Friday, August 17, 2012

With Harrison's Uncertainty Is LaMarr Woodley Ready To Take A Leadership Role?

By now most everyone has had time to digest the James Harrison news. 

There was the passing of information that he was training and/or practicing by himself indoors away from the others on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. There had been pictures floating around also of him wearing a mask that was supposedly to help get a higher amount of oxygen into his bloodstream. This was being done to avoid what eventually became inevitable, which was left knee surgery. By now you also know that it went well. Good news. 

The surgery ended up mainly being a scope procedure where only a small incision is made allowing the surgeon to trim away whatever is causing the pain or debilitation. Further good news is that it seems not to have been soft tissue/ligament related (some have speculated that it was a bone spur behind his left knee). If it had been soft tissue related it might have been a different issue. 

Trust me, I've had two soft tissue knee surgeries, I know whereof I speak. The doctor or surgeon in each case, meniscus repair and a bursectomy, even told me that bones heal faster. Again, therefore, essentially good news for Harrison. 

Even though the good news is that the downtime is likely only two or three more weeks, the bad news is that the downtime is still two or three more weeks. That means that the Silverback will miss the rest of Training Camp and preseason. Those essential practices that will at least get him ready for game speed will all be missed. 

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler even said, as reported by Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on his Twitter account, “@arobinson_Trib: #Steelers LB coach Keith Butler on Harrison having no spring, no camp to date: 'He’s a guy who needs reps. It's going to be tough for him.'"

Not exactly encouraging from Butler, but not exactly new, either. Deebo went into the beginning of last season after the two back surgeries, that we spoke of in previous blogs, and wasn't game ready. He showed the effects of the lack of a true offseason, and we could very well see a repeat of it this year. 

Harrison's knee has bothered him since spring workouts, actually. In fact, the five-time Pro Bowler hasn't practiced since then. What prompted the decision to wait until now is unknown. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, though, doesn't appear too worried. 

“Shouldn't be too long,” Tomlin said. “We'll see when we get him back out here and start the process of working him back."

"We just address things as they arise,” Tomlin continued. “We felt like the procedure was necessary at this time, so we had it.”

"When [they] get him back" is the key part of that. Until then, as Tomlin would certainly say, the standard is the standard. Who, in that case, takes Harrison's place? Because this isn't just about a pass rush, it's also about leadership. 

The expected name to be tossed out would be Jason Worilds, but that won't be happening. Keith Butler spoke openly on him as reported again by Robinson.

“Steelers LB coach Keith Butler says there's a chance Jason Worilds, who hasn't practiced in camp, might miss preseason. Best case: 1 game.”

“Keith Butler on Worilds: 'Hopefully we can get him back for the last preseason game, but that may not be the case.'"

So, he's still in the same boat as Harrison, as we at If It Ain't Steel have brought to you before. He still isn't healed completely from his wrist surgery, at least not to the satisfaction of the trainers and coaches. So, that's two linebackers, your first and second stringers, who will miss the rest of the preseason and may miss the first game of the season. 

To that end, Chris Carter has spoken openly about wanting to step up and fill Harrison's void. 

"I have a lot to live up to. I am going to try my best and hopefully get to where James is at." 

Carter, listed at 6'1", 248 pounds, but reportedly is closer to about 253 pounds now, isn't concerned that there may be questions about his size or only being a speed rusher. He's having a very good Training Camp and is by no means going unnoticed. -

Carter being ready to stand up and be counted is exactly what we as Steelers fans want to hear. At this point, though, he cannot replace Deebo, he can only succeed him. The key element in this is the leadership factor. 

It has become evident that LaMarr Woodley is very close to being the elder statesman of the outside linebackers. As we've written before, this could very well be the Silverback's last year in a Steelers uniform. If so, Woodley must become not only "elite," but also must take on the leadership mantle. 

Woodley says that he doesn't need to "set personal goals," but that may change. Soon. Butler recently called Woodley out for coming into "Camp weighing 290 [pounds]." That was a reference to last year's Camp. Woodley responded this Training Camp and came in closer to his playing weight, but has still had a nagging groin issue that has slowed him. 

Despite the minor tweaks of the groin muscles, Woodley remains vigilant and seems ready to do what's necessary to get back that "elite status." He says that sacks are a big part of that goal-for himself and the team. - 

Woodley has taken his shots in the past, being referred to as Robin to Harrison's Batman, being criticized for slow starts and even being lambasted in various newspaper articles and blogs. Some of it ridiculous rhetoric and some of it unfortunately warranted. 

Woodley showed last season what he could do without Batman on the other side of the field over a four-game stretch, but does Robin become Nightwing and take over the city? If the Dark Knight isn't able to rise again, then it's absolutely time that his ward don the cape and cowl.