AFC North: James Harrison

James Harrison taunting Roger Goodell

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
PITTSBURGH -- Former Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who was fined heavily by Roger Goodell during his playing days, is firing back at the embattled NFL commissioner.

Harrison wrote to Goodell's Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon:

Harrison, who officially retired as a Steeler last Friday, was not as rhythmic in several subsequent posts but no less subtle when directly addressing Goodell, who is under heavy criticism for his handling of the Ray Rice suspension subsequent to his arrest for aggravated assault.

Steelers players were the only ones who didn't collectively vote in favor of the collective bargaining agreement that was approved in 2011 because of their unhappiness with Goodell -- and what they saw as his heavy-handed ways in meting out discipline.

The player-safety initiative that Goodell enacted in 2010 put him on a collision course with Harrison, one of the most feared players in the NFL. Harrison was fined a total of $120,000 for helmet-to-helmet hits or unnecessary roughness that season.

Goodell suspended the five-time Pro Bowler for a game late in the 2011 season after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. Harrison became the first player to miss a game because of repeated violations of the rule that prohibits above-the-shoulder hits on a player deemed defenseless.

Harrison had blasted Goodell in a 2011 Men's Journal story, calling him a "devil," among other things. He later apologized for his remarks.

With Goodell receiving intense criticism for not taking a harder stance against Rice after the former Baltimore Ravens running back assaulted his now-wife in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, hotel elevator, Harrison has been taunting Goodell via Twitter.

James HarrisonMark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT James Harrison had one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.

PITTSBURGH -- The closest I ever came to experiencing what an NFL quarterback faced when playing against James Harrison came in October 2008.

A couple of days earlier, the Pittsburgh Steelers had beaten the Jaguars in Jacksonville, but Harrison had been furious after the 26-21 win -- and rightfully so since he had been held more times than a newborn baby.

As the visiting locker room at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium started to empty, Harrison groused to longtime Steelers beat reporter Mark Kaboly and me during an interview that maybe the officials had money on the game.

We wrote it. Roger Goodell read it. And Harrison received an envelope from Park Avenue.

It included a $25,000 fine and a letter explaining that he would be making a generous donation to one of the charities that the NFL supports because of something I had written.

Yeah, yikes.

I had the good fortune the first time Harrison did a group interview after getting fined to be on the other end of the Steelers' locker room since one of my colleagues was in on the scrum.

I felt really lucky when I was later informed that Harrison had said, “Which one of you m-----f------ is Scott Brown? You owe me $25,000.”

That was the last I heard of that debt, though I did briefly consider walking up to Harrison one day and handing him $25,000 in Monopoly money. I wisely figured that joke might not play well for several reasons.

James Harrison was ornery. James Harrison was intimidating. And James Harrison was unpredictable.

Let me add this in the wake of Harrison announcing his retirement Saturday morning via social media: James Harrison was one of the greatest success stories in the fabled history of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Let that sink in a little bit.

And then consider that Harrison was cut three times by the Steelers before finally sticking with the team in 2004.

He bided his time on special teams for three seasons before the Steelers unleashed a raging bull on the rest of the NFL.

Harrison both terrorized and tormented quarterbacks after taking over at right outside linebacker for perennial Pro Bowler Joey Porter, earning the nickname "Deebo" from his teammates after the terrifying neighborhood bully in the movie "Friday."

Harrison piled up 54 sacks from 2007-11, and his 64 career quarterback takedowns for the Steelers rank fourth in team history, two behind a guy named Joe Greene. Harrison became a perennial Pro Bowler, and the former undrafted free agent won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2008 after registering 16 sacks.

Harrison turned in one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history at the end of that season when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown.

The Steelers don’t win a sixth Super Bowl title if Harrison doesn’t weave his way down the field, pinball off Arizona Cardinals tacklers and then collapse in the end zone with no time left in the first half.

We may never see a play like that again.

If it was an original, so was Harrison.

He played with an edge. He also played on the edge, something that turned Harrison into the unwitting face of Goodell’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits.

His clashes with Goodell -- Harrison blasted the commissioner in a 2011 Men’s Journal story for which he later apologized -- may complicate his legacy a bit when it comes to the NFL.

That is not the case with the Steelers, which is why so many fans were clamoring for the team to re-sign Harrison when he made it clear he wanted to return to Pittsburgh for one more season.

It doesn’t look like he will get that second act with the Steelers.

But what a first act it was for the inimitable James Harrison.
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have not ruled out bringing back defensive end Brett Keisel or outside linebacker James Harrison.

General manager Kevin Colbert declined to talk about specific players Monday morning when asked if Keisel is on the Steelers’ radar. But Colbert said, “We haven’t eliminated anybody from consideration because we don’t know what’s going to happen before the season. Even into the season there’s been times when we’ve brought back veteran players due to injury. If we have eliminated a player we always tell [him] don’t keep us in your thought process, if you have an opportunity don’t wait for us, something along those lines.”

Keisel and Harrison, who played for the Bengals in 2013 after nine seasons with the Steelers, would like to return to the team. And I have Keisel on my latest projected 53-man roster.

It makes all the sense in the world for the Steelers to bring Keisel back.

He could play in a rotation at left defensive end – I’m not sold on Cam Thomas there – and serve as a perfect bridge between second-round pick Stephon Tuitt’s rookie and second seasons. There are a lot of people with football expertise who think Keisel can still play, even though he turns 36 in September, and he would be a great mentor for the younger defensive ends like Tuitt and Brian Arnfelt.

The Steelers don’t have to be in a hurry to bring back Keisel, who is keeping himself in shape and doesn't need training camp at this point of his career. That will give them time to take an extended look at what they have at defensive end and help them decide whether to bring back Keisel.

I like Keisel’s chances of returning to the Steelers a lot better than I do Harrison coming back for a second stint in Pittsburgh.

The five-time Pro Bowler would have to be content with a really limited role with the Steelers set with their top three at outside linebacker in Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats.

For fans who have asked about Harrison returning so he can help the younger players at outside linebacker, the Steelers added that mentor last February when they hired Joey Porter as a defensive assistant.

One injury, of course, could change everything in regard to the Steelers and Harrison. But if the Steelers stay relatively healthy at outside linebacker, I don’t see him returning to Pittsburgh.
LATROBE, Pa. -- When the Pittsburgh Steelers made Lawrence Timmons the first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era, they liked the Florida State product in part because he had the versatility and speed to play inside or outside.

Timmons, after a slow start to his Steelers career, has established himself as one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL. And he probably should have realized by now his lifelong dream of going to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl.

Timmons has indeed been that good the last two seasons.

Timmons, who has started 53 consecutive regular-season games, has played outside linebacker during his career when injuries necessitated a move. But the eighth-year veteran doesn’t see that happening this season even though the Steelers have little proven depth at the position.

“I think we’ve got enough outside linebackers now to where I’m not needed there anymore,” said Timmons, who led the Steelers with 126 tackles last season. “I’m strictly inside.”

Timmons singled out Vic So'oto, who signed a futures contract with the Steelers last January, and rookie Howard Jones as two outside linebackers who have a chance to provide depth along with Arthur Moats and Chris Carter.

So’oto has NFL experience, having played in six games with three different teams. Jones is an intriguing prospect; the undrafted free agent entered Shepherd University, a Division II school in West Virginia, as a wide receiver and left as an outside linebacker -- and with the school’s record for career sacks (35).

Timmons’ belief that he will strictly play inside linebacker reinforces my belief that the Steelers won’t have any interest in bringing back James Harrison unless injuries change the outlook at outside linebacker.

Harrison would strictly provide depth, and the five-time Pro Bowler is not a special-teams player at this point of his career. The Steelers, meanwhile, will apparently try to build depth at outside linebacker through younger players who may also be able to help them on special teams.
James HarrisonMark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT
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This is the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Please vote for your choice as the Steelers' most memorable play.

Score: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
Date: Feb. 1, 2009 Site: Raymond James Stadium

There is some delicious irony to one of the most defining plays in Super Bowl history.

Had Troy Polamalu improvised after correctly diagnosing what the Arizona Cardinals were going to do at the end of the first half in Super Bowl XLIII, there is a good chance he would have collided with outside linebacker James Harrison.

And there is an even better chance that the Steelers would not have won a sixth Super Bowl title.


Which is the most memorable play in Steelers' history?


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Polamalu stayed put even after recognizing the Cardinals’ formation and Harrison improvised, dropping into coverage. Harrison intercepted the Kurt Warner pass that would have given the upstart Cardinals a halftime lead, and rumbled from one end zone to the other. When the Cardinals finally tackled the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year with no time left in the second quarter, he had completed one of the most astounding plays in NFL history. Harrison scored the touchdown that allowed the Steelers to take a 17-7 lead into halftime.

The Steelers ultimately beat the Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII, and given the 10- or 14-point swing at the end of the first half, simple math is all that is needed to determine the significance of Harrison’s 100-yard interception return.

“We don’t win the Super Bowl if he doesn’t catch that and score,” Polamalu said. “If he catches it [but doesn’t score], we lose the Super Bowl.”

That is anything but hyperbole, and Harrison's play came after the Cardinals had driven to the Steelers’ 1-yard line near the end of the second quarter.

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald lined up in the slot with Anquan Boldin to the outside on the left side of the field. Polamalu correctly deduced that Fitzgerald would clear out the coverage, with Boldin slipping in behind him.

But there was a problem: Polamalu was on the right side of the field.

"In my mind I’m like, 'If I leave my guy and I go over there and they don’t throw it, Coach [Dick] LeBeau is going to be really mad at me,'" Polamalu said. "So in my mind I’m like, 'Do I go, do I not go? Do I go, do I not go?'"

That indecision forced Polamalu to stay put and Harrison ended up dropping into coverage, even though he was supposed to blitz. He intercepted the pass that was intended for Boldin, who had single coverage and probably would have scored had Harrison rushed the passer.

Harrison’s pick was only the start of what Polamalu called “the greatest play in Super Bowl history.”

He started trucking down the field, ignoring calls from some of his faster teammates to give them the ball. A convoy of blockers helped Harrison weave his way through the Cardinals players who were desperately trying to get him on the ground. He collapsed in the opposite end zone with Fitzgerald and Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston draped all over him, completely drained following the 100-yard return.

“I was behind him telling him to pitch me the ball,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “After about 20 yards I’m like, ‘All right, he ain’t going to give me the ball,’ so I just happened to block Fitzgerald off of default. He tripped over me and fell, but I call that a block.”

The NFL owners meetings take center stage this week but the Steelers are keeping their eye on free agency even though the general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are among those from the organization in Orlando, Fla.

Colbert and Tomlin met with a small group of Pittsburgh reporters on Sunday, and each said they are confident the Steelers will be able to holes on the roster via free agency.

Colbert, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount will visit the Steelers on Friday so he can meet with Tomlin.

Blount had initially been scheduled to visit the Steeelers on Monday.

Tomlin, meanwhile, said the Steelers are “open” to signing former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who visited Pittsburgh last week.

“We need to add quality depth to that position,” Tomlin said, according to the Post-Gazette. “Le’Veon Bell is a talented player but also a young player.”

Running back is among the positions in which the Steelers are thin. They also have openings at linebacker and they will host former Bills linebacker Arthur Moats on Monday, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

They are also keeping their options open when it comes to bringing back outside linebacker James Harrison, per both Pittsburgh newspapers.

But it doesn’t sound like the Steelers are in any hurry to get something done with Harrison, who was recently released by the Bengals after one season in Cincinnati.

“We’re right on schedule,” Colbert said in regard to free agency, according to the Tribune-Review.
PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison created quite a buzz among Steelers fans with what he said Monday night on NFL Network.

Harrison and Ike Taylor were taking part in the network’s "dynasty week" and Taylor blurted out “Pittsburgh” when Harrison was asked where he wants to play next season.

Harrison’s response: “Everybody knows that.”

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
Greg Bartram/USA Today SportsJames Harrison could provide some veteran depth for the Pittsburgh defense.
It is an interesting thought to say the least.

And here is how it could work: The Steelers wait until after June 1 to re-sign Harrison, who was released last week by the Bengals, when they will receive $8.58 million in cap savings from the release of LaMarr Woodley.

There wouldn’t be any concerns about Harrison keeping himself in shape until then – his work ethic is off the charts – or having to learn a new system.

Unlike last year when the two sides couldn’t reach common ground on the amount of a pay cut prior to Harrison’s release, the Steelers could bring him back on much friendlier financial terms.

Harrison, according to ESPN Stats & Information, made a base salary of $1.4 million last season and received a little more than $380,000 in bonuses. His two-year deal with the Bengals also included a $1.2 million signing bonus.

Harrison played 15 games for the Bengals in 2013 but managed just two sacks and averaged just over 24 snaps per contest. The 10th-year veteran wasn’t a good fit in the Bengals’ 4-3 defense and age may have encroached on his game as well.

Harrison turns 36 in May, and he has to know that he would have to accept a deal that is amenable to the Steelers as well as a limited role to return to Pittsburgh and finish his career here.

If he is willing to do that, the Steelers should at least consider bringing back the player who is fourth on their all-time sacks list (64).

Harrison could join new defensive assistant coach Joey Porter in helping with Jarvis Jones’ development. He could also provide depth at outside linebacker, another position where the Steelers have little of it.

Chris Carter is the only other outside linebacker on the roster after Jones and Jason Worilds, and he hasn’t shown that he can be much more than a special-teams player. The Steelers are likely to draft an outside linebacker at some point but they can’t depend on that player helping right away.

Look how much Jones struggled to learn the Steelers’ defense as a rookie while also adjusting to the speed and competition level in the NFL, and he was the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft.

The Steelers don’t have a history of bringing back players with whom they have parted ways but they have made exceptions.

Could Harrison fall into that category?

Stay tuned.
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have lost another defensive player.

The San Diego Chargers announced via Twitter on Thursday that Bengals cornerback Brandon Ghee has signed a two-year deal to join their team. An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Ghee spent the last four years in Cincinnati.

A 2010 third-round Bengals draft selection from Wake Forest, Ghee was expected to be a budding defensive star, but injuries got in the way of that progress.

After missing all of the 2012 season with a dislocated wrist, coaches finally started getting convinced he was turning a corner after a strong showing in OTAs last year and through the first few practices of the preseason. He looked poised to challenge for the backup slot corner job. If starter Leon Hall was to go down, he looked to be the first one on the field to replace him.

But a concussion, the second of his career, sidelined him for most of the preseason and the first three games of the 2013 regular season. He took a hard shot during a preseason game at Atlanta. The injury came nearly a full year after he dislocated his wrist.

When Ghee did end up playing last season, filling in for an injured Hall at Cleveland in Week 4, he didn’t look good overall. The Browns rolled to a 17-6 win that included a touchdown reception he allowed.

Ghee appeared in 10 games last season, the most in a single season in his career. He also had seven tackles, and finished with 17 for his Bengals career.

Ghee's departure from Cincinnati comes on the same day that free-agent offensive tackle Anthony Collins rejected a Bengals counteroffer and signed with Tampa Bay, and veteran linebacker James Harrison was cut.
Vontaze BurfictGeorge Gojkovich/Getty ImagesWith James Harrison gone, Vontaze Burfict should take up the reins of the Cincinnati defense.
CINCINNATI -- The back-left corner of the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room was home last season to perhaps the most eclectic mix of humor, anger and nice-guy behavior that could be found in the NFL.

Right in the middle of it all was James Harrison, the enigmatic outside linebacker who had a tendency to exhibit all three characteristics at once. One moment, he's scowling about doing interviews on days other than his normal Friday routine. In the next, he's cracking jokes with his fellow defensive teammates before taking their orders for his renown protein smoothies.

To those who didn't really know him, he was a puzzling personality. To those who did, he was a leader, one that a team with budding young stars like Vontaze Burfict needed, even if for only so briefly.

Harrison was released from the Bengals on Thursday after spending one season as their "Sam" linebacker. Even though he had trouble getting on the field most of last season, his agent contends he's in peak physical condition and will be on a team's roster in 2014. Retirement doesn't appear to be in the 35 year old's plans.

As they say farewell to Harrison, the Bengals should plan their hellos to Burfict. With the veteran leaving, Burfict, who will be entering his third NFL season, should now be welcome to having full license to run Cincinnati's defense. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther already trusts his "Will" linebacker. He might as well let Burfict know that he's trusted with more than delivering punishing hits on opposing ballcarriers. When his teammates need a jolt of confidence or a slap on the wrist, Burfict should now offer encouragement or administer the as-needed punishments.

While the Bengals have other defensive veterans whose voices shouldn't get lost, but this here is all about Burfict. A year of guidance from Harrison -- a player who not only was respected in the locker room but also one of the more feared players in the league -- gave Burfict all the lessons he needed to learn how to lead. Harrison may not have spoken much publicly, but in private, he earned the admiration of his peers.

"It was great for our coaches, players and fans to have James on our team last year," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's a player everyone looks up to because of his ability, his accomplishments and his drive to be the best. He helped us win a division title with his play and with the example he set."

Take Harrison's workout habits, for example. The reason he is built like a human tank and can hit like a missile is because of his preparation, fellow Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey said in December.

"One thing about James that I didn't know is that he's a very consistent man," Rey said. "If he's going to lift on Monday extra, he's going to lift every Monday extra. The entire year. Guys see that and everyone in this building already is competitive, so we see that and we try to lift extra with him.

"Sometimes we can't keep up."

About the only player who could kind of keep in lockstep with Harrison's pregame rituals was Burfict.

After Harrison started talking to his teammates about his acupuncture treatments and how beneficial he felt they were, Burfict tagged along. The younger linebacker might not take the full 300-needle load his elder counterpart does, but he's getting there.

Back in November, just when it seemed that Burfict's play on the field and his mannerisms off it were beginning to mimic Harrison's better days, Burfict was asked if he viewed himself as a younger carbon copy of his locker room neighbor.

"Sometimes he rubs off on me," Burfict said, smiling. "I take the same supplements that he does and sometimes I feel like, 'OK, I'm in his element.' I take the same energy that he does and sometimes that makes me feel crazy on the field."

Crazy Burfict is good Burfict. Last season, he led the NFL in tackles with 171. That mark also went down as the most for a Bengal in a single season since the stat was first recorded in 1976. His three sacks, one interception and two fumble recoveries -- one that he snatched out of a running back's hands and took for an untouched touchdown -- also were statistics that helped the former undrafted free agent earn his first Pro Bowl nod.

Success has started coming for Burfict, a soon-to-be elder on a rapidly changing defense. Defensive end Michael Johnson is gone. Harrison is gone. Other veterans like Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Leon Hall will be up for new contracts in the coming years. Once Burfict's deal gets restructured -- perhaps later this offseason if not the next -- he will become a key piece to the Bengals' defense and future.

That means that now is as good a time as any for him to take what he learned from Harrison and apply it.

So long, James. Hello, Vontaze.

Joey Porter will turn up the volume

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
PITTSBURGH -- The volume just got turned up at Steelers headquarters, and that can only be a good thing for a team that has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

Joey Porter is returning to the organization as an entry-level assistant coach whose responsibilities have not been defined -- at least publicly -- by the Steelers.

It doesn’t matter.

Just having Porter in the building should restore some swagger and attitude to a defense that could use a little of both after giving up too many big plays in 2013 and recording too few sacks, Porter’s specialty when he played for the Steelers from 1999 to 2006.

Porter, only two seasons removed from his playing career, has relatively little coaching experience. His hiring is a curious one considering Mike Tomlin had a voice in the organization releasing Porter in 2007, less than two months after the Steelers hired Tomlin to succeed Bill Cowher.

The Steelers saved $6 million by releasing Porter, and they had James Harrison ready to play right outside linebacker at a significantly lower price. But what also sealed Porter’s playing fate in Pittsburgh is that a 34-year-old first-time head coach probably needed to get Porter out of the Steelers’ locker room to make it his own.

That is how dominant of a personality Porter was when he played for the Steelers.

Loud, profane, sometimes politically incorrect, Porter’s was the mouth that roared and stirred a defense that helped the Steelers win a fifth Super Bowl title in 2005.

Teammates fell in line behind him like no other player with maybe the exception of James Farrior, who was ice to Porter’s raging fire.

Porter will now be on a different side than the players, some of whom were his teammates and know him as "J Peezy."

But his fierce will to win should serve him as well as a coach, and Porter will add raw emotion to a veteran coaching staff that could use a little of it.

Turning up the volume a little could be just what the Steelers need following back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

Polamalu, Steelers still a good fit

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
PITTSBURGH -- The last two years show that sentimentality has nothing to do with Art Rooney II's desire for Troy Polamalu to retire as a Steeler.

[+] EnlargeTroy Polamalu
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanMoney may be the only thing in the way of Troy Polamalu retiring as a Steeler.
Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Harrison, James Farrior and Casey Hampton are among the players whom the Steelers have either cut or not re-signed since 2012. Like Polamalu, all were cornerstones on the teams that won two Super Bowls and played in another from 2005-10.

True, Polamalu is the most iconic of those players with the flowing locks that have morphed into their own brand and a game that is a study in angles, kinetics and flash.

But the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is also still playing at a high level even if he has slipped a bit in coverage. That was never the strongest part of his game anyway. and Polamalu is still arguably the most valuable piece the Steelers have on defense given how defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau deploys him all over the field.

Any doubts the Steelers may have had about wanting Polamalu back in 2014 were erased by a season in which he displayed remarkable durability.

Consider that a significant number of the 1,041 snaps Polamalu played came at inside linebacker in the Steelers' quarter package. And yet the 11th-year veteran did not come off the field a year after he missed more than half of the 2012 season because of a calf injury.

Necessity is also a factor in the Steelers wanting Polamalu back in 2014. The team is unlikely to re-sign free safety Ryan Clark, and there is no way the Steelers can go into next season with two new safeties.

Shamarko Thomas, the eventual successor to Polamalu at strong safety, showed promise during his rookie season. But the fourth-round draft pick did not play a defensive snap in the final seven games after sustaining a high ankle injury and getting supplanted by veteran Will Allen in the quarter package.

Money is the one thing that could complicate Polamalu finishing his career in Pittsburgh.

His cap hit of just under $10.9 million is prohibitive for a team that needs to shed salary in the offseason. And the Steelers wanted to re-sign Harrison last year but the two sides couldn't agree on the amount of a pay cut the outside linebacker take, and he is now playing in Cincinnati.

It is possible that a similar scenario could play out with Polamalu but I think it is highly unlikely.

Polamalu wants to finish his career in Pittsburgh. Rooney expressed, in as strong of terms possible, that he wants the same thing.

The two sides will find a way to make it happen.
CINCINNATI -- Four Cincinnati Bengals have earned a measure of respect by their peers, according to an anonymous, player's only survey conducted by ESPN's 32 NFL Nation team reporters during the regular season.

As part of a broader survey that posed a series of questions, multiple players on each team were asked to name the player in the NFL they respected the most. Among the 78 selections, four were Bengals. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was the overwhelming favorite.

None of the Bengals listed received double-digit votes, but receiver A.J. Green ended up on more ballots than any others. The third-year receiver also was one of two Bengals picked in a survey that asked players to pick one player across the league who they would want to start an NFL franchise with. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins ended up there, as well. Like he did in this survey, Manning won that one fairly handily, too.

Along with Green, veteran Bengals Chris Crocker, Andrew Whitworth and James Harrison made it on the "respected player" survey. Harrison also was among the top vote-getters on a survey asking players who was the most "feared" in the league.

Respect is one of those subjective traits that truly depends upon point of view. No statistics or metrics can truly track it. It just has to be felt.

The feelings of the players who participated in the survey are pretty strong. If one was to compile a list of respected Bengals both on the field and off it, he or she would be hard-pressed to not include any of these four.

Crocker has been in four different locker rooms during his 11-year career and has perspective from his travels that few others in Cincinnati have. During his six seasons with the Bengals, the cornerback's leadership has grown to the point where his advice is among the most sought after on the team. The fact he's been able to come out of retirement the past two years and enter as a solid in-season acquisition makes him even more respected in the locker room.

Whitworth is the longtime stalwart of a Bengals offensive line that has seen its share of change since his career started in 2006. His respect probably grew this season when he selflessly moved from left tackle to left guard following a season-ending Week 14 injury to Clint Boling. The Bengals' already good line was arguably better after the change.

While Harrison's respect likely comes mostly from his hard-hitting, physical on-field persona, his Bengals teammates have remarked often about how they enjoy being around him as a person.
A pair of Detroit Lions topped the list of the NFL's most feared players following a league-wide survey in which more than 320 players participated.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh received 61 votes to edge wide receiver Calvin Johnson (58), according to ESPN’s NFL Nation Confidential.

Suh received two votes among the players I surveyed in the Steelers locker room with former Pittsburgh outside linebacker James Harrison leading the way with three votes.

The choice of Suh for most feared player across the league is hardly surprising. It reflects the three-time Pro Bowler's reputation for blurring the line between aggressiveness and dirty play as it does the quality of his play.

That an offensive player would finish a close second to Suh is surprising, unless you consider what a nightmare matchup Johnson poses for opposing teams.

Johnson’s size and speed have allowed him to establish himself as the best receiver in the NFL, and one of the best players in the league regardless of position. He caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns this season despite playing through a nagging knee injury.

Johnson caught six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers, though they held the player known as Megatron without a catch in the second half of a 37-27 win.

Finishing behind Suh and Johnson in the confidential survey was Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (24 votes).

No Steelers players finished in the top 10 of voting for most feared player.
CINCINNATI -- Maybe it's the dark visor that completely shields his eyes.

Or maybe it's his knack for punishing running backs with the types of hard tackles that make them slowly pull themselves up off the turf.

Whatever it is, something about Cincinnati Bengals linebacker James Harrison has his peers believing he is one of the NFL's most feared players.

In an anonymous survey conducted in locker rooms across the league by's 32 NFL reporters earlier this season, 5.6 percent of respondents said Harrison was the most feared player they went up against. A few of them were Bengals who have to deal with seeing the outside linebacker on a daily basis. Although he's a locker room favorite, many of them are glad he's finally playing with them and not against them.

As high as Harrison's vote percentage was, though, it wasn't that close to the survey's top vote-getters, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson. The intimidating Suh has gained a reputation for being one of if not the dirtiest player in the league for the after-whistle extracurricular activity that has become the hallmark of his play. A good pass-rusher and run-stopper, he has earned a reputation for being one of the most difficult defensive linemen to defend, too.

Johnson is arguably the game's best active receiver and expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and his intimidation appears to be the result of the wow factor that he possesses. The Bengals who selected him as the game's most feared player were amazed at how he had a knack for making the impossible look easy. During a Week 7 game between the Bengals and Lions, Johnson outleaped three Bengals defenders at the goal line to haul in a 50-yard touchdown pass. He was well covered but still had the athleticism to come down with the reception.

Plays like that make him difficult to solve.

Back quickly to Harrison. He likely developed his intimidating persona in Pittsburgh while playing for the Steelers. In his time in Cincinnati, he hasn't yet had the same on-the-field impact, but he has maintained his imposing off-the-field stature. His sometimes derisive and jokingly contentious behavior with media was captured by a film crew representing HBO's "Hard Knocks" last summer. By turning his back to the cameras and preventing them from gaining entry into certain meeting rooms, the legend of his fearful personality likely grew.