Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison unsure whether to fight league

His team and his teammates are behind him either way, but James Harrison is still unsure about his next move

LATROBE -- Ben Roethlisberger started up the chant outside the St. Vincent College locker room and was joined in by Ramon Foster.

"Free Deebo! Fee Deebo!" said the two Pittsburgh Steelers as "Deebo," James Harrison, was being interviewed by a mob of reporters.

Roethlisberger, of course, is the team leader and Foster is the team's union rep. And they are probably as conflicted as "Deebo," the nickname given long ago to Harrison, about the recent ultimatum handed down by the league.

"I'll do what I have to do, they'll do what they have to do," Harrison told reporters. "We'll make that decision when that time comes."

Harrison isn't even sure what he wants to do after he was notified once again by the NFL that he must come to New York City for an interview before Aug. 26 or he'll be suspended until he does appear.

Harrison was named as a performance-enhancing drug user by a source who didn't know he was being quoted in a since-recanted story that has piqued the interest of the league. They want to talk to Harrison (and three other players) even though Harrison has never failed a drug test, in fact passed a drug test Tuesday, and has sent to them a sworn affidavit that he's never taken PEDs. Harrison said that he would interview with Commissioner Roger Goodell, but only if Goodell comes to Pittsburgh.

That's not enough for the league, which is involved in what Foster called "an abuse of power right now."

From the Steelers' perspective, Mike Tomlin said Tuesday, "I won’t advise James of anything. That has nothing to do with us. That’s between him, the NFLPA and the league. I assume that he’s going to do what he needs to do."

Harrison is unsure of how he will proceed, and will consult with NFLPA attorneys, but also knows that if he acquiesces to the league's demands, he's setting a bad precedent.

"I'm not going to answer questions for every little thing that some Tom, Dick and Harry comes up with," he said.

Foster and his teammates, of course, don't want Harrison to be suspended. He's entering his 14th and most likely final season and appears physically able to go out in style. But if Harrison makes up his mind he's going to fight it, he could miss the entire season. And his teammates understand and support Harrison if he decides to go that route.

"Listen to the chants," Foster said. "It's kinda just over the top right now. ... It's Roger Goodell and the NFL just basically trying to pull the hammer out and show that they run things."

Is it worth the fight?

Shouldn't Harrison just put it behind him and play football?

"Suppose somebody reported you smoked crack and they want to ask you about it," Foster said to the reporter. "That doesn't mean you go give an interview to somebody about it. James can't be proven he did drugs, so why should the NFL involve itself in that business? And why would you want them to sit down and interview with you? And why wouldn't Roger want to come to Pittsburgh? He's making over $30 million a year. Bring your jet to Pittsburgh and meet James at the facility."

SKILL PLAYERS OUT VS. EAGLES

Harrison is expected to play Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field in the Steelers' second preseason game, but Tomlin said on Tuesday that Roethlisberger, Antonio BrownLe'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams won't play.

As for Bell, Foster believes his appeal will be heard either late this week or early next. Bell's appealing a four-game suspension.

RB SPOT FOR THE TAKING

Without Bell or Williams in the lineup Thursday, an interesting battle will be waged for the No. 3 spot. Tomlin set up the particulars about what he wants to see from two players.

"Fitzgerald Toussaint has been Steady Eddie from a detail assignment standpoint," Tomlin said. "He’s added value to his cause by being a participant in special teams. He had a nice tackle on special teams last week. Daryl Richardson has done some nice things with the ball in his hands. We want to see more detail in his work. We want to see more participation from him in special teams. We want to see more splash from Fitz."

SECONDARY CONCERNS

Because he didn't suit up again for practice Tuesday, first-round pick Artie Burns will most likely miss Thursday's game. The rookie cornerback hasn't gone through a full practice since getting hurt Aug. 3.

His replacement as the No. 2 right cornerback, Doran Grant, was moved to safety this week, so it appears that 30-year-old Donald Washington, who last played in the NFL in 2011, will step in when Will Gay's night is finished.

On the other side are cornerback Ross Cockrell and his backups this week Kevin White and Al-Hajj Shabazz.

The slot corners will be rookie Sean Davis and Montell Garner.

Davis, drafted as a safety, struggled in the preseason opener.

"I like where he is in the process, but by no means is he game ready," Tomlin said. "He’ll be a much better player in three weeks than he is today. That’s just the reality of it, and I think that could be said about almost all of the guys in his position. You can’t understate the growth that goes on once we get into this preseason game element of the process."

GRAVE DIGGER

The one rookie who doesn't seem to be struggling is third-round pick Javon Hargrave, who split time Tuesday with Daniel McCullers as the first-team nose tackle.

"His pedigree routinely flashes," Tomlin said with rare praise for a rookie. "He’s a talented guy, yes."

PRACTICE NOTES

Rookie OLB Travis Feeney practiced for a second consecutive day and appears to finally be on his way to getting over the sports hernia that dogged him through his senior season at Washington ... Starters out with minor injuries on this final open practice at St. Vincent College were RT Marcus Gilbert and OLB Bud Dupree, who continues to rehab his groin injury. Also out were backups L.T. Walton, Anthony Chickillo, Bruce Gradkowski, Valerian Ume-EzeokeJerald Hawkins and Burns. ... Davis was beaten deep by Brown but recovered in time to break up Roethlisberger's long pass. The beaming Davis headed to the sideline, where a smiling Tomlin said, "I'm not shaking your hand. It's OK to catch that. You knocked it down with two feet on the ground? Heck, catch that thing! Make a play!"


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