James Harrison has been one of the best and most beloved members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense for the last decade. How will he continue to contribute in 2016?
In the National Football League, there is no escaping father time. Eventually, every player is faced with the difficult decision to continue playing or realize that their bodies just can’t take anymore harsh beatings and hang up their cleats.
In 2014, Harrison faced this question for the first time. After a stint with the Bengals, he decided to retire from the game. Then, in a surprise twist of things, Harrison returned to Pittsburgh to finish his career.
A lot of people believed it was a very temporary thing, and that Harrison may even retire at the end of that season, but he did not. Instead, he’s enjoyed a surprisingly impressive couple of years, and hopes to continue that streak heading into this season.
The fact of the matter is that 2016 is probably the last season of football for James Harrison. I cannot say that too confidently considering he truly seems ageless. The 38 year old linebacker seems to age like wine as he put nicely when announcing his return.
The 5-time pro bowler and 2-time first team all-pro will likely see less time on the field than in recent years, but we should see plenty of him still. As ageless as he seems, even Harrison can be affected by time so it’s hard to expect too much out of him.
The Steelers outside line backing core is full of depth, but fairly mediocre depth. The Steelers have the young and promising Bud Dupree, the disappointing Jarvis Jones, the totally decent Arthur Moats, and a few young prospects in Anthony Chickello, Travis Feeny, and Tyler Matakevich.
All around, there is a lot of potential from the group, but a lot of the players aren’t quite pro ready or just have been working below expectations aka being named Jarvis Jones. With Jones being denied his 5th year option, he’ll be expected to really step up his game if he wants to be wearing black and gold beyond this season.
The Steelers have the depth to run a rotating cycle of players throughout games, and one of those players will surely be Harrison. Harrison will likely see plenty of snaps, but will he be able to produce?
Harrison is beyond the days of 10 or more sacks in a season, and beyond seeing a huge chunk of playing time. Despite all that, he has still managed to be a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line, having two straight seasons with five or more sacks and two forced fumbles last year.
According to Pro Football Reference, Harrison still manages to be in the top 100 players, coming in at 92, perfect placement considering the number on his jersey. He is still one of the best outside linebackers in the league and has proved that with two productive seasons.
It’s very possible he won’t play as well this season. As an aging player who needs to have the speed and strength to keep up, it’s hard to know how successful he will be with each passing year.
With that being said, the work that Harrison puts in to be successful is insane. Just from seeing his workout videos on social media, it’s clear that he is ready to go, and the fire and motivation to continue being one of the best is still very much existent.
Don’t expect to see the unstoppable force that he’s proven to be over the years, but expect to see enough production to earn himself plenty of snaps. It should be very exciting to watch him during what could be his farewell season.
And hey, he’s clearly doing well enough to be ‘randomly’ drug tested by the NFL.