Harrison, Steelers downplaying encounter
Bengals linebackers James Harrison, right, and Rey Maualuga talk during a May practice.
PITTSBURGH – When James Harrison signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in the offseason following his release by the Steelers, it was assumed he would have his first game against Pittsburgh circled and highlighted with exclamation points on his calendar.
That meeting will come Monday night in Cincinnati.
But Harrison says the game doesn’t have more meaning to him than any other, except for the fact it’s against an AFC North opponent.
If you believe that, there’s some riverfront property on Pittsburgh’s north shore for sale that includes a building with about 65,000 gold seats.
“I am telling you what it is. You can believe what you want,” Harrison said Thursday. “I can only tell you what it is. I can’t change your thinking process.”
Nor could he change the thought process of Pittsburgh’s front office in the offseason, when he was released in a salary-related move. Harrison, 35, had been scheduled to earn $6.57 million in base salary this season, and the Steelers wanted to cut that in half.
Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowl player and 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, declined and was released. He eventually signed with Cincinnati for a reported $4.45 million over two years.
“I knew when we first started talking and negotiating that things didn’t look like I was going to end up there,” Harrison said. “We couldn’t come to an agreement that was comfortable to them or comfortable to me, so we parted ways. It’s just a business.”
Harrison dealt with a knee injury in training camp in 2012 that forced him to miss the first three games of the regular season. He was slowed by the injury in the first half of the season, but finished strong. Though he had just six sacks, his fewest since becoming a starter for the Steelers in 2007, five came in the final seven games.
The Bengals, looking for some veteran leadership for a young defense, are glad to have him.
“He’s been a great pro and role model for the young guys at that spot, and frankly for our defensive football team, because they watch how he comes to work and goes about his business,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, a McDonald native and Fort Cherry High School graduate. “That’s been great. It’s been really another confirmation of how you do it.”
Harrison, who is listed at 6-0 and 275 pounds, is still playing outside linebacker for the Bengals, but his responsibilities are different than they were in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense.
Cincinnati, which lost 24-21 last week at Chicago, moved Harrison to the right side of its defense in the Bengals’ 4-3 and he’s not rushing the quarterback as much. Against the Bears, he rushed the passer just five times.
“I am getting along a lot better than I was at the beginning,” said Harrison, who had just one tackle against the Bears. “It’s really about getting used to the different reads from the 3-4 alignment. Everything else is the same.”
The Steelers hope Harrison is quiet on the stat sheet Monday night, though they know that seeing him across the line of scrimmage or on the opposite sideline is going to be strange.
“I’m sure he’ll have his black visor on so we can’t see his face too well,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joked.
Harrison has moved on, as have the Steelers.
Pittsburgh selected Jarvis Jones in the first round of this year’s draft, and he’s sharing playing time with the starters, including veteran Jason Worilds, at Harrison’s outside linebacker spot.
“It’s definitely going to be different. But for a lot of guys in this locker room who played with him for six or seven years, it’s going to be a lot more different,” said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. “I’m happy for him. He’s in a great situation, but he’s not wearing that black and gold anymore. We’ve got to treat him like he’s a nobody. He’s another opponent.”
Odds and end zones
Running back Le’Veon Bell (foot sprain) and cornerbacks Cortez Allen (ankle) and Curtis Brown (illness) did not practice for the Steelers. … Tight end Heath Miller (knee), nose tackle Steve McLendon (hamstring) and placekicker Shaun Suisham (hamstring) were limited. … Elias Sports Bureau officially changed a fumble into the end zone originally charged to running back Isaac Redman to a fumble by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a rush for no yards.