By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The calendar noted that Monday was Labor Day, a national holiday, but Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison did not appear to be laboring nor did he take the day off.
Harrison practiced as usual, aggressively and at full speed, as the Steelers began preparation in earnest for their season-opener against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.
Still, Harrison said that he probably is playing at only at 75-80 percent, as far as his back is concerned after two offseason surgical procedures within a week. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who met the media Tuesday for his initial in-season weekly press conference, wasn’t buying what Harrison was selling.
“I’d imagine that he’s sand-bagging,” Tomlin said. “James Harrison likes to play, and we expect that James Harrison might play. … Jason Worilds has improved quite a bit, (and) Lawrence Timmons is an option (if Harrison’s back acts up).
“But, more important, I expect James Harrison to be James Harrison. And I expect him to play against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday.”
Anyway, Harrison said that he’s not worried about his back for this game, because he’s feeling much better than he did a couple weeks ago. He also spoke about the Steelers defense, which has eight starters who are 30-plus years old and likely comprise the oldest unit in the NFL.
“Listen up,” Harrison said. “I’m going to tell you what, how many times have you heard that a defense is just right? Never.
“They’re either too young or too old. You never hear that a defense is just the right age to be playing good ball. It’s either too young or too old, and I’ve been hearing that for the last few years.”
Tomlin wouldn’t characterize the Steelers’ defense one way or another.
“We feel very comfortable, not only with our first wave defensively, but also some of the young, interesting guys who back them up who will be given an opportunity contribute,” Tomlin said. “So, we are who we are, and we’re not fighting any stereotypes or darts being thrown our way.
“We welcome them, and usually they provide a positive energy for us. So, keep talking about how old (the Steelers defensive players) are. I appreciate that, because it makes my job a lot easier.”
Tomlin said that second-year wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who missed the first three preseason games due to a sore left foot, should have no problem coming through if given an opportunity to play against the Ravens.
“I believe he is (ready),” Tomlin said. “He’s worked extremely hard and when given an opportunity to perform, he has performed well. This is a smart guy, not only in terms of what he has done on the field, but in the classroom.
“(And) I think he’s continued to grow in that area, even when he wasn’t getting the physical reps (during training camp). So, we expect him to be a guy who will deliver for us if called upon Sunday.”
Note: The Steelers practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before leaving Saturday for Baltimore.