James Harrison brings attitude to Bengals

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
6:45
PM ET
James Harrison won't bring double-digit sacks to the Cincinnati Bengals. He won't bring a familiarity with a 4-3 defense like Karlos Dansby would.

So what can Who Dey Nation expect from the ex-Steelers outside linebacker? A whole lot of attitude.

It's easy to pick apart this addition and why the Bengals should have chosen Dansby as their strong-side linebacker, from Harrison's declining sack total (six last season) to an increasing number of injuries (seven games missed due to injuries the past two seasons) to his age (he turns 35 next month). But I would like to watch someone relay this criticism to Harrison's face.

What you can't argue with is the intangibles of this deal. As everyone who has ever watched him play one down knows, Harrison is mean, tough and plain nasty. He's more than just old. He's old school. I can tell you the person who hates this deal the most is Ben Roethlisberger. He's the last person who wants to see Harrison's steely-eyed stare from across the line of scrimmage.

The Bengals have one of the better defenses in the NFL, ranking No. 6 last season. The lineup is filled with young and talented players such as Geno Atkins, Leon Hall, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict. The Bengals didn't need a Pro Bowl linebacker. Remember, Harrison is replacing underachieving Manny Lawson, not Aldon Smith.

What the Bengals never had on defense was an edge, or at least I never sensed one. That won't be the case now with Harrison, who is carrying a chip on his shoulder as large as a Primanti Brothers sandwich (or whatever the Cincinnati equivalent would be). Harrison carries grudges. Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, who once cut Harrison and got some of his best efforts each season.

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAs anyone who has ever watched him play would tell you, James Harrison is mean, tough and plain nasty. He's more than just old. He's old school.
The same goes for the Steelers and Ravens this year. Harrison was cut by the Steelers after refusing to take a pay cut, and then watched the Ravens sign Elvis Dumervil while he was at the Ravens team facility. I'm quite sure Harrison will be motivated when playing those two prime-time games against Pittsburgh and those two matchups with the defending Super Bowl champions. Perhaps the Bengals will get flashes of the Harrison of old, the one who from 2007 to 2011 went to the Pro Bowl five times and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.

"He hates the Steelers now, and that's somebody we need on our side," Dunlap told the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this week.

There is a risk involved in adding Harrison. He has never played in a 4-3 defense and he has been on the field for 77 percent of his team’s defensive snaps since the start of the 2011 season, which ranks 56th among linebackers over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2012, Harrison finished outside the top five in sacks as an outside linebacker for the first time in the past five seasons (he was tied for 17th). There's a reason Harrison didn't draw much interest in free agency and only had serious talks with the Bengals and Ravens this offseason.

Because of those points, this may not be a popular choice among the Bengals fan base. In a recent SportsNation poll, 48 percent of voters thought the Bengals should have went with Dansby, while only 25 percent picked Harrison. Dansby is three years younger than Harrison and has experience in a 4-3 defense.

The difference with Harrison is he comes with a mean streak and swagger than Dansby doesn't have. I'm not saying Harrison is the missing piece in the Bengals' championship puzzle. But he will make them better for at least this year, when he is intent on proving to everyone that he can still make an impact. I like this move. Or maybe I just don't want to tick off Harrison and become Target No. 2 behind Roethlisberger.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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