On the Steelers: James Harrison will not play Sunday

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His body again did not match the promises that outside linebacker James Harrison continued to issue.

At noon Thursday, he said, "I'm great, I'm full go, I'm playing on Sunday. Run it." He added, "I've been known to lie."

And then Harrison did not run at all and did not step foot on the practice field. He missed his fourth consecutive practice sandwiched around a missed season opener.

Instead of full-go, Harrison looks like a no-go again Sunday when the Steelers play the New York Jets at Heinz Field. And it's possible the No. 1 defense from last season will face the No. 1 scoring offense after the first week of this season without two former NFL defensive players of the year.

Troy Polamalu, who has a calf injury, also did not practice for the second day in a row. Coach Mike Tomlin was optimistic Tuesday that at least the veteran safety would play, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did not sound that way after practice Thursday.

"James is the player of the year a few years ago, so you know he's a great player. But we've played without him and Troy, who won the [defensive] MVP award. We've played without him. Our guys know what's required of them -- they have to step up and fill the vacancy and push on. We miss those guys, we'll be happy when we get them back, but it should never be a factor in who wins the game."

Except there's a reason those two annually make the Pro Bowl in addition to Harrison's choice as the NFL's 2008 defensive player of the year and the same award going to Polamalu in '10. The Steelers went to the Super Bowl both seasons.

Harrison missed five games last season, and the Steelers won four of them. He only missed one other game since he became their starting right outside linebacker in '07, and that was a meaningless '08 season finale in Cleveland.

Teammates said it is driving him up a wall, not to mention what it could do to the pass rush.

"He's not a happy camper," linebacker Larry Foote said.

"I can't imagine how much it's bothering him," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "I think he thought he would be back by now, so I think that's making it a lot tougher on him."

Harrison had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 15 to remove some pieces of the meniscus that was causing it to swell. The problem goes back to spring drills, most of which Harrison missed. He began training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list and, when the swelling continued, they acted. Few thought he would not be ready for the opener, never mind the first two games.

"I know it's tearing him up," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "But he has to do what he has to do. I'm sure when he comes back he'll be ready. You just have to wait, you can't rush anything."

That's about how the Steelers play without Harrison; they cannot rush anything. They sacked Peyton Manning twice in the first quarter in Denver, and then not again. They had just 35 sacks last season with Harrison missing five games and fellow outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley nearly half the season. Those two accounted for more than half the team's sacks with nine each.

"The numbers speak for themselves," Foote said. "His presence, his leadership, and we know pound for pound he's probably one of the strongest guys in the NFL and his is a physical, strong game."

And one that appears won't be seen again Sunday. Chris Carter is expected to make his second start in Harrison's place.

Cotchery in strange spot

Jerricho Cotchery spent his first seven seasons with the New York Jets, this will be his first chance playing against them. He's not sure what to think about it.

"Emotionally, I really don't know. If this question would have come up last year, it would have been a little different," Cotchery said, then looked around the locker room. "But the way these guys embraced me, I just feel that's all I know right now."

Cotchery had good seasons in New York with 961 receiving yards in '06, 1,130 in '07 and the two next seasons in the 800s. After Santonio Holmes joined the Jets in '10, Cotchery's playing time and productivity declined, and he had 433 yards receiving. After the Jets beat out the Steelers to sign Plaxico Burress July 31, 2011, Cotchery asked for his release, and they gave it to him. He signed with the Steelers Aug. 11.

Today, Burress can't find a job, and Holmes still hasn't reached the productivity that Cotchery gave the Jets.

In that final season in New York for Cotchery, they lost the AFC championship to the Steelers at Heinz Field, 24-19. Cotchery caught five passes and scored a touchdown with three minutes left to bring the Jets within five after they trailed, 24-3, at halftime.

The Steelers offense then ran out the clock.

It was a bitter pill for the Jets and Cotchery, who did not watch a tape of that game -- until this week.

"You're that close, especially two years in a row, and you're not able to accomplish your goal, it's going to be hard to take," Cotchery said. "I'm watching the tape now. I hadn't watched it until I got over here. Being here, I feel like I was part of it. It's kind of weird, but they let me know I wasn't part of it.

"I didn't go to the Super Bowl that year, and that's what I play for, that's one of the reasons I came over here when I had the opportunity to do so. This is a team that's going to be in the hunt every year."

Other injury updates

Rashard Mendenhall went through another practice in his second full week of drills after anterior cruciate ligament surgery in January. He continues to say he feels good, but neither he nor anyone else has hinted when he might return.

Mendenhall said he did not take any inspiration from the return Sunday of Minnesota halfback Adrian Peterson, whose ACL injury occurred one week before Mendenhall's on New Year's Day.

"I think it's great for him, but, for me, I'm just taking it day by day,'' Mendenhall said.

In other practice news Thursday, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (medial collateral ligament, knee) again did not work out and is not expected to return this week, and starting offensive left tackle Max Starks had a reaction to medication and did not practice. Starks should return today and play Sunday. Halfback Jonathan Dwyer returned to a full practice after missing one day with what was labeled a foot injury.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 14, 2012 4:00 AM


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