Emerging LBers Add Swagger, Presence

James Harrison, Vince Williams are playing well and hitting hard -- just in time for the Ravens.

PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison was awarded what was rightfully his the other day when the NFL corrected the game stats and credited him with a second sack of Andrew Luck.

So the 36-year-old Harrison had two sacks in a game for the first time in almost three years. Does it mean anything to him?

"It means I got two sacks," he said. "That's it."

Oh, that surly attitude never left. Neither did the strength. But it appears Harrison's burst is returning as his weight has dropped from the 277 pounds he carried when the Pittsburgh Steelers brought him back a month ago to the 261 he's at now. He said he doesn't need to lose much more, if any.

"Not as long as I continue to feel like I can still do the things that I need to do," he said. "I'm going to try to get as light as I can, just so I can continue to get my movement and whatever quickness I have left. Because I'm so old and slow nowadays."

The last line was meant as a jab at anyone within the listening area.

Has he heard anyone say that?

"I could really care less," he said. "I want them to say that. That motivates me. I like hearing that."

Yep, the chip on the shoulder is returning just in time for the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers could've used that type of demeanor the first time they played the Ravens. The Steelers lost, 26-6, in a game in which they didn't force a turnover or record a sack. And unwittingly or not, they'll face the Ravens this time with more grit and hardcore demeanor in the person of Harrison, as well as in another reserve linebacker, Vince Williams, who's also receiving more playing time as the season progresses. Williams is a true, blue hitter.

"Yeah, Vinnie's not one to shy away from contact," said Cameron Heyward. "High energy, great love for the game. He wants to hit everything that walks. We appreciate it."

Williams, of course, was the Steelers' starting inside buck linebacker last year after Larry Foote went down in the opener. Williams started 11 games, made 66 tackles (6th on the team) and went through an intense on-the-job learning process. He was rewarded with a seat on the bench the following season after the Steelers drafted Ryan Shazier in the first round.

But Williams continued to work hard and had an outstanding training camp. At one point, Mike Tomlin walked over to a group of reporters and raved about Williams' play and compared him to Bart Scott, the former Ravens linebacker who holds the championship belt for the hardest hit ever delivered on Ben Roethlisberger.

"He always says I remind him of Bart Scott, but I just try to play football," said Williams. "Whether it's covering guys or smashing the run or blitzing, I just want to be a complete all-around linebacker, and I try to work on that every day I go out to practice."

That kind of perseverance is paying off. Initially, Williams bided his time -- while Sean Spence was the first replacement for the injured Shazier -- by blowing up everything that moved in limited spot duty at linebacker, on special teams, and even on team doctors who wondered aimlessly and too closely to the sideline.

Tomlin took notice and put Williams on the nickel defense last Sunday against the Colts. He made six tackles and was elevated into the rotation this week at ILB.

When Williams enters the game, Lawrence Timmons will move over to his more natural mack ILB position. Timmons still wears the audio helmet and calls the play in the huddle, but Williams is a cog in the line of communication.

"Last year with the loss of Larry Foote, they realized the give and receiving of information kind of flowed through one person," said the person through whom that information flowed last year. "This year we made an effort to open that communication up. There are calls, and people do make calls, but a lot of people know it. I know it. 'Law Dawg' knows it. Ryan knows it. Spence knows it. All of our linebackers that are in are going to be knowing the calls so we're going to be helping each other out. It's a lot better than last year."

As is Williams' presence on the field. And, again, that presence, that swagger, will be a necessary ingredient against the always-physical Ravens on Sunday night.

"I think everybody gets up for this game, but Vinnie looks for those hard hits," said Heyward. "Even if he does get knocked out he's going to get back up and tell you 'I'm going to hit you again.'"

Heyward was at a loss for any kind of nickname that might suit Williams, just said that he may come up with something during the Ravens game, but Heyward did agree with the comparison to Scott.

"Bart was obviously a talker. Vinnie's a little bit of a talker," Heyward said. "They both like to go for those killshots."

And that's when the light bulb turned on.

"Hey, 'Killshot Vinnie,'" Heyward said. "Maybe that's what we'll start calling him."

It would fit. And if not, Harrison still has a few extra nicknames lying around.

Is Harrison excited about playing the Ravens?

"I get excited about football," he said. "With it being the Ravens, you're gonna go a little harder. It's a divisional rival, and it means a little more because they are in the division. That's part of playing I guess."

So is attitude. And the Steelers are loaded in that department this time.

NOTES -- An energetic, even loud Thursday practice made it obvious the Ravens are on deck. Sidelined were DE Brett Keisel, TE Heath Miller, SS Troy Polamalu and S Ross Ventrone (hamstring). FS Mike Mitchell (groin) and CB Ike Taylor (forearm) were limited. ... The Ravens were without WR Mike Campanaro (thigh), TE Owen Daniels (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (foot) and LB Terrell Suggs (neck). Limited were RB Justin Forsett (ankle) and G Marshal Yanda (knee). ... Top quote of Steelers coordinator day from Dick LeBeau, who was asked what it will take for Cortez Allen to regain his confidence: "Well, having been an old corner myself, a corner learns to live alone. He has to believe in himself and just go out there and play and work on everything he's doing. You have to believe in yourself to play corner and I think Cortez does. I have a lot of confidence in him. He's just got to produce and get out there and make some plays."


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