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Another chapter for defense


Robert Geathers

You have to remember that Robert Geathers was 20 when the Bengals drafted him nine years ago, so he's grown up with this Bengals defense and on Monday coordinator Mike Zimmer's men looked as poised as ever to take over the AFC North after claiming one of the division's most dominant players over the past decade.

"I think he'll be very unique. I think Zimmer will find multiple ways to use him," Geathers said Monday after he and the rest of the locker room had a chance to soak in the news over the weekend that James Harrison had agreed to a two-year deal.

"Definitely with blitz packages and rushing on third down, where he's been so effective for many years. I'm just looking forward to that," Geathers said.

Geathers, the ultimate role player, is patiently preparing for another tweak now that another pass rusher has come onboard and lines up as Geathers's sixth starting SAM linebacker in his 135th Bengals game. But Geathers is curious and excited and has a lot of company on both sides of the ball.

Harrison, who didn't cut the Steelers a break when they offered a 30-percent pay cut last month, figures to take the slight and the rivalry to another level when he bottles his pass-rushing ferocity. He's not expected at Paul Brown Stadium for a few more weeks, but the options he gives the Bengals were a very large presence in the room Monday.

Even the guys on the other side of the ball were wondering what Zimmer is going to do with a guy that has 64 career sacks and adding him to the most prolific pressure defense in Bengals history.

"Zim is going to have a lot of fun. Some people come up to me and ask if I'm happy that I don't have to play him twice a year," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who made a good part of his name holding Harrison to one sack in their biannual battles since 2009.

"I told them no because I'm going to have to deal with him every day in practice with Zimmer coming up with some concoction and the way that they're bringing him. I'm sure it is going to be a lot of fun and I'm sure Zimmer is excited about adding another little piece. Hopefully it pans out the way we want."

Geathers has played virtually every role a defensive lineman can play since he arrived via Georgia and the fourth round.

Until last season and Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins's 12.5 sacks and franchise player Michael Johnson's 11.5 sacks at right end, Geathers's 10.5 sacks as a nickel end pass rusher for the 2006 defense that was ranked 30th in the NFL was Cincinnati's only double-digit sack season for two decades.

Geathers then went on to be a three-down player and now has gradually worked inside in various packages, as well as becoming primarily a first- and second down player for a defense that finished seventh and sixth, respectively, the past two seasons.

And there was even a stretch in 2007 when injuries forced him to play SAM backer, the position Harrison now takes as he moves out of Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

"I don't think it matters. We can be in a four-down line and they can let him stand up if that's what he's comfortable doing; it's the same thing," Geathers said. "The way the defenses are, it's the same thing when you get down to it. I don't think it's a big deal. I think he'll fit in and I'm pretty sure the coaches have a good plan for him."

Geathers doesn't stop at a potential third-down line of Harrison and Johnson at ends, and Atkins and left end Carlos Dunlap moved inside with his 20 career sacks in 38 games.

"You'll see some of that. You'll see maybe even five sometimes. They have a pretty good plan for him," Geathers said.

"I think Zim and Marvin (Lewis) will find a way to use him to work with our group because we've got a good group. I think it's going to make us more dynamic with the different looks they can put in. We've got great rushers here and he's been a great, consistent rusher over the years. I see him on the field with our guys, Dunlap, Mike and Geno all at the same time. They'll find a way to make it work."

Whitworth thinks that even though Harrison turns 35 in two weeks, he'll be revived because he's never played with so many good rushers, particularly a beast inside like Atkins.

"It's a lot of pressure; anytime you add another good rusher. James is a good rusher and in Pittsburgh he was the guy anyone focused on; he didn't have great interior rushers," Whitworth said. "Here a guy like Geno changes the game for everyone. You look in Houston, J.J. Watt makes Connor Barwin and all of those other guys that much more effective. Teams are going to have to focus on Geno and Harrison has never had that opportunity. It gives him more freedom. With all those guys it's going to get them more opportunities to get home."

After playing against Harrison twice last year, guys like Whitworth and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis say he's still got something in the tank. Green-Ellis has never envied trying to "chip" block the 6-0, 242-pound Harrison.

"He's hard to block. It's his low leverage. It's harder for the 6-5, 5-5 guys. They don't really see you. Harrison is one of those guys low to the ground," BJGE said.

"I'm excited he's on our side of the ball. The last five years he was always a force wreaking havoc in the pass game or run game. He's a physical player whether it's the run or pass. He always does what he's supposed to do. He's always in position. You never find the guy being out of position. You have to game plan for him."

Andrew Hawkins, the 5-7, 180-pound Bengals slot receiver, has had a game plan during his first two seasons in the league.

"I don't think I've been tackled by him. I did try to cut block him one time and he jumped over me," Hawkins said. "That was a close as we've come. But that's a good thing. I tried to stay away from him."

But, seriously, there are those things called intangibles.

"It will be good because of who it is—James Harrison—with him being such a force in the division and football as a whole and what he brings," Hawkins said. "I think guys are more excited that we'll have that aspect with us as opposed to having to play against it twice a year."

Geathers wondered if the Bengals now have a guy that's played in the Super Bowl. They have two because Harrison joins Green-Ellis. But they now have a guy that has played on two Super Bowl champions.

"He's been to Super Bowls and he knows how to get there," Geathers said. "It's always good to have a guy that's been there. It's good for us."

And, now that he's turning 30 in August and in the first year of a three-year deal, Geathers is calmly heading into another chapter of this defense. As usual, he's ready to leap into another job.

"With another guy that can rush off the edge," Geathers said of potentially playing more inside. "All I did last year was mostly inside. Other than when Carlos got hurt and I was outside a little bit more. Whatever they ask me to do, that's what I'm here for. I just want to win.

"As you get later on in your career, you have accept your role. A lot of guys have a hard time with that, but it is what it is. When you want to win, it really doesn't matter that much."

But this he does know.

"I haven't thought about it much," Geathers said. "But he's definitely one of the greatest players I'm going to be fortunate enough to play with."

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