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On James Harrison’s conditioning and the aging Steelers defense

James Harrison

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison stretches during NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


I’m writing up the AFC preview and can’t come up with enough compelling reasons to predict another post-Super Bowl malaise by the Steelers.

The offensive line is shaky, but Ben Roethlisberger is just hitting the sweet spot of his prime. His young wideouts are a special group. An out-of-conference schedule against the NFC West makes life easier.

If there is a case to be made against Pittsburgh, it’s actually on the defense. Could this veteran group get old all at once?

We thought about this when reading about James Harrison’s struggles following back surgery in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“He’s looking like he was tired out there,” said inside linebacker James Farrior talking about Harrison’s lack of conditioning in the last preseason game.

“He’s not where he wants to be, he’ll tell you that,” said linebackers coach Keith Butler, who said Harrison looked like he was “running in mud” on one play.

Harrison is more upset than anyone and working hard to get back in shape. Post-surgery problems happen more often on an aging defense.

The Steelers will have nine defensive starters over 30 years old this year. They are counting on guys like Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, and Ike Taylor to stay healthy and avoid the ravages of father time.

There is some quality young depth on the team, but there is a fine line between wanting good experienced players and getting old all at once.

That’s a risk the Steelers are willing to take this year.