By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — James Harrison never was as gracious with Pittsburgh Steelers media as he was when speaking with them Thursday morning as a first-year member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers visit Cincinnati in a Week 2 NFL matchup Monday night, and Harrison said it’s just another game for him. The media told him they believed the game against his former team meant a lot more.
“That’s for you all to say,” Harrison said. “I’m telling you what it is, and you can believe what you want. But I can only tell you what it is. I can’t change your thinking process.”
Harrison occasionally dropped into pass-coverage with the Steelers, but he primarily was a pass-rusher during his Steelers heyday (2007-12) with 60 sacks during that span and 64 overall to rank about the franchise leaders. With the Bengals, Harrison plays off the line in a regular linebacking spot and mostly on the left side as opposed to the right when he was with the Steelers.
“I’m getting along a lot better than I was at the beginning,” Harrison said. “It’s really just getting used to the different reads. … Everything else is the same. I’m still dropping into the same type of coverage.
“And I’m still doing the same type of drops. It’s not really that big of a difference (left or right side). Most of the time I’m stacked back a bit anyway. The positioning that I’m in when I’m dropping back is a little different.”
Harrison was credited with just one tackle last week for the Bengals and added that whether he’s lined up inside or outside all depends on what’s called by Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmerman. He also said an affinity for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, as well as what he could provide for the improved Cincy defense, are what drew him to sign with the Steelers AFC North rival.
“That was one of the bigger things, and it’s still close to home,” Harrison said. “I’m from Ohio, and it’s in Ohio. So, my parents can still come down. And this is a team on the rise. They have a good defense, and I thought I could help them. We’re heading in the right direction, and hopefully I can help them do better things and keep progressing throughout the season and into the postseason.”
Lewis called Harrison a great pro and role model for younger players.
“They watch how he comes to work and goes about his business,” Lewis said. “That’s been great. It’s been really another confirmation of how you do it. I can talk about it, say it and do it, but when they watch somebody else live it and know James never forgot how he got to the NFL.
“He still plays with that chip and brings it to work every day. As far as a player goes, he’s just so physical. He can do things as a rusher. You’re going to create mismatches, and they’ve going to have to respond. People have responded with offensive tackles on him. You don’t want to get stuck with your back blocking James Harrison very often.”
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, a long-time Harrison friend and teammate, offered he following comments:
“No. 92, Deebo, aka Silverback, aka man, he’s kind of cuckoo, aka all his wheels are square, except for one of them,” Taylor said. “I can’t wait to see him.
“Just having that presence, that physical presence, that Silverback presence when you’re in the jungle. When you see that Silverback in the jungle on the Animal Planet, that’s a pretty big dude. You don’t see too many people play with it. Not even humans. That kind of presence.”
Harrison watched a tape of the Steelers offense during the opening loss to Tennessee, but he believed they would go “back to the drawing board and get things together and get what needs to be corrected, corrected,” he said. “And they’ll be ready for us.”
Harrison said he doesn’t talk much during the game, but he would wish his former teammates good luck prior to it. He also said he gave a few pointers to his new teammates on the Steelers defense, but he wouldn’t compare the two.
“I really can’t compare defenses,” Harrison said. “I don’t like to do that. It’s a different scheme. You’ve got guys built to just rush the quarterback, and the D-line there was made to hold up guys so the linebackers can make the plays.
“The D-line here, this defense is built around it. But I don’t like comparing defenses, because I don’t think you can. But this is a strong defense. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re going to work hard to keep improving.”
Harrison noted that he was not surprised that his Steelers career came to an end after last season, and he apparently has quickly become a fan favorite with the Bengals.
“It was no surprise, because I knew from how the talks were going and things weren’t going and negotiating, it didn’t look like I was going to end up there,” Harrison said. “We couldn’t come to an agreement that was comfortable for them or comfortable for me. So, it was just a parting of the ways. … Everybody here tells me how they used to hate me, but now they love me. So, it’s all right.
“That’s the fans. It’s all a perception. They understand the business, so I came in and they wanted to open their arms and welcomed me into this program. … Actually, I get approached more here than I did in Pittsburgh. I guess they got used to seeing me there. So, I maybe get stopped by four or five people on the street here to sign an autograph or take a picture.”
Harrison wouldn’t discuss the difference in contracts from what the Steelers offered to what he got from the Bengals, which reportedly was less. He also wouldn’t make a prediction on this game’s outcome or his sack total, but Harrison did comment on whether he believed the Bengals were a Super Bowl team.
“Definitely,” Harrison said.