The Steelers on Sunday will use James Harrison as the full-time replacement for Clark Haggans at left outside linebacker.
Haggans went down with a groin injury in the first quarter two games ago against the New York Jets. He also missed last Saturday's game against the New York Giants. His replacements were Harrison and Alonzo Jackson, who played on passing downs. But Harrison outplayed Jackson and will see full-time duty Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
"We made the switch this week," said Harrison, who's been pulled off the kickoff coverage team.
His absence and the absence of injured special-teams captain Clint Kriewaldt were cited as reasons the Giants returned one kickoff for a touchdown and allowed seven other kickoffs to be returned an average of 24 yards.
"It's not that it's too exhausting," Harrison explained. "I think it has more to do with us being low on linebackers right now. There's more of a chance for guys to get a blind-side block, more of a chance of getting hurt going down running under a kickoff than it is a punt."
Harrison seemingly can't be exhausted. He's played football since late February when he went to Florida to prepare for a season in NFL Europe.
In Florida, Harrison played for a coach who held two full-contact practices a day. That was only if the team wasn't involved in a live scrimmage against another team.
"That was ridiculous," Harrison said.
He then went to Dusseldorf, Germany, to play the regular season. Harrison returned and was cut by the Ravens. He signed with the Steelers just before camp started because Haggans had injured his hand weightlifting.
At the time, Harrison was considered nothing more than camp fodder, but he made the team and is now the full-time starter in what's considered the biggest game of the regular season.
How would Harrison describe the year?
"Long," he said. "It's been long, ups and downs, lately more ups than downs."
Harrison began to shine in his role on kickoff and punt coverage, and eventually came to start against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 14 after Joey Porter was ejected for fighting. Harrison had a sack and six tackles that day, but returned to special-teams duty the following week.
After Harrison entered for Haggans on Dec. 12 against the Jets, he made six tackles while being used mainly on run downs.
Jackson, the second-round draft pick in 2003, had two tackles against the Jets, but was blanked against the Giants.
It's become obvious that Harrison, who came into the league with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2002, is the better player.
"It's getting better," Harrison said of playing linebacker. "I knew what to do if you set the defense, but it's totally different when you're in there, you know, in the starting lineup and you've got to actually see what's going on. So I mean actually getting in there and getting a feel for it, I feel I'm doing better with that."
While Jackson is failing in his attempt to play for the Steelers, Harrison appears to have it made. And that means he won't have to toil in NFL Europe any longer.
"Even if I didn't have it made, and I didn't get picked up this year, I would never go back to NFL Europe," he said. "They can offer me whatever they wanted to, or make any kind of promise, I'll never go back there. I'll never go back to Europe again in my life. I did not like it. I would not suggest it to anyone."
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