James Harrison set to enter offseason of uncertainty with Steelers
January 22, 2016 12:00 AM
James Harrison, who turns 38 in May, is still undecided on whether he will still be playing football next season.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
James Harrison, in his own words, is not a “reflective type of person.”
So he probably won’t be taking much time to look back at what he accomplished in the 2015 season, but it’s still worth doing.
If the 2014 season, in which Harrison, 37, came out of retirement to play 11 games for the Steelers, proved that he can still play in the NFL, this season reaffirmed the fact that he can do so at a high level.
Harrison finished the season with 40 total tackles and tied for the lead among linebackers with five sacks. In two playoff games he had 11 tackles and two sacks. In Sunday’s season-ending 23-16 loss to the Broncos, Harrison put on a vintage performance, with seven tackles — three for loss — and the Steelers’ only sack of the night.
Of course, according to Harrison, that still wasn’t good enough.
“Nobody plays as well as they want to,” he said Monday. “Everybody wants to play perfect.”
Even if he wasn’t perfect, Harrison was pretty good. Beyond just the stats, though, was the volume of work Harrison put in for the Steelers. Last year, he came out of retirement out of necessity after a rash of defensive injuries.
This year, the Steelers had more depth at linebacker, but Harrison still proved to be one of their most effective players.
He played on 55.1 percent of the defensive snaps this season, according to Football Outsiders, the most by any of the team’s outside linebackers and 10th among all defensive players.
Even as the Steelers were hit by injuries, Harrison was a rock at linebacker, missing just one game and helping the team build up enough confidence and optimism that the divisional loss came as a shock.
“I feel like this team, collectively, we thought we could beat anybody, anywhere, anytime with whoever’s in our uniforms,” tight end Heath Miller said Monday. “I think we proved that throughout the year.”
When he first walked away in September 2014 Harrison found that he never lost his passion for football.
“If I didn’t have a thirst or a hunger for it, I wouldn’t keep playing the game,” Harrison said. “That’s automatic for anybody that does this. If you don’t have a drive or a hunger for it, feel the need to compete, then you’re in the wrong business.”
Of course, the next question is whether that hunger is enough to carry Harrison through one more season. He has one year left on the two-year extension he signed with the Steelers in March, but said he’s undecided on whether he’ll be back for another season after turning 38 in May.
“I’m not ready to make any type of decision,” Harrison said. “If you were to ask me something like that right after a loss, nobody wants to go out with a loss. It’s going to be an immediate, ‘Yeah, I’m coming back,’ not taking into account everything else. Right now, I’m not ready to make that decision.”
Harrison said the plan, for now, is to go through what he called “active rest” for the next month or two. He plans to do cardio to stay in shape, but will probably lay off heavy weights until around March. He said he feels good, physically.
If Harrison does come back, he’s ready to start back at square one, and hopefully get further than the second round of the playoffs.
“What we accomplished this year has nothing to do with anything else,” he said. “It’s all in the past right now. We’ve got to build from the bottom back up. Remember the feeling that you had of losing this game. You don’t want to go through that feeling again.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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