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James Harrison finally right fit with Steelers

9/23/2014



PITTSBURGH -- Just as with defensive end Brett Keisel a month ago, it makes perfect sense right now for the Steelers to bring back James Harrison for one more season.

Not that it is ideal.

Harrison is less than a month removed from officially announcing his retirement at Steelers headquarters. He is 36. And he recently taunted Roger Goodell via social media as the embattled NFL commissioner came under heavy fire for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic assault case.

Harrison's anticipated return has to make it awkward, given that Steelers president Art Rooney II, who is overseeing an investigation of Goodell's office, has publicly supported Goodell.

Harrison couldn’t have known, when he retired Sept. 5 or when he joined the chorus criticizing Goodell, his old nemesis, that his retirement would put Brett Favre to shame, given its brevity.

But even at his advanced football age, Harrison is clearly the best option the Steelers have at outside linebacker, with Jarvis Jones out for at least the next two months after surgery to fix a dislocated wrist.

Dick LeBeau’s defense helped make the former undrafted free agent a star, and Harrison might -- might -- need a brief refresher to fit right back into it.

Even if he has lost a step, Harrison’s knowledge of the defense will allow him to play more quickly than just about anyone the Steelers could bring in off the street. And make no mistake: The Steelers have no other option than to bring in an outside linebacker.

They were confetti-thin at the position even before Jones went down, and undrafted rookie Howard Jones, who is on the practice squad, is a developmental player.

He is, at most, ready to play special teams at this level, and that is not a knock against him as much as it is recognition that Jones is trying to make the jump from Shepherd University, a Division II school in West Virginia, to the NFL.

The Steelers don’t need Harrison to play like he did in his prime, when he tormented opposing quarterbacks and was one of the most feared players in the NFL. They don't even need him to start, with Arthur Moats poised to step in for Jarvis Jones.

That said, Harrison probably will play significant snaps, something Keisel has done with success, despite not re-signing with the Steelers until Aug. 20.

Keisel, who turned 36 last week, kept himself in excellent shape while he waited for a phone call. That and his familiarity with the Steelers defense accelerated his game-readiness. The same should hold true with Harrison, whose work ethic is legendary.

During the offseason, Harrison made it no secret that he wanted to end his career in Pittsburgh.

Wearing a pinstripe suit while announcing his retirement in front of the likes of coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and former -- soon-to-be current -- teammates such as Keisel, Troy Polamalu was probably what Harrison had in mind.

But things have quickly changed, and the Steelers now need Harrison as much as he needed them after a nondescript season in Cincinnati.

It looks like he will be able to end his career the way he had hoped all along.