Lucky break helps Harrison
By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, July 24, 2005
James Harrison isn't sure what fate has in store for him this summer, but as his fourth training camp with the Steelers approaches, he's a lot more certain than he was a year ago that football will be included in there somewhere.
"I was sitting at home looking for a job, a real job, not a football job," Harrison said, recalling last July. "I was giving up on this. I was like 'this football thing is getting old.' "
Harrison was in the process of applying for "whatever paid" in life away from the game, and also contemplating returning to Kent State to complete the year he needed to earn his degree.
Then outside linebacker Clark Haggans suffered a broken hand in a weightlifting accident on the eve of training camp, and the Steelers re-signed Harrison last July 28.
He wound up making the team and making a difference, on special teams and as a fill-in starter for Haggans and the Steelers' other starter at outside linebacker, Joey Porter.
"I feel they have a better understanding of what I can do," Harrison said. "They're probably more comfortable if the situation comes up where I have to step in and play regular defense, instead of just being a special-teams guy."
Harrison was an integral member of the Steelers' special teams throughout last season. He also wound up starting five games at outside linebacker, one on Nov. 14 in Cleveland after Porter had been ejected following a pre-game altercation, and the final four of the regular season while Haggans recovered from a hamstring injury.
Harrison recorded is first career sack against the Browns and his first career touchdown in the regular-season finale against the Bills. In between, the former rookie-free agent demonstrated a knack for rushing the passer, holding up against the run and holding his own as a member of what wound up as the NFL's No. 1 defense.
For Harrison, such progress constituted a quantum leap.
When he first arrived on the Steelers' scene in training camp in 2002, opinions differed on what might be expected from the 6-foot, 242-pound unknown with an obvious mean streak. Some staff members thought Harrison might be crazy, while another was convinced of as much.
He had only gotten that far because a tape had been submitted to the Steelers on Harrison's behalf. The tape revealed a stand-up linebaker with terrible technique but one who battled anyone any time. The Steelers were also impressed by Harrison's propensity for collecting personal foul penalties.
He made it onto the practice squad that summer and eventually onto the active roster and dressed for the final regular-season game.
In 2003 Harrison again landed on the practice squad, before being released some three weeks into the season.
He was signed by the Ravens last spring and assigned to NFL Europe, but returned from Europe early, was subsequently released by Baltimore and was without prospects until the Steelers called.
This season they may call upon him to do more at outside linebacker, even if Porter and Haggans remain healthy and available.
Depth at the position is suspect enough that the Steelers have been pursuing the likes of Chad Brown and Peter Boulware to fill a role as a situational pass rusher.
"I can do it," Harrison said. "I have no problem with stepping in and doing what needs to be done."
He may yet get his chance.
Brown signed with New England in free agency, and Boulware is far from a long shot to wind up with the Steelers.
"If they go after these people they feel it's something we need, and I'm all for whatever makes the team better," Harrison said. "If we don't get 'em, I guess it's better for me, huh?"
It beats working for a living.