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NFL DRAFT: Harrison signed, Bengals look for depth

Tuesday - 4/23/2013, 5:17pm  ET

FILE - In this Dec. 30, 2012 file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) sits on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Pittsburgh. The Cincinnati Bengals have officially signed free agent James Harrison, the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker from the rival Steelers. The Bengals didn't release terms in Tuesday's, April 23, 2013 announcement. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) -- When linebacker James Harrison signed his two-year deal with Cincinnati on Tuesday, the Bengals had a proven playmaker at one of their main areas for concern heading into the NFL draft.

Now, about that right tackle ...

The Bengals won't have to worry so much about a linebacker when the draft starts Thursday night. The 34-year-old Harrison left Pittsburgh after he and the team couldn't agree on a new contract that would help the Steelers get under the salary cap.

He'll move into one of Cincinnati's outside linebacker spots, an upgrade to a defense that finished sixth in the league last season in yards allowed. The Bengals have spent a lot of money on keeping the unit intact, including bringing back middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.

"I think I bring leadership as far as going out there and leading by example," the five-time Pro Bowl player said. "They have a few young guys in the linebacker room and I feel like I can help them there."

Cincinnati has one thing left on its to-do list before the draft begins Thursday: figure out whether right tackle Andre Smith will be back. The unrestricted free agent has been talking to the Bengals about a new deal, but there's been no agreement.

Whether he returns will factor into the choices the Bengals make come Thursday.

"I am hopeful we can get a solution done there prior to the draft," coach Marvin Lewis said Tuesday. "I know Andre would like to get it done and I think he'd feel better about things so he doesn't get lost without a chair somewhere."

With the team returning virtually intact, the draft will be more about bringing in players who will add depth for now and grow into starters down the line. The Bengals, who have the 21st overall pick, have gotten to the playoffs as a wild card each of the last two seasons, losing to Houston in the first round both years.

The draft features a lot of solid linemen. The Bengals could use help on the offensive line. Even though the defensive line is a strength, they'll look at adding to their rotation there, too. They also could use help at safety and running back.

"I think in general, there's offensive linemen that will end up being good players here in the National Football League," Lewis said. "I think there's defensive linemen that will end up being good players. Maybe a glut of those two groups a little bit more, guys with similar body types and so forth.

"I think there's probably not a consensus of players throughout the 32 teams, maybe after two or three players this year in all positions. I don't know that it's been much like that in many years past."

This draft completes Cincinnati's trade with Oakland for quarterback Carson Palmer, which has benefited the Bengals immensely. Palmer threatened to retire rather than play for Cincinnati again. The Bengals dealt him to the Raiders midway through the 2011 season, getting a first-round and a conditional second-round pick for him.

They used the first-round pick last year to take cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was limited to five games because of a knee injury and a concussion. This year, they get the fifth pick in the second round -- 37th overall -- from Oakland.

They also ended up getting the coach that pushed for the deal in Oakland. Hue Jackson was fired by the Raiders after they failed to make the playoffs in 2011. The Bengals hired him as an assistant special teams and defensive backs coach last season. He moved into the role of running backs coach when Jim Anderson retired in the offseason.

"Hue is excited," Lewis said. "He's looked at it for a couple of years through a different set of eyes, both as a coordinator and as a head coach. He's had an opportunity to look at some guys at the position and is really a valuable resource for me, just as he was a year ago. But being back here for the second year and (he's) a big part of the process."

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay


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