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Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison isn't playing much because of opponents' spread offenses.

Mike Tomlin explains why Steelers LB James Harrison isn’t playing much

Ryan Wooden

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison hasn’t played much in 2017, and that’s been a sore spot for many who’d like to see the legendary edge rusher finish his career in style. However, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin explained why Harrison isn’t playing recently.

With spread concepts further and further infiltrating the highest levels of the game, the responsibilities of playing outside linebacker in the Steelers’ base 3-4 defense has changed dramatically. That’s necessitated a shift in the personnel decisions that are made at that position.

“It’s evolved within the last decade, since I’ve been here. Outside linebacker was a rush-man’s position in the early part of my tenure. Guys like LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were defensive-end-like,” Tomlin told Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. “They rushed the vast majority of the time.

“With the evolution of spread football, read-option football, RPOs as the college guys call it – run-pass options – and all the empty backfield stuff, it has become a hybrid position, where they’re asked to do a lot of things: rush, drop in zone, play man-to-man.”

Tomlin went on to mention how that not only explains why Harrison hasn’t been receiving much playing time, but how it also explains why Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt don’t have 12 sacks on the season. But the Harrison talk is particularly important because it’s the first time that Tomlin has broken from the company line that Harrison would be in the lineup down the stretch when he was truly needed.

Instead, it appears that Harrison is firmly stuck in a reserve role with his only opportunity at meaningful playing time likely to come in the event of injury.