On the Steelers: James Harrison and Brett Keisel are even wonders to their teamates
November 9, 2014 12:00 AM
Brett Keisel waits for a reaction from the fans Sunday night.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Old and slow, Warren Sapp called the Steelers defense. And that was back at the start of the 2011 season.
The Steelers have pretty much cleaned house since then. It was out with the old, in with the new, including James Harrison and Brett Keisel, who experienced both. They went out and then they brought them back, and it's a good thing for the Steelers defense they did.
At 36, both are playing well since their return. Harrison's four sacks in the past two games give him the team lead despite not re-signing until Sept. 23. Keisel leads all defensive linemen with 11 pressures, a 16-yard interception return and four pass breakups, and he did not re-sign until after training camp.
"They're playing at a high level,'' said guard Ramon Foster, 28.
They're doing something else unique. They are the only duo of players at least 36 on the same Steelers defense in at least 30 years. The list of 36-year-olds on the roster the past three decades is small and dominated by punters, kickers and long-snappers. Only two others played on their defense at 36 - James Farrior in 2011 and Chad Brown in 2006.
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Their oldest player over the past 30 seasons was kicker Norm Johnson, who was 38 in 1998.
Under-30 players like Foster and those over 30 like Ike Taylor and Bruce Gradkowski marvel at what Harrison and Keisel have been able to accomplish.
"It does amaze me because I'm in year six and I'm thinking about how my body feels some days," Foster said. "And they doubled my years plus one or two. They did it and they were in the old CBA at one point where they were doing real two-a-day practices, practices in pads and things like that."
Before the new collective bargaining agreement was adopted in 2011, coaches could have twice daily practices in training camp and there were no limits to the number of practices in which they could have their players wear full pads. Now, pads are limited to basically once a week during the season.
"It's a compliment to those guys, to Keisel and James, the way they keep their bodies in shape, the way they work hard,'' said Gradkowski, 31, a nine-year veteran. "Especially their love for the game because it's not easy playing all those years, not only physically but mentally; it takes a toll on you. To come in year in and year out and be consistently good football players, that's a compliment to them and how they work."
Harrison, the 2008 NFL defensive player of the year, was cut by the Steelers early in 2013 when he declined to take their pay cut. He signed with Cincinnati, where he was not a good fit in the Bengals' 4-3 defense. They cut him early this year, about the same time Keisel's contract ran out.
Arizona, where former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is the head coach, showed interest in both. Keisel flew there to sign a contract, but jumped on a flight back to Pittsburgh when the Steelers made him an offer - finally. Harrison visited with the Cardinals in September but kept asking for more money because he really did not want to play that far from his family.
He retired at a news conference at the Steelers' facility Sept. 5, two days before the season opener. It was short-lived. A wrist injury to outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the third game that required surgery prompted the Steelers to talk Harrison out of retirement.
It's a wonder they let either player languish unfettered for so long.
"James has hit his stride right now and I think it's fair to say Keisel has, too," Foster said. "It was a great pickup and decision by us to bring those guys back. The respect they're getting, those two are very valuable right now."
This is Harrison's 12th season and he has said it will be his last. This is Keisel's 13th and he has not made any future plans known.
Taylor, trying to make his own comeback from a broken right arm at age 34, says the two add something to the team other than on-field performance.
"All they know is winning," he said. "They talk about the age, but man those boys know all about what it is to win. Eight-and-eight hurt. So when you get guys like that, they do nothing but lead by examples.
"They're not starters, but they're great contributors, they're leaders. They're getting back into the groove."
• Illinois governor elect Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist who reportedly earned $53 million in 2012, became a minority owner of the Steelers in 2009, one year after the new ownership group of the team was formed.
Rauner, a Republican, won the governor's race in Illinois Tuesday with just over 50 percent of the vote. He beat incumbent Pat Quinn, a Democrat.
Rauner, 57, is the chairman of R8 Capital Partners. He was born in Chicago and grew up in Illinois. So there is no obvious connection to Pittsburgh or the Steelers other than he's a part owner of the franchise.
• Dri Archer has a ways to go to match Chris Rainey's production as a rookie. Archer has 41 yards rushing on eight carries, 9 yards on four receptions, averages 17.9 yards on nine kickoff returns and has one punt return for 2 yards. He has no touchdowns. In 2012, Rainey rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries, had 60 yards on 14 receptions, averaged 26.5 yards on 39 kickoff returns and returned three punts for 16 yards. He had two touchdowns rushing.
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