Dunlap: The Watt & Harrison Situation Easy To Figure Out

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I have this all figured out.

All of it.

Rest easy, Steelers fans — really, it isn’t that complicated.

Seems over the past few days there has been a bit of a disconnect between outside linebackers coach Joey Porter and head coach Mike Tomlin about how playing time will be divvied up between All-Pro-after-one-preseason-game T.J. Watt and 84-year-old-but-built-like-he’s-22 James Harrison.

I love controversy.

I mean, I’m in the controversy business and to have controversy in Steelerland in mid-August (before so much as one regular-season snap has been taken) is such a bonus. It makes business boom, that’s for sure.

But, really looking at this, is there controversy? I don’t know. I don’t think so. It pains me to say this, but there isn’t much controversy here — instead there appears to me to be well-thought-out reasoning. On Monday, Porter was loose with his lips (and, remember, that’s why we love Joey) and said something along the lines of Watt being the starter and Harrison being a “relief pitcher” of sorts at the position.

Let me illustrate a possible scenario to let you know just how right Porter is in all of this — if Porter elects to use Harrison wisely.

Let’s say it is one of the Steelers’ key AFC North Division games and the it is a nip-and-tuck clash through the first half. Watt and the tackle he’s going against are really having a knockdown, drag out on the edge. Sometimes Watt gets the better of the tackle with his high motor and bull rush; sometimes the opposing tackle gets the better of the rookie using picture-perfect technique and brute strength and his size.

The game, again, is tight in through the latter stages of the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter and here comes a key series with the opponent backed up to their own 3. The tackle who Watt has been going against all day is starting to get those really heavy legs on that 320-pound frame as perspiration floods down him and bogs his uniform. He is trying to focus as clearly as he can and remember to fire off the ball, get the job done and keep his quarterback clean.

But suddenly …

The tackle looks up to start that ulta-important series and it isn’t Watt lined up across from him as his heels near the goal line.

No. It is No. 92 instead.

With a clean jersey, fresh legs, a mean streak a mile long and a body that hasn’t been through the rigors that day as this is the first series he’s playing in, giving Watt a breather.

Think about that for a moment. And not just in a key Division game, but in any game.

Put yourself in the cleats of that tackle and having to look across the ball knowing you are fatigued and downright exhausted and seeing one of the meanest men to ever play in the National Football League totally fresh, with steam seemingly coming out of his nose and wanting nothing more than to embarrass your tired backside for the world to see.

Yikes.

Think about that for a moment from the eyes of the tackle — then think about that from the Steelers’ defensive side.

This isn’t a controversy; this is a luxury.

So, on Monday Joey Porter called James Harrison a guy who could be a relief pitcher of sorts. I agree with Joey.

Perhaps in his best role this season, Harrison could be a closer, a guy you insert late in games or in particular pass-rush spots to violently slam a door.

It’s all so easy to see. Watt should be the starter; Harrison a specialist.

I have this all figured out.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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