BEREA, Ohio — Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson doesn’t expect Pittsburgh’s James Harrison to suddenly get soft — or stop bending the rules.
Although Harrison had to sit out one game for his illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy, who is still bothered by concussion symptoms two weeks after the head-jarring shot, Jackson believes the Steelers’ heat-seeking linebacker will continue to level anyone in his path.
“Harrison is who he is and whether you fine him, you suspend him, he’s not going to change,” Jackson said Thursday. “That’s up to the commissioner to handle it the best way he knows how.”
Jackson’s comments came one day after an unapologetic Harrison defended his head shot on McCoy, who has not been medically cleared to practice and will miss his second straight game Saturday in Baltimore. Harrison also said the NFL should punish the Browns for allowing McCoy to return to the game so quickly.
Jackson was stunned by Harrison’s comments.
“I didn’t hear that. Oh, goodness,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t surprise me coming from Harrison. He’s one of the guys that he’s going to live and die by the way he plays. I don’t know what to say to it really. You hate to see guys get injured when you hit ‘em. I know it’s a physical game, a fast, contact game. When a guy gets hurt, all bets are off. You want that guy to be OK. For him to say something like that, I got no comment for it. I’m going to leave that one alone.”
McCoy, the Browns and the NFL, for that matter, are still shaking off the effects from Harrison’s hit.
On Wednesday, the league announced a new policy that will require teams to have a certified athletic trainer in the press box to monitor play and help medical staffs evaluate injured players. The change was prompted by the Browns’ treatment of McCoy, who was not checked for a concussion during the game and was sent back in after sitting out just two plays.
The in-game policy shift preceded former Browns running back Jamal Lewis and other retired players suing the league over brain injuries they claim have left them struggling with medical problems years after their playing days ended.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur has spent most of the past two weeks addressing McCoy’s touchy situation. The second-year QB has been coming to work every day, getting checked by Cleveland’s doctors and participating in team meetings before being sent home.
Shurmur was asked if the 25-year-old has been advised not to play again this season.
“Not to my knowledge, no,” Shurmur said. “He’s like any player who is fighting back from injury.”
If McCoy is cleared to play in Cleveland’s season finale, he’ll be facing Harrison and the Steelers, who will visit the Browns on Jan. 1.
Last season, after Harrison knocked out Browns wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs with concussions, Cleveland center Alex Mack accused the linebacker of “being cheap, being dirty.” Mack wouldn’t go that far after Harrison’s hit on McCoy, and even said Harrison had cleaned up his game.
“He’s improved,” Mack said. “We really weren’t watching for it. I didn’t know it happened in the game, so it wasn’t apparent to me that anything malicious was going on.”
Mack, though, said Harrison’s aggressiveness is pushing the boundaries of legality. When Harrison was suspended, the league said it was because he has had five illegal hits to quarterbacks in the past three years.
Mack believed Harrison could have avoided hitting McCoy so high.
“I’d say he’s playing on the very edge of the rules,” he said. “You don’t have to use your head. You could shove him really hard in the chest and get the job done the same way. But there’s something to be said about affecting the quarterback.”
Shurmur would not comment on Harrison’s claim the Browns should be disciplined for their handling of McCoy’s concussion. The first-year coach was also asked if he was troubled that Harrison did not seem to be getting the message that his hits won’t be tolerated.
“He plays for the Steelers, I would probably comment if it were a Browns player,” Shurmur said. “You see and hear a lot of things and I think it’s important that we all play hard, we play physical and we try to teach our guys to play hard, play physical and play by the rules.
“At times, we’re all being educated as to what the rules are. The underlying deal is safety and we’ve gone through that here the last couple weeks. As coaches, we are all for players’ safety.”
Notes: The Browns placed safety T.J. Ward on injured reserve with a sprained foot. Ward started eight games in his second NFL season. He was injured on Dec. 6 at Houston and the team was confident he would get back. Shurmur said Ward, who had 38 tackles, will not need surgery. … CB Joe Haden (thigh) and WR Massaquoi (foot) returned to practice and are expected to play against the Ravens. … WR Jordan Norwood will also miss Saturday’s game with a concussion sustained last week in Arizona. WR Rod Windsor was signed off the practice squad.