By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — After just a few seconds, it was clear that James Harrison was weary from answering the same questions about his creaky left knee, which also has been bothersome enough to prevent him from playing yet this season.
Harrison, whose practice session Monday was just the fifth one since the previous season ended for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was somewhat of a surprise since the former NFL defensive player of the year left the practice facility last Wednesday after what his agent described as a “minor setback.”
Harrison was asked after practice Monday to describe the setback. He preferred to talk about the team’s annual fashion show to be held Friday night.
“I’m just looking forward to this fashion show on Friday,” Harrison said. “I’m likely for this fashion show. … It gives me a chance to show just a little bit of my style. … I’ll have a better idea about all these questions that you’re asking me on Friday. Before the fashion show.”
Harrison discussed the fashion show extensively during a three-minute interview session with the local media, which continued to mix in pertinent questions about his left knee. It has been a constant issue for Harrison since last season ended. He practiced just twice during OTAs in May, and was bothered enough before and during training camp because he has arthroscopic surgery Aug. 15.
Harrison clearly has not bounced back as quickly as he used to, and at 34 years old that situation isn’t likely to improve. He even admitted as much during training camp. But Harrison has never started a season like this, missing the opening three games with no definitive start date. He practiced last Tuesday and was excited about that prospect, until he woke up Wednesday with more knee problems.
“It’s just something you’ve got to deal with,” Harrison said. “The constant questions, of course, just nags and irks on you. So, you get to a point where you’ve got to deal with it. And my way of dealing with it is on Fridays, so I have to deal with it one day. … I understand what you all have to do, but I will answer all your questions on Friday.”
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (strained right calf) has missed the past two games, while running back Rashard Mendenhall (offseason knee surgery) has missed all three. They practiced both days last week and were out there again Monday. The two obviously were well-reseted after the Steelers bye week and light practice schedule.
Polamalu and Mendenhall are expected to continue to practice Wednesday, after the players’ day off, and eventually play against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at Heinz Field. Harrison’s status is another story. If he doesn’t have any problems after Monday’s workout and can practice Wednesday, his outlook and prospects for returning could brighten.
“You’re talking about two defensive league MVPs,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “Enough said. (But) it was nice to have everybody out there today. We’ll see what happens at the end of the week, but it was good to have our regular defense out there today.”
Polamalu was just happy to be at practice for the second week in a row after a well-deserved weekend break.
“Well, the more time off the better,” Polamalu said. “Obviously, it’s an early bye week for us, but hopefully we can get some momentum going and we’ll see how this week turns out for us. We’ll see if Coach Tomlin allows me to play this week. … It’s been a while since we were all on the field together.
“There were some other new faces out there who have been permanent starters, so it’s all about how well 11 guys mesh on our defense. … We just haven’t been executing that well on defense, (so) whatever the call is that Coach LeBeau has made (and) has nothing to do with the scheme of things. It’s just that we’re not executing and not performing well enough on defense.”
The Steelers offense, and running game in particular, should get a boost from Mendenhall’s return. He has been practicing all season with an eye on returning after the team’s bye week, but now that the time has come he was still vague when asked about his playing status.
“It was great to get back at it, but I’m just taking it one day at a time once again,” Mendenhall said. “I’m improving every day and improving every week, so I’m just going to continue to work at it and prepare for this game just like I have in every other week.”
Even though the Steelers have averaged just 2.6 yards per carry with one rushing touchdown during their 1-2 start this season, Mendenhall did not appear to be concerned about how he would affect those numbers.
“I’m not really paying too much attention to what’s going on with things on the outside,” Mendenhall said. “I’m just concerned with me, going through this process and my preparation and what I need to do to get back out there, regardless of what else is going on. … It’s kind of been the same course.
“We’re taking it one day at a time. We’re just continuing to improve and taking it one day at a time. We’re gauging it, me and the coaches, and when we get to the point where we all think I can play then I’ll get back in there.”
Notes: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has recorded 20 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career with one last season, against the Indianapolis Colts, but he couldn’t get the job done in two attempts this season.
“You hope it won’t come to that, that you might blow some teams out instead,” Roethlisberger said, “But I need to be better on the last drive. I take pride in fourth-quarter comebacks and drives, and I just need to be better and be ready for them.”
The Steelers are off Tuesday and practice Wednesday through Friday to prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.