Posted Sep 14, 2013

Former teammate Ryan Clark thinks the Bengals have a football Moses in James Harrison and here's why.

James Harrison

Sometimes you can walk by James Harrison's locker and hear his blender bubbling like some kind of coffee maker and it can be rattling as early as six in the morning as if it were joining bacon and eggs. But it is shakes or juices he is concocting to keep that 35-year-old body vibrant and healthy for the next game.

And whoever thought the next game would be his Bengals vs. those Steelers on Monday (8:40 p.m.-ESPN, Cincinnati's Channel 5) at Paul Brown Stadium?

"The Lab" is what fellow linebacker Vinnie Rey calls Harrison's adjoining locker of youth. Rey has often entered and the few times they've ventured from Xs and Os, the single Rey has asked Harrison about raising two boys.

"He's always here when I get here in the morning and I get here at 7:20 for the 7:45 special teams meeting," Rey says. "When you played against him on the field, you didn't know him. He had the dark visor. He has this whole image in the media, but he's not like that. He's an approachable guy."

The media has spent the week trying to pry off the visor, but Harrison kept it on during Friday's it's-just-a-business news conference. Maybe because that's not the visor. That really is the guy. Hard. No-nonsense. All business. Challenging. If he comes off as a bully, it's because he wants to in a brute game of turf and toughness.

"I loved playing against him," says left tackle Andrew Whitworth of his two-a-years with Harrison. "It's like playing against (Terrell) Suggs. You know how much it means to them. It was a war. We wouldn't say anything, slug it out, and after the game say, 'See you next time.' "

Before Harrison signed on, Whitworth always defended him in his battles with commissioner Roger Goodell and all those fines for his helmet hits.

"I was saying you can't change the rules on a guy," Whitworth says. "He's a shorter player and to do what he does at his position he has to go full speed and helmet-to-helmet hits are going to happen because he's coming from underneath all the time."

So, no Whitworth has seen nothing surprising since Harrison came on board in the spring. If the question of the week is if Harrison can make a difference in a new locker room and new scheme, Whitworth has no surprises there, either.

"I don't care who it is. Any great player, and he is a great player, is going to give you an advantage," Whitworth says. "He's just a fierce competitor. When we had the bowling deal back in the spring, he was just as competitive. That's just the way he is."

Michael Johnson isn’t all that young anymore in NFL years. At 26, the right end is old enough to be the Bengals franchise player but he's always been one to pick an elder's brain.

"It was back during the spring and I was talking to him about all the stuff he does to prepare," Johnson says. "He just recommended to me, 'You should come out with me and I'll show you all this.' "

The next thing Johnson knew, Harrison helped him rent a a home near his gym in Scottsdale, Ariz., and after the Bengals broke camp in June, Johnson was headed there for a month.

"I went out there with my cousin. My mom and them came out and it was the first time they'd been to Arizona. I sent them to Vegas for a few days," he says.

Johnson doesn't remember doing much with Harrison after workout hours.

"We worked real hard," Johnson says. "We were there early every morning to lift at 6:30 and then we'd come back at noon to do some conditioning and after that I'd just lay down.

"There are different schools of thought on taking care of the body. Some things that may be good for him won't work for me, but you take things and you tweak things to fit you. He didn't have to reach out to me. He didn't have to do that, but he did."

Whitworth is pretty certain those kind of vibes make a difference. Just ask one of Harrison's old Steelers teammates, which Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did this week.

“He’s probably something like a football Moses to them, having been to the promised land a few times and understanding what type of work it takes to go from undrafted free agent to defensive MVP,” said safety Ryan Clark.

That's about how Whitworth sees it.

"It's got to be a great thing for the young guys to see how committed he is to it, Whitworth says. "They've got to be thinking, 'If I want to make it, this is how to do it;' you're looking at the oldest guy probably putting in the most work as far as being in the building."

It's Steelers Week and the blender is bubbling.

"I've seen him at the lab making things up, always doing the right thing," Rey says.

With the visor off.

"Good dude," Johnson says.


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