CINCINNATI — A defensive back’s best friend is a good pass rush. The Bengals already have one of the best in the NFL but Leon Hall is perfectly fine with adding a little more help. Ditto for Adam Jones.
The Bengals didn’t sign James Harrison as a token gesture or PR move for his name value. Both they and Harrison expect the 35-year-old linebacker to be an integral part of the Bengals making a push to become more than just a one-and-done playoff team.
Harrison arrived in Cincinnati on Monday and met with the media on Tuesday after working out with his new teammates. Harrison signed a two-year deal with the Bengals on April 23 after nine seasons with the Steelers. He helped Pittsburgh win two Super Bowls in three tries while amassing 64 sacks and 28 forced fumbles and being named All-Pro twice with five Pro Bowl appearances.
The Steelers asked Harrison to restructure his contract and take a pay cut. The two sides couldn’t reach an agreement and the team released Harrison.
“I’m a professional athlete. That’s what I do, but that’s not who I am,” said Harrison. “Nothing has ever been given to me. My mama told me, ‘Nobody is ever going to give you anything; if you want something, you’re going to have to go get it.’”
Harrison, an Akron native who attended Coventry High School, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2002. He saw his first significant playing time two seasons later.
“I think when I first heard the news it was kind of weird just considering he was at Pittsburgh for such a long time and we play them twice a year,” said Hall. “When you have an intimidating factor, especially in the front seven, that is real intimidating or has that kind of reputation, as long as it doesn’t hurt the team I think that it’s positive. He’s one of those guys that going into the week other teams are going to have to take a look at.
“We’ve already got some of those guys but if you get some of those guys off the field and get him in there and get the same productivity there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The Bengals and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer have had success getting the most out of veteran players on their second or third teams; linebacker Dhani Jones, safety Chris Crocker and cornerbacks Terence Newman and Nate Clements have been valuable contributors and leaders for Zimmer.
Jones came to the Bengals in 2010 attempting to revive a career he had self-destructed with various off-field incidents. He signed a three-year deal as a free agent this offseason to continue his career in Cincinnati.
“I’m quite sure (Harrison) ain’t coming in because he thought we were going to be rebuilding,” said Jones. “At this point in his career, I’m quite sure he wants another ring and, from my understanding, he wants to get to compete against the old guys he played against. But we’ll let those chips fall where they lay and keep working hard as a group and make sure this picture looks exactly as how we want it on game day.”
The Bengals and Steelers are scheduled to play both of their games in prime-time this season.
“I understand it’s a business, so it’s not like I can really take it personally,” said Harrison of the Steelers, “but to say that it doesn’t motivate me in some sense would be a lie.”
Harrison said this is the healthiest he’s felt since 2008 when he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, which increases the flow of oxygen to the body, and has a team of people, including six masseuses, an acupuncturist, a personal trainer and a homeopathic doctor, all devoted to keeping his body prepared for the rigors of an NFL season.
He estimated he spends between $400,000-to-$600,000 per year on body work.
“I’ve always been what everybody liked to call me – excuse my English – a ‘massage whore’,” said Harrison. “They called me it for so long that it started to be.”
It’s worth it to keep playing the game, particularly in his relentless style that has given him a reputation as a dirty player, at times, and made him the recipient of numerous FedEx packages from the league over the years.
Harrison has had to adapt his style, but he’s not changed his basic manner of play.
“It’s focus. It’s intense. It’s violent. Because it’s a violent game,” said Harrison. “You can’t go out there with a smile on your face. I’m not out there mad at the world, making up scenarios in my head just so I could go out there and play a little harder. It’s focus and intense 100 miles an hour.”
KIRKPATRICK ON THE MEND: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick continues to work his way back to the field from a knee injury that contributed to a shortened rookie season in 2012. Kirkpatrick said Tuesday he believes he will definitely be ready for the start of training camp in late July and could possibly sneak in a practice or two during either OTA workouts, which begin next Monday, or the mandatory minicamp on June 11-13.
“It’s all about what the doctor is saying right now so I’m just taking it day by day,” said Kirkpatrick.
The Bengals’ top pick in last year’s draft, Kirkpatrick played in just five games. He suffered the knee injury in the preseason. He didn’t make his debut until Week 8 and then suffered a recurrence of the knee injury and a concussion at San Diego in Week 12.
He is one of four first-round cornerbacks the Bengals have on the roster (Hall, Jones and Newman). Safety Reggie Nelson also entered the league as a first-round pick. While Kirkpatrick didn’t see much time on the field last season, he did his due diligence and listened to the lessons of the veterans in the secondary.
“This game is all about patience. You’ve just got to slow the game down. You can’t rush the game because guys are smarter, they’re wiser,” said Kirkpatrick. “In the pros everybody is on the same level so if you’re rushing, you’re over the line, you’re beat. Any false move you’re going to get beat. It’s all about taking your time, slowing the game down and letting the game come to you.”
HAWKINSON SIGNED: The Bengals announced the signing of fifth-round pick Tanner Hawkinson, an offensive lineman from Kansas. Hawkinson (6-5, 300) set Kansas school records with 48 total and consecutive starts. He is the sixth of the Bengals’ 10 draft choices to sign. Only the first four picks – tight end Tyler Eifert (first round), running back Giovani Bernard (second), defensive end Margus Hunt (second) and safety Shawn Williams (third) remain unsigned.