It’s been a busy Friday in Cincinnati for its professional and college football teams.
First, multiple reports surfaced around the end of the business day that the Bengals and former Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison have agreed to terms on a two-year contract – one of the reports being Harrison’s own Twitter account that announced the news with “Whodey!!!!!!!!!!! Hello Cincinnati!!!!” – after 11 seasons with the Steelers organization.
A few minutes later, the University of Cincinnati announced that quarterback Gunner Kiel has been accepted as a transfer from Notre Dame. Kiel, who was a top national recruit coming out of high school in Columbus, Ind., will sit out the 2013 season but have three seasons of eligibility with the Bearcats beginning with the 2014 season.
The transfer has been expected since Kiel visited UC earlier this month. Kiel is expected to begin summer classes at UC on May 6. He did not play last season as a backup to Notre Dame starter Everett Golson.
“We are very excited Gunner has decided to enroll at UC,” said UC head coach Tommy Tuberville in a statement released by UC. “He’s a great talent and an even better person. He comes from a great family with some strong quarterback lineage. Our quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw has developed an outstanding relationship with Gunner. We are looking forward to getting him here and seeing what the future holds.”
Kiel was named Mr. Football in Indiana by the Indianapolis Star in 2011, his senior season, at Columbus East.
Harrison and the Bengals have been in talks for a couple of weeks but those negotiations seemed to have hit a snag earlier this week. Whatever those difficulties were, they have been overcome.
Harrison has 64 career sacks, including nine against the Bengals. The Akron native is a five-time Pro Bowl selection, twice has been named first-team All Pro and was the Associated Press 2008 NFL Defensive MVP. The Steelers originally signed Harrison as an undrafted player out of Kent State in 2002, only to cut him at the end of that year’s training camp. He played two seasons in NFL Europe and was briefly with Baltimore in the 2004 offseason before re-signing with Pittsburgh for the 2004 season.
The Steelers released Harrison on March 9 after he declined to restructure his contract, which had two years remaining.
The Bengals will have to find a way to utilize Harrison’s skills, which up until now have been showcased in Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 zone blitz scheme, in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 defensive packages.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, speaking with beat reporters earlier on Friday, was confident something would get done with either Harrison or former Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby. The Bengals have not confirmed the signing and it is likely that nothing official will be announced until early next week.
“Either (Harrison or Dansby) comes in, we make some adjustment to things we do and we feel good about them,” said Lewis. “They bring some playmaking ability to us and would be good to have. They are good men and would continue to enhance the defensive room. Both guys are smart guys and that would be good.”
Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth has played against Harrison throughout their careers. The Bengals began their offseason conditioning program this week. The subject of Harrison possibly joining the Bengals and being on the same team was an intriguing one for Whitworth.
“I think you always get excited any time you get new people to help you,” said Whitworth. “If that happens it would be great. I have all the respect in the world for James. He’s a guy who I think would be great in this locker room. He’s a no-nonsense guy. Really a dedicated, fierce competitor. He’s one of those guys that sets the tone with the way he plays the game. I think it would be great to have him in our locker room if that happens but we’ll wait and see. I’d be very excited about it.”
The Bengals ranked sixth in the NFL last season defensively in yards allowed and were eighth in points allowed. The defense scored points in the last four games of last season, including the team’s lone touchdown in a 19-13 playoff loss at Houston when cornerback Leon Hall returned an interception 21 yards for the score.
The Bengals also set a franchise record with 51 sacks last season.
Harrison would join a linebacker group that includes Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga but lost Manny Lawson to Buffalo in free agency. Thomas Howard, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice in Week 2 last season, remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was also excited about the prospect of Harrison playing for the Bengals.
“We love the way he plays. He hates the Steelers now, and that’s somebody we need on our side of the football,” said Dunlap. “His constant effort and intensity every day that we see on tape – I don’t know him, so I can’t vouch for that – but from what we see on tape, that’s the type of guy I’d like on my side of the football.”