First Impressions: Bengals LB James Harrison


We were curious about James Harrison, how he's been practicing and the chemistry he's developing with his new teammates.

Here's an admission. And I wonder if there's a similar sentiment. There are times that I've completely forgotten that James Harrison signed with the Bengals during the offseason. A month after free agency started, the Bengals invited Harrison for a visit. It wasn't until a week later that the details of a two-year deal were worked out.

“James has been a dominant player on a team with a history of dominant defense,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “He has made a great number of game-deciding plays, and he brings us help in a position area we had planned to improve either through the draft or with a veteran signing. He will be a physical player against the run and will improve our pressure on the quarterback.”

Questions like how will Harrison transfer from a Dick LeBeau base zone blitz defense to Mike Zimmer's 4-3 scheme exist, but at least he's becoming comfortable with his role.

"Their terminology is some of the same terminology, but it means something different," said Harrison during OTAs earlier this year. "Every now and then I'll revert to doing something that was previously done with the Steelers but means something different here. Once I get the terminology together and just getting used to certain fits, I think I'll be all right."

I asked our crew attending training camp practices this year how Harrison has looked.

"He hasn't been used a whole lot as a pass rusher yet," said Brennen Warner. "He's been used exactly as a traditional strongside linebacker, which means mostly run defense and a little bit of coverage. I don't trust him at all in coverage, but he will be a force at the line of scrimmage."

Since Rashad Jeanty, early in Maualuga's career, and then Manny Lawson, the Bengals haven't been particularly interested in making strongside backer an important factor, especially as the game has undergone an evolution that requires more focus on developing the secondary. Still, you find a way to get Harrison, with 64.0 career sacks five interceptions, and 29 forced fumbles into the act.

"I was hoping Harrison would also be used as the second interior DT in the nickel formation, but it looks like that spot will go to Wallace Gilberry. Maybe they will install him as a pass rusher more later, but right now, he's purely a strongside LB who will blitz every now and then."

One other thing we wondered about was how he'd get along with his teammates in Cincinnati. And without a doubt, the camaraderie has been noticeably strong.

"He's always talking with teammates," said Andrew Miller. "As someone conditioned to assume that Steelers defensive players live a life of bitter isolation between football games, it was encouraging to see him embracing his role and his teammates."

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