Ola might be a new Harrison
LATROBE, Pa. — Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Olasunkanmi Adeniyi is all too familiar with the comparisons to James Harrison.
Both undrafted free agents from the Mid-American Conference feature a similar, small, stocky-type build considered by some as undersized for the position. But like Harrison, the 6-foot-1, 248-pound Adeniyi also wears No. 92 and has displayed an early nose for reaching the quarterback.
“It’s a legendary number, and he definitely wore it with pride,” Adeniyi said. “But I’m a new rookie and I don’t want to be compared to anybody else right now.”
Harrison is the franchise’s career leader in sacks, piling up 80 1/2 during his 14 seasons with the Steelers. The five-time Pro Bowler helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl championships and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
“Obviously, it’s a great feeling to be compared to one of the greatest of all-time, but I don’t think I’ve reached that level,” Adeniyi said. “I’m just trying to make a name for myself right now.”
He’s off to a good start.
Adeniyi, a former Toledo standout, did his best impersonation of Harrison three plays into the second half of the Steelers’ preseason opener against Philadelphia. Adeniyi sacked Joe Callahan and stripped him of the ball, forcing a fumble.
He did it all with a hard cast on his injured right wrist, too.
“I wanted to bring down the quarterback, but with the cast, trying to grab him is a lot harder,” Adeniyi said. “It was pretty clutch, and I was definitely excited, though.”
Adeniyi’s high motor also caught the attention of veteran defensive end Cam Heyward.
“I think Ola took some steps,” Heyward said. “I think he plays with good leverage and I think he wants to learn. I just appreciate his hustle. He plays a lot of plays out there.”
Adeniyi has been forced to see a lot of action for the Steelers during preseason practices. T.J. Watt injured his hamstring during the fourth practice of training camp and Bud Dupree sustained a concussion the following week, creating additional opportunity for Adeniyi and others. At times during training camp, the Steelers have been down to three healthy outside linebackers, including Adeniyi.
“It’s a struggle, but it also helps with conditioning,” Adeniyi said. “I embrace (the extra snaps) to the best of my abilities because when (Watt and Dupree) get back, chances are, I’m not going to see the field as much anymore.”
Still, Adeniyi realizes there could be a position available with the Steelers.
The Steelers released Harrison late last season after the two-time All-Pro was active in just five of Pittsburgh’s 14 games despite being injury-free. They also parted ways with veteran Arthur Moats in the offseason, making Anthony Chickillo the only outside linebacker on the roster with at least three years of experience.
Adeniyi is trying to earn a spot through his special teams work, just like Harrison.
“Especially as an undrafted free agent, you have to show that you have more value to the team than just defense,” Adeniyi said. “Chances are, during the season, you’re not going to see the field as much when you have (Watt) and (Dupree) back, so you have to show that you can do something extra.”
Proving that he can reach the quarterback like Harrison doesn’t hurt, either. But Adeniyi is trying to carve his own path with the Steelers.
“I’m not trying to be in anybody’s shadow,” Adeniyi said. “I want to make a name for myself.”
NOTES: Practice on Monday was delayed an hour and moved to a turf field on campus because of heavy rains and thunderstorms that rolled through the area. … WR Antonio Brown left Monday’s practice early. Also sitting out were: Watt, Dupree and Chickillo, QB Ben Roethlisberger, RBs James Conner and Stevan Ridley, TEs Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, safeties Sean Davis and Marcus Allen and DE Stephon Tuitt.
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