Steelers notebook: Mike Tomlin has no plans to force James Harrison's play-or-not-play decision
March 23, 2016 12:00 AM
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the decision on whether James Harrison plays next season will be left up to the veteran linebacker.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BOCA RATON, Fla — Mike Tomlin is going to wait for outside linebacker James Harrison to decide whether he wants to return for one more season with the Steelers. And he is perfectly fine with doing so.
After all, it’s not as if he needs to see Harrison perform in offseason training activities or training camp at Saint Vincent College.
“I am not going to put a gun to his head,” Tomlin said Tuesday at the annual AFC coaches breakfast at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. “I am not going to ask him to do much in Latrobe, anyway.”
Then, after a brief pause, he said with a laugh, “Let’s be honest, he is over there on field No. 8 in training camp so he doesn’t hurt any of the kids.”
Harrison, who turns 38 next month, has said he wants to see if his body is ready and able to sustain another season when he is done with a six-week training regimen in Arizona. Only then will he decide if he will come back.
“James is not going to shortchange himself. He is not going to shortchange the game of football,” Tomlin said. “I believe him when he says he is going through a process to see his overall readiness and potential effectiveness. He knows what he is doing. He has been doing it for a long time. He knows whether or not his body can do what he needs it to do.
“I respect that mentality. It’s really an unselfish mentality when you think about it. He doesn’t want to let his football team down in any way, and more importantly than that, he wants to make sure that he is capable of leading this team in the ways that he has done in the past.”
Roots of Shazier rule
Tomlin referred to Ryan Shazier’s knockout helmet hit on Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard in an AFC wild-card playoff game as “an ugly hit” and agreed it should be legislated out of the game.
Tomlin, though, said Shazier’s hit, which forced a fumble that the Steelers recovered at their 25, was legal under the rules that existed last season. Shazier was not penalized.
The league’s competition committee, of which Tomlin is a member, changed the rule Monday.
“We all agreed that it’s an ugly hit, not one we want in football,” Tomlin said. “It wasn’t illegal. We just looked at the language around the rule and softened it or altered it to make sure we’re creating a climate where those hits don’t occur.”
Shazier was not penalized on the play because he did not “line up” Bernard and hit him head-on with the crown of his helmet. Under the new rule, however, a player will be penalized even if he strikes another player in the helmet coming from an angle as Shazier did.
“Ryan didn’t necessarily line him up, but what he did was lower his head,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after being told of Tomlin’s comment. “It’s the way the rule was interpreted. Now, the league wants to adjust it a bit.”
7 rules changes pass
League owners adopted seven rules changes for 2016, including eliminating all chop blocks (which the Steelers supported) and permanently putting the point-after-touchdown kick at the 15-yard line after a one-year experiment.
Among the other significant changes:
• The horse-collar rule was expanded to include any tackle made by back of jersey at or above the nameplate.
• Offensive or defensive coordinators who sit upstairs in the coaches booth can now relay plays directly to the field instead of to an assistant coach on the sideline.
• The 5-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds has been eliminated and will now be a loss of down.
Point of emphasis
The competition committee is advising the league to work with offensive line coaches after an alarming jump in neutral-zone infractions in 2015.
Rich McKay, co-chairman of the committee, said there were 164 neutral-zone infractions last season, more than four times as many as the average in previous season.
“That’s way too many,” McKay said.
McKay said neutral-zone infractions were typically in the range of 33 to 47 per season. He said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, will use to video to help offensive line coaches understand what can be done to lessen the number of infractions.
“We think it is directly tied to all the movement in the offensive line in the silent count, and the quick movement, and in some ways abrupt movement,” McKay said. “We will make that a point of emphasis this year with Dean doing some tape to make sure that offensive lines understand what they can and can’t do. So we will show that via video when we show that to the offensive coaches as what is allowed in the silent count with the offensive linemen movement, and what is not allowed.”
Jarvis Jones update
The Steelers have until May 2 to decide if they want to exercise the final-year option on Jarvis Jones’ contract. But general manager Kevin Colbert said, “No decision has been made.”
Broncos eye Griffin III
Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said the Super Bowl champions have taken a long look at Robert Griffin III as a possible quarterback replacement for retired Peyton Manning.
The Broncos already have traded for Mark Sanchez and are seeking another quarterback after Manning retired and backup Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans. Griffin has also been linked to the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.
“[Griffin] is one of the free guys out there,” Kubiak said. “He’s obviously been part of the conversation. We’ll see what happens, he’s a talented young man.”
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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