PITTSBURGH -- Today was James Harrison Day for the Pittsburgh media, and the Bengals' weak-side linebacker was rather docile in his conference call with the old reporters he used to pretend to hate.
"I am telling you what it is. You can believe what you want," was about as rambunctious as Harrison got Thursday after someone questioned him on saying Monday night's game against his old Steelers team was just "another game on the schedule."
Harrison did punch one Steeler in the gut. "They had a rough one," Harrison said of the Steelers' last game. "They lost their best offensive player they had in Maurkice Pouncey."
Ben Roethlisberger, you might remember, was the subject of Harrison's scorn in the July, 2011 issue of Men's Journal, in which Harrison said of Roethlisberger's performance in the previous winter's Super Bowl loss: "Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain't that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does."
Roethlisberger will no doubt take the quote as a challenge, particularly after an interception in his own end last Sunday led to the Tennessee Titans' only touchdown.
For the 0-1 Steelers, Monday night's game is at least a must-perform-well, if not a must-win. And to do that, they must block Harrison.
"He's going to be all over the field," said Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert. "What we've seen from him in the past is what we're going to get. He'll go out there with the defense and try to make his point. It's something we're used to seeing while going up against him the past couple years, for me in practice. I don't think it'll be anything new."
Harrison will line up as a stack backer in the Bengals' 4-3 defense, and he'll do so on the weak side -- or the side that's normally opposite the tight end, or "the strength."
In becoming the Steelers' No. 4 all-time sacker with 64, Harrison lined up on the right side, and normally on the line.
"I am getting along a lot better than I was at the beginning," Harrison said of his new job. "It’s really about getting used to the different reads from the 3-4 alignment. Everything else is the same. I am still dropping into the same type of coverage and still doing the same type of drops."
It's not his drop into coverage that worries anyone in Pittsburgh. Although Harrison did have his one great, 100-yard Super Bowl interception return, he's better known for the mayhem he inflicts on quarterbacks.
But last Sunday, in his first game with the Bengals, Harrison made only 1 tackle. And this coming off a year in which he had only 6 sacks, his low since becoming a starter in 2007. The Steelers let him go six years later because he wouldn't agree to a pay cut, and he so ended up with the Bengals.
"No surprise," Harrison said of the way things ended in Pittsburgh. "I knew when we first started talking and negotiating that
things didn’t look like I was going to end up there. 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."
At age 35, does he have anything left?
The Steelers, no doubt, will err on the side of caution with that question.
"I know he can play football," warned his old coordinator, Dick LeBeau. "And you know that."
NOTES -- Missing practice again Thursday was Steelers CB Cortez Allen (ankle). One of the backup CBs, Curtis Brown (illness), also missed practice with RB Le'Veon Bell (foot). Limited at practice were NT Steve McLendon (hamstring), TE Heath Miller (knee) and K Shaun Suisham (hamstring). ... The Bengals have no significant injuries, although LB Vontaze Burfict (thigh) and
LT Andrew Whitworth (knee) were limited. Whitworth didn't play in the opener and was replaced by veteran Anthony Collins.