COMMENTARY | The Cincinnati Bengals were quiet for most of the 2013 NFL free agency period as the staff focused on retaining its own players, but that changed when the Bengals reached across the AFC North and grabbed former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
Now, Harrison is set to play a critical role with the defense next season despite the naysayers critiquing his age and play.
Harrison signed a two-year deal with the Bengals and projects as a starting strong-side linebacker for at least next season. With Manny Lawson departed for the Buffalo Bills this offseason, Harrison is the replacement at the position and will need to be stout against the run and provide an efficient pass-rush when necessary.
While Harrison has been receiving a lot of slack in the media at the age of 35, it sounds as if he's still in great shape and working hard to ensure he has all of the physical tools to be effective with the Bengals (per ESPN):
"I'm still not able to do certain things, but as far as my physical health, I'm able to train a lot harder than I have been over the last two, three offseasons," Harrison said. "I'm able to do a lot more weight [lifting]. I'm able to just do a lot more things that my body physically couldn't do because of injury, or whatever it may be."
Harrison sounds fully healthy, and as he goes on to state in the report, feels he truly is in part because he spends at least $400,000 per year on his body. It also helps he'll be fully motivated to play against his former team in the AFC North.
All Cincinnati needs from Harrison is an ability to stop the run with consistency. Over the past few seasons, Lawson did an above average job in this category, so at least matching his output should not be all that difficult for a veteran like Harrison.
There's also the mental factor of having Harrison in the fold on defense. He's the ultimate motivator for his unit and several players went on record stating how excited they were to finally be playing for the same team as Harrison. He's yet another veteran on the defense along with corner Leon Hall and defensive tackle Domata Peko who will mentor younger players while also acting in his normal role as an intimidator.
Many have swept the Harrison signing under the rug for one reason or another, but he may provide the consistency and mental impact the defense needs to remain a top unit. It is also worth mentioning the impact he can have on the career paths of guys like Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict. Outside of his history with illegal hits, you are not going to find a much better role model on the field for impressionable youngsters.
At the end of the day, the Harrison addition could end up being much more important than it is given credit for right now as long as he can remain healthy. There's plenty left for Harrison to give a franchise in transition in more ways than one, which is exactly what the Cincinnati Bengals are at this point in time as it becomes more modern and competitive.
Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more. He is the co-host of a Cincinnati Bengals podcast, @BengalsCentral
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling
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