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Top-20 Bengals of 2013: No. 15 James Harrison

James Harrison spent ten years as a Pittsburgh Steeler. In 2013, he signed a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, and the five-time Pro Bowler is making our list of top-20 Bengals heading into 2013.



James Harrison and Mike Zimmer seem to be a wonderful marriage heading into 2013. At this point in Harrison's career, the 35-year old linebacker will find himself behind one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, and Zimmer's penchant for getting the most out of his defensive players will presumably find no exception in Harrison. Whether Harrison is used as a rotational player or as a three-down linebacker remains to be seen, but Harrison's experience should be something Zimmer will harness to the best of his abilities, particularly in stopping the run and pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Harrison should prove a reliable tool in what was, at times, a fairly unreliable linebacker unit from 2012.

Perhaps one of Harrison's greatest strengths for the Bengals in 2013 will be the attitude he will bring both on the field and in the locker room. The defense was missing some leadership in 2012, which was further confirmed when Marvin Lewis named Rey Maualuga as a player he needed to see leadership out of. Maualuga may not be afforded a tentative mindset on the field with Harrison in the fold. Vontaze Burfict may learn a few things from Harrison as well, as the second-year linebacker has the opportunity to continue his unexpected maturation both as a player and teammate.


While it's hard to imagine Mike Zimmer failing to get the most out of a veteran like Harrison, there's still the question of how much Harrison will be asked to make an impact on the field. It's still very possible that Harrison could be very effective with a smaller role, but a smaller role could take away some of Harrison's opportunities as an on-the-field leader. There's also some concern when considering Harrison's transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, even if it is in limited doses. As versatile as Harrison has been over the years, Harrison is going to be asked to make an immediate impact in a defense that may require some pass coverage. It remains to be seen how he'll handle the adjustment.


The signing of James Harrison seemed more emotional for Bengals fans (and presumably Harrison) than anything else at first. Harrison was a menacing face of a defense that often plagued Cincinnati for years, and bringing him over from the "dark side" of the division felt cathartic from a fans perspective. However, once the cloud of emotion cleared, it was easy to see why the Bengals embraced Harrison. He was signed to an inexpensive short-term contract, and even in his mid-thirties, Harrison can still be a playmaker when healthy. He's certainly an upgrade over former Bengals linebacker Manny Lawson. The questions of durability, age, and Harrison's capacity and willingness to adopt Zimmer's program are very much at the forefront of his 2013 season. The potential of Harrison as a determined ex-Steeler and influential veteran on a young Bengals defensive unit are just as real as his concerns, and could provide yet another spark to an electric defense. The man not only took a pay cut to come to Cincinnati, he turned down a division rival in the decision.