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Signed, sealed, delivered

Posted May 14, 2013

During his first public Paul Brown Stadium appearance, James Harrison showed some of the no-nonsense persona he created as a member of the Steelers.


James Harrison

Updated: 6:30 p.m.

James Harrison, whose 64 career sacks would put him second on the Bengals all-time list, showed right away Tuesday that his signing is about more than the numbers and the stealing away of the brave heart of the Steelers defense that dominated the NFL during the past decade.

It is about the numbers that are now around him.

The 55 of fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the 93 of young sack ace, right end Michael Johnson. The 24 and 29 of cornerbacks Adam Jones and Leon Hall, respectively. Or this number: All the Bengals linebackers besides Harrison have a combined 76 NFL starts compared to his 95.

"You want to stay here awhile, you’ve got to learn," Harrison said when the topic of mentoring surfaced Tuesday during his 10-minute news conference. "Maybe for the first four or five years you’re getting a little faster, and after that you start slowing down. You’ve got to make it up with knowledge of the game.”

Now a Bengals defense that has finished seventh and sixth, respectively, the last two seasons has suddenly added a five-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl hero.

But forget that. What may put the Bengals over the top are the intangibles of a man that has overcome a DVD of obstacles while routinely voted the NFL's most vicious and dangerous player in recent polls of players conducted by Sports Illustrated. The style has cost him $100,000 in fines once the NFL got around to cracking down on hits, but Steelers observers say Harrison has adjusted to commissioner Roger Goodell's reign of safety.

But he does bring something the Bengals haven't had in a long time. Maybe not since safety David Fulcher and nose tackle Tim Krumrie in the late '80s: a grass-roots intimidator.

"He gives you that swagger and that seal," Jones said. "When you mail out the letter you have to make sure you put a stamp on it. Well, he's the stamp."

Hall can feel it.

"When you have an intimidating factor, especially in the front seven, that is real intimidating or has that kind of reputation, as long as it doesn’t hurt the team I think that it’s positive," Hall said. "He’s one of those guys that going into the week other teams are going to have to take a look at. I think it’s definitely important to have somebody like that."

Hall, and like everyone else in the locker room that has hailed the mid-April signing, has embraced Harrison as a clean, intense competitor that plays the game the way it's supposed to be played.

"I thought that even before he got here," Hall said. "Sometimes you’ve got to understand that some of those positions he’s been put in, I don’t know what else you could do in some of those cases. I never looked at him like that. I know a lot of people in this locker room don’t look at him like that. We’ve just looked at him as a good player."

When Harrison met Jones as a Bengal, they easily talked about a scary moment Jones had in Pittsburgh in 2008, the year Jones played for the Cowboys and found himself face-to-face with Harrison as he tried to return a punt.

"I muffed a punt and he almost killed me. We talked about it today," Jones said. "It was the first time I hurt my neck and then I reinjured it (in 2010 while playing for the Bengals). It's part of the game. I told him if he was down I probably would have done the same thing.

"I saw him coming. I was like, 'I know he's not going to hit me if I go and try and get the ball.' I thought he was going to go for the ball. We were talking about it today and he said, 'No, I knew you were going to get the ball if I tried to go for the ball, so I was just trying to hit you.' It's a part of the game and I'm happy to have him on my team now."

Jones likes Harrison's nasty rep.

"I love it, I love it," Jones said. "He loves to play football. I've been on the other side of him. The guy loves to play football and that's what we need. He's competing every day and he doesn't mind hitting and that's what we're about over here. We've got a physical defense. We're not trying to hurt anybody, but we want people to know we will be playing physical.

"Yeah, clean hit. He's just physical. That's part of the game. It happens. He's still going to hit you, regardless. You can't stop him from hitting. You can say this and say that, but he has to protect himself, too. This guy prepares like everyone else. He lifts the weights, he leads by example. There's only so much you can do from the impact when he's hitting you."

Bill Moushey, the Pittsburgh writer who authored Harrison's book Never Give Up after his 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year season, says his subject is no-nonsense when it comes to his craft, body and life, and that would have been a good description of a news conference he asked to be limited to 10 minutes.

Succinct, but sufficient. No-nonsense but not nonsensical.

What is your definition of AFC North football?

“I don’t know, now. They’re starting to throw the ball," he said with a laugh. "It used to be smashmouth. I don’t know what it is now; it’s a combination of the two. But it’s a rivalry of four teams that genuinely don’t like each other, but have a mutual respect."

What was your view of Andy Dalton as a quarterback?

“I don’t have a view. Next question," he said.

How long has it been since you felt this good physically?

“I probably haven’t felt this good since, I don’t know, 2008, the beginning of 2009," he said.

He did give the media quite a tour of how serious he is about his body, detailing how he spends between $400-600,000 annually. His traveling training party, which is going to arrive in Cincinnati next week, has about five people and if it had a drummer they could play Riverbend this summer.

"I get body work almost every single day except Saturday and Sunday," he said. "I have a homeopathic doctor and I do a lot of homeopathic things. It’s just a lot, supplements, so on and so forth.”

A pretty serious dude. Moushey, a journalism professor at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, watched some of those workouts while he wrote the book.

"His demeanor on the football field is sort of a metaphor for his life," Moushey said. "He goes forward. He goes full steam ahead. He's in his best shape he's been in for a long time. He's played with bad injuries (back, knee) the last three years and he didn't have a chance to practice normally. I watched him a few times and they were the most intense workouts I'd ever seen."

That's just the kind of hard-bitten mentality Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis loves to propagate. So it's no surprise Lewis played a little locker gamesmanship with Harrison.

He put the vaunted No. 92 in unsigned linebacker Thomas Howard's locker and moved the rookie sensation Burfict next to him, putting the 22-year-old in between the 35-year-old Harrison and the 34-year-old Terence Newman.

"He can help the young guys just with a lot of things he's been through. He doesn't have to explain it to us," Burfict said. "We can admire his game and he can lead by example. He doesn't really have to talk much. I'm in the in the next locker so I can basically just look over and see how he's handling things. Just follow in his footsteps."

Both Burfict and Mike Johnson remember watching The Play, when Harrison went the entire field with a pick in the Super Bowl.

"I can't wait to pick his brain," Johnson said. "He will increase our knowledge."

Everyone knows how Harrison feels about getting released by the Steelers over money. He's not happy and Lewis knows that's not a bad thing to add to a locker room that is 6-15 against Pittsburgh since he arrived in 2003. 

"I understand it's a business, so it's not like I can take it personally," Harrison said. "But to say that it doesn't motivate me in some sense it would be a lie."

What you see, they say, is what you get.

"I know one thing," Moushey said. "If I'm one of the tackles at the Steelers, I'd put my head on a swivel and same with Ben Roethlisberger."

 

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