Back surgery and a lack of offseason workouts have accomplished what many NFL blockers recently haven't: slow down Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
Harrison has become noticeably fatigued during preseason games, and it's frustrating the two-time All-Pro and 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year while surprising teammates and coaches alike.
"He's not where he wants to be, he'll tell you that," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's not where he usually is before a season. He's usually in better shape than anybody, but the back surgery slowed him down a little."
Harrison appeared tired during the Steelers' preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons last week, fellow linebacker James Farrior said.
"It's just from not playing enough football," Farrior said. "The only way we can get into football shape is to be out there playing. These preseason games, we only play so much. Until you start playing with the pads on and the helmet, it's completely different."
Concerns about the recovery from surgery prompted Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to limit Harrison's practice time during training camp. That, coupled with the disruption to his usual offseason routine, has left Harrison, 33, short of his typical tip-top condition.
"It fatigues you a lot faster, especially when you're trying to deal with an injury, and it really fatigued me out there, I'm not going to lie," Harrison said. "That's something that comes with the territory."
Butler said the plan is to rest Harrison in Thursday's preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers before giving him more practice reps during the week leading up to the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. But Harrison isn't a fan of that approach.
"You're not going to get the same speed in practice that you are in a game," said Harrison, an eighth-year pro. "You're not going to get the same type of collisions. You're using the preseason games as a way to get into shape. You can run all you want at practice, before practice, after practice, but it's not the same as in a game."
Harrison is optimistic that his conditioning will improve.
"It's more trying to get into game shape, trying to get your back to hold up the same as it did on the first play as it will the last play," Harrison said. "That's something that will come with time. The longer I'm out there, the more I get reps in games, the better it will get."