It’s hard to imagine James Harrison having too much issue in switching from the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ 3-4 to the Cincinnati Bengals‘ 4-3. This isn’t just because he’s a man who thrives on indication and wearing that giant chip on his shoulder pads — though it’s a very real possibility that he could make division rival Pittsburgh pay for letting him go much like he did to the Cleveland Browns over so many years for cutting him — but it’s because he’s shown the skills to fill Cincy’s SAM linebacker position on the outside.
This position does require more coverage and Harrison did poorly in that regard last season, but perhaps we can chalk it up to nagging injuries. Harrison’s typically one of the better coverage linebackers out there, ranking third among 3-4 outside backers in that regard by Pro Football Focus grades in 2011.
“Yes, you all do,” Harrison responded to a question about whether the media makes too much of a player switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, via the team’s website. “I’m playing SAM, so I’m basically doing the same thing I do in a 3-4 defense. It’s just that I’ll switch where I’m lining up. I’ll be in a 40 or 30, stacked behind a tackle or guard or whatever it may be. And I’ll do my job from there.
“Their terminology is some of the same terminology, but it means something different. Every now and then I’ll revert to doing something that was previously done with the Steelers but means something different here. Once I get the terminology together and just getting used to certain fits, I think I’ll be all right.”
Harrison probably won’t be as good for very close to his level during his tenure in Pittsburgh, but that’s mainly because he was already suffering a notable drop-off in 2012 from great to just good. However, I’m not making too much of the switch between schemes for the cagy vet.