Bengals defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry is like a lot of us: He learned that five-time Pro Bowler James Harrison had agreed to a contract with Cincinnati on Friday while surfing the internet.
“ProFootballTalk.com,” said Gilberry with a laugh. “That’s where I get my NFL news – that and Ian Rapoport who I follow on Twitter. I was excited because at first, they were reporting that the talks weren’t going well and he wasn’t leaning towards here and then the next thing you know we had signed him.”
Andrew Whitworth was at a Reds game on Friday night when he got the news, and the Bengals left tackle said that he expected it.
“I was pretty confident that it was going to happen,” said Whitworth. “It seemed like a good fit and one that made sense for us and for him.”
Harrison is likely to replace Manny Lawson as the “Sam” or strong side linebacker in the Cincinnati’s 4-3 defense. It’s different from the role he played in Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 scheme in Pittsburgh, but Harrison’s new teammates are confident that Mike Zimmer will find a way to make good use the veteran’s skills.
“People keep coming up to me any saying, ‘Man, are you happy that you don’t have to play that guy in the division anymore?’” said Whitworth. “And I tell them, ‘No, because now I’m going to have to deal with him every day at practice when Zimmer is coming up with some concoction in the way that they’re bringing him.’ I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m sure Zimmer is excited about having another little piece to add to the stuff that he does.”
Gilberry is a good example of Zimmer’s ability to maximize a player’s ability. The six-year veteran joined the Bengals in week three last year after he was released by Tampa Bay and he had an immediate impact in Cincinnati. Wallace finished third on the team with 6.5 sacks, forced a fumble, and recovered three fumbles including one that he returned for a touchdown against the Eagles.
“I think he’ll be fine because he has a lot of talent,” said Gilberry. “If Coach Zimmer can get me to play at that level in a short period of time – James Harrison will have a full off-season so the sky is definitely the limit for what Coach Zimmer can do with him.”
At the age of 35, Harrison isn’t likely to be the dominant force that earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. But ESPN’s AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley makes a compelling case that the former Steeler will add a mean streak to the Cincinnati defense.
“What the Bengals never had on defense was an edge, or at least I never sensed one,” wrote Hensley. “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.”
While the Bengals don’t necessarily agree they lacked “an edge” on defense, they welcome Harrison’s tough-guy persona.
“He has a little swagger to him,” said Robert Geathers. “I think that will help us a lot.
“I think that everybody goes about their business in different ways. With James, obviously some of the things over the years you can see with your own eyes. We’ve been a top defense over the last few years, so I think we have nastiness in us.”
“We have a couple of guys in here that play that way and hopefully he can enhance it and bring it out of some other guys,” said Gilberry. “I think he’s going to bring a lot of attitude – definitely a lot of veteran leadership. I’m excited to get him in here and get to working with him.”
“I grew up a Steelers fan so I’ve watched him a lot,” said Devon Still. “I think he’s a player that goes out there and gives it his all. He’s definitely a big impact player.”
Harrison joins the Bengals with 64 sacks, 29 forced fumbles, and 5 INT on his resume – not to mention two Super Bowl rings.
“He’s been to the top and any time you can add a guy like that to a locker room that hasn’t – we’re young, we’re talented, but we haven’t been there,” said Whitworth. “It’s a great leadership thing, it’s a great example thing, and it’s something that we can all learn from.”
“It will be good to have another veteran guy and a guy that’s been where we want to go,” said Geathers. “He’s been to Super Bowls and he knows how to get there.
“He’s definitely one of the great defense players that I’m going to be fortunate enough to play with.”
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