Jarvis Jones returns at the position, and the Steelers really need the 2013 first-round draft pick to emerge in his third NFL season. Jones may have been on the verge of doing that in 2014 before dislocating his right wrist in the third game while sacking Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and forcing a fumble.
That injury pretty much cost Jones the rest of the season. It also provided the opening that Harrison took full advantage of after ditching retirement -- and has led to his return for another season.
Colbert said he expects an “open competition” between Jones and Harrison for the starting job at right outside linebacker though he added it is something that is ultimately coach Mike Tomlin’s call.
“Jarvis has to come in and he has to pick up where he left off before he injured his wrist because I really think he was playing very well at that point,” Colbert said at the NFL owners meetings. "But to have James there to spell him, push him and compete, we can’t help but benefit from having the two of them.”
Colbert said Jones has the capability of playing left outside linebacker where Arthur Moats is the starter for now.
But Jones, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, doesn’t have the size to play regular snaps on the strong side of the defense. It’s also hard to imagine the Steelers moving Jones from right outside linebacker even if Harrison beats him out for the starting job.
Harrison turns 37 next month and Colbert acknowledged that the Steelers will have to manage his playing time to maximize production from the five-time Pro Bowler.
“One, you know what he can do and you hope that he can still do it,” Colbert said of Harrison. “The other, you’ve seen flashes and you want to see more. I think it’s a comfort to know that if one fails you have a fallback. I know in James’ situation he is not going to come in and view himself anything else than starter-capable and that’s why he is who he is.”
The Steelers would love nothing more than for Jones to seize the starting job at right outside linebacker and force them to find ways to also get Harrison on the field. That is the ideal scenario at outside linebacker where Harrison, Jones and Moats are the only players on the roster with NFL experience.
“Whatever depth we add or whatever picks we add in the draft, it’s going to be a nice, competitive situation,” Colbert said of the Steelers’ outside linebackers. "And with coach [Keith] Butler coordinating the defense, there may be some different combinations and alignments that they use. That’s something we will have to wait and see.”