James Harrison closes in on Bruce Smith's late-career sacks record
December 10, 2016 12:03 AM
Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison sacks Browns quarterback Josh McCown at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith has the most sacks in NFL history. He reached 200 over his 19-year career with the Bills and Redskins. Steelers linebacker James Harrison will never catch Smith in sacks or years played, but he could one-up Smith for a record that combines longevity and production.
Smith has the most sacks in an NFL season for a player 38 years or older, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He had nine when he was with the Redskins in 2002, the same season Harrison made his debut with the Steelers.
Harrison, 38, needs four sacks over the final four games to tie Smith and five to set a new mark for a player his age. That might seem like a tall task, but Harrison has five sacks in the past five games and is playing as well as he has since coming out of retirement three games into the 2014 season.
“It’s great to see James Harrison still playing,” Buffalo coach Rex Ryan said. “I think the world of him. He whipped Father Time. He whipped a lot of players, too, but he whipped Father Time as well. He’s playing great.”
Harrison has a sack in three consecutive games for the fifth time in his career and for the first time since he did it in 2012. Since coming out of retirement in September of 2014 he has 15½ sacks, the most of any Steelers outside linebacker in that time. He leads the Steelers in sacks this season.
After starting the season as a reserve and sharing time with Jarvis Jones, Harrison is a starter again. He played 75 percent of the defensive snaps against the Giants. And in addition to getting career sack No. 81½, he scored the first points of the game for the Steelers when Giants tackle Ereck Flowers held him in the end zone.
“James is a power player,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s a physical aspect of his game and that’s highly appreciated. But if you’re not careful, you miss the fact that he’s highly skilled. I think his success lies in that skill. His techniques — he wins one-on-one confrontations, not only because of his physical talents, but because of the great detail in his work.”
Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is considered old by NFL standards. He turned 30 in May and is in his 10th NFL season. Harrison has him by almost a decade, but Timmons isn’t surprised the Steelers’ all-time sacks leader continues to play well at such an advanced age.
“If you look at him you’d be like, ‘I can see that. Yeah he could do that,’ ” Timmons said. “Look at the way he works, the way he practices, it doesn’t surprise me.”
Harrison’s workout regimen is legendary. He regularly posts videos on his Instagram account of predawn workouts on Tuesdays, the only off day of the week for players. He travels to Arizona every offseason to train to ensure his body can take the rigors of another NFL season.
Harrison remains in such good shape and is playing so well he could continue playing beyond this season. With the Steelers not picking up the fifth-year option on Jones’ contract this spring they will need someone to play right outside linebacker.
If Harrison does keep playing he’ll have a chance to join a rare club. Only 57 players in NFL history have played when they were 40 or older. The vast majority of those players are kickers and quarterbacks. Harrison would have to play two more seasons to do it, but if he does he’d become only the third linebacker to play at 40.
Junior Seau and Clay Matthews are the only ones to do it. Matthews, who played for the Browns and Falcons, had 6½ sacks in his final season when he was 40 in 1996.
The way Harrison is going it doesn’t seem like a far-fetched idea that he could do the same.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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