Unleash The Hound: Harrison to test rookie

James Harrison was in this position last year and schooled rookie Joe Thomas in the opener. Harrison says he's an even better player this year, and Duane Brown needs to understand this.

PITTSBURGH – James Harrison has little time for reporters, particularly those interested in an injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice.

"What injury?" he flared. "I was out there."

He must've left early.

"It was hot, so I needed to stop," he responded.

So, the shoulder wrap and ice pack were only props to fool the media?

"No," Harrison said.

That's where it was hottest?

"You got it," he snapped.

Good one, James. But of course, no one told him that. He is, after all, the meanest man in the Steelers' locker room. And the meanest man is eyeballing yet another rookie making his first career start on Sunday.

Last year, Harrison kicked off his Pro Bowl season against Cleveland rookie Joe Thomas in the opener, and he whipped him good. Harrison led the Steelers with seven tackles that day, all solo, and had one of the Steelers' six sacks. The Browns allowed only 19 sacks all season, and Thomas, the third pick of the 2007 draft, went on to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He just wasn't ready for the opener.

Harrison's facing another kid fresh off campus in this year's opener. His name's Duane Brown out of Virginia Tech. Like Thomas, Brown's a first-rounder, but the Houston Texans made him the eighth tackle (counting T/G Branden Albert) selected in the round, and he was even considered a reach at No. 26. But Brown was deemed a perfect fit for new line coach Alex Gibbs, and the Texans drafted him and have stuck with him over veteran Ephraim Salaam, who started all 16 games last season.

Brown has apparently played well, since the Texans allowed only two sacks this preseason. But he did get help from both a personnel and schematic standpoint. The smile on LaMarr Woodley's face pretty much told the tale of the Texans' tape.

"You figure they'll give him some help with James," Woodley said. "And if they do, that would give us other guys one-on-one blocks. So you beat your man and you're home."

Woodley's obviously excited about the pass-rushing opportunities in his first start, and why not? His bookend, the Pro Bowler Harrison, figures to command the double teams. But Harrison doesn't see a big advantage against Brown.

"To tell you the truth," Harrison said, "I don't pay too much attention to it, whether I'm facing a first-time tackle or a Pro Bowl tackle. I just go out there and try and play to the best of my abilities and whatever happens happens."

How has the rookie looked on film?

"I think he's doing all right. Everybody has their rookie year. That's about it. There's not anything I see that he really left open or is suspect to."

Harrison replaced Joey Porter last season and finished with a team-high 8.5 sacks. He was voted the Steelers' MVP, but is expecting an even better season in 2008.

"I'm better now," he said. "I'm more in tune with my body. I've got a better understanding of the defense and the things that I'm capable of doing."

At the end of last season, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin cited Harrison's work ethic as the reason for his instant production. And even though he's hit it big, Harrison said his work ethic hasn't changed.

"From the time I got here till this offseason, I haven't changed anything that I did," he said.

Harrison paused, eyeballed his inquisitor, and added: "Besides, you can't do more than what I do anyway. Really, you can't do much more."

Then he shrugged off Tomlin's compliment. "To him it may be something that's real hard, but to me, it's just something I'm used to doing."

It's what he does. The rookie tackle might want to know that going in.

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