. His run in Cincy would come to a close after they released him in the offseason of 2014.

Realizing that it may finally be time to hang up the cleats, Harrison officially retired as a Steeler when he signed a one day contract on September 5th. At the beginning of the 2014 season injuries ran rampant throughout the Steelers’ defense, especially their linebacker corps. Eighteen days after announcing his professional career was over, Harrison agreed to terms for a one year contract.

Deebo was back in Black and Gold.

Starting in four out of the eleven games he appeared in, he brought a much needed fire back to the Steelers’ linebacker corps. In the absence of Jones, who was thought to have a breakout season before a wrist injury sidelined him, Harrison would register 5.5 sacks. Not exactly staggering numbers, but he was able to help deliver when the Steelers needed him the most.

After deciding to stay with the team where he enjoyed so much success in his career over following his former defensive coorindator, Dick LeBeau, to Tennessee to play for the Titans, Harrison is ready to help usher in a new era of linebackers for the Steelers. With Jarvis Jones healthy and 2015 first round pick Bud Dupree set to start contributing as early as possible, Harrison will have plenty to offer the young quarterback hunters in terms of experience.

Harrison expects much from his young linebackers, and the defense as a whole. He had this to say about what he expects from this for the rest of training camp and the season.

"“Im looking at the whole defense. I want to see hitting. I want to see a nasty demeanor.”"

A nasty demeanor is exactly what the linebacker had back in 2008 when he recorded 16 quarterback sacks. A wild, unrelenting demeanor that served as a basis for how Steelers’ linebackers can become known and feared.

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) high fives fans in the stands after the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. The Ravens won 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

What will become of Harrison after the 2015 season? Could he play out his contract if the Steelers truly needed him? If the Lombardi trophy is hoisted in Pittsburgh for a seventh time, it is possible he could go the route of his former teammate, Jerome Bettis, and end his career on a high note. There are very few athletes in sports that have a chance to do so, often playing past their prime and tarnishing a once great career.

James Harrison has had a Hall of Fame caliber career. Not just because of the statistics he has accumulated, but for the many winding roads the journey has taken him on. Could we see him become the next Steeler to have a bust in Canton? Only time will tell. For now we have atleast one more season to watch as Harrison continues to do what he does best: Strike fear into hearts of quarterbacks.

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