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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Who's David Harris? You ought to know

By Tim Graham

Rex Ryan and David Harris
Coach Rex Ryan has fielded plenty of inquires from other teams regarding the availability of unheralded linebacker David Harris in trade. Ryan's response: 'How about no?'
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When thinking of the New York Jets' defense, the first person that probably comes to mind is Rex Ryan. If not him, then Darrelle Revis or Bart Scott or Kris Jenkins.

The Jets added a couple of more prominent names in the offseason, trading for Antonio Cromartie and signing Jason Taylor.

Often overlooked is the man who led the NFL's top-rated defense in tackles in 2009.

David Harris is so discreet, casual fans don't know who he is. They might not even know what position he plays.

Pssst. He's an inside linebacker. And he's pretty good.

"With the spotlight on us and people knowing how good our defense performed last year," Scott said, "if they search for why our defense is successful, they'll realize he's a huge part of it."

It's amazing how inconspicuous Harris is. Before January's wild-card playoff game, Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson claimed he was baffled by Harris. Benson claimed this after the Bengals played the Jets a week earlier in the regular-season finale, mind you. Said Benson regarding Harris: "I'm not a big names guy or who's playing. I don't even really know who that is."

Harris is a crucial component of the Jets' defense. He never leaves the field because he can stuff the run, blitz and cover on passing downs. Mismatches don't happen with him. He wears the defensive headset, relaying the play calls to his teammates.

"He really has a complete game, and he's getting better and better," Jets linebackers coach Bob Sutton said. "His arrow is pointing up."

Harris, entering his fourth NFL season, is on the verge of barging into the group of elite inside linebackers. He was a second-team All-Pro last year, but didn't make the Pro Bowl.

His numbers last season were gaudy: 142 tackles (by the team's count), 5.5 sacks for a team-high 50 yards of losses, 12 quarterback hits, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

In the postseason, Harris led the Jets with 25 tackles and two sacks on a sore ankle.

"He's a very dependable, consistent guy," Sutton said. "You're getting the same player every single game right on through the season."

David Harris
David Harris had 5.5 sacks in 2009.
While fans might pay more attention to Revis' scintillating coverage skills, Scott's histrionic chatter or Jenkins' massiveness at nose tackle, Harris is a known -- and precious -- commodity among GMs and scouts.

When the Jets checked in with the Denver Broncos about receiver Brandon Marshall's availability, Harris was who the Broncos coveted. The trade, of course, didn't happen.

Ryan learned of Harris' value around the league before he coached his first game with the Jets. Harris was coming off a 2008 season in which he was limited by a hamstring injury, missed five games with a torn groin and suffered a broken leg in the season finale. Yet opposing teams wanted him on their roster.

"Any move that we looked to do that first year when I got here," Ryan said, "it was trading up to get [Mark] Sanchez, all this and that ... Every single time it was, 'How about David Harris as the player?' He was the player to be named. 'Oh, and by the way, we'll take ... How about David Harris?' How about, no way? There's no chance. Think I'm going to give up a great defensive player like him? No way."

Harris has remained under the radar partly because he's so soft-spoken. He's mute compared to Scott, his inside linebacking partner. Scott calls them "The Odd Couple."

There's a reason why a Harris quote hasn't appeared earlier in this story.

"I keep quiet, try to stay humble and keep to myself," Harris said with a grin.

Harris is one of the Jets' so-called "Core Four" players who want new contracts. Revis, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson are the others. Revis has taken an aggressive approach to making his demands known. Mangold has been more diplomatic, but hasn't been reluctant to speak.

True to form, Harris has declined to make his contract an issue.

"I'm just worried about playing football," he said.

Scott knows a side of Harris the media and fans don't get to see. Scott said it takes a while to break down the wall around Harris and get to know him.

"He's a loyal guy, back to his family," Scott said. "All he cares about is playing video games or going back to Grand Rapids (Mich.) to hang with his high school buddies. It's low profile."

That's a significant reason Harris received little Pro Bowl consideration last year. Scott received many more votes in fan balloting.

It's not like Harris has emerged out of nowhere, an undrafted player from a Division III train stop somewhere in the Midwest. The former University of Michigan star and Butkus Award semifinalist was the 47th overall draft choice in 2007. He recorded five sacks as a rookie.

But his injury-plagued 2008 season interrupted his rise as much as his reluctance to talk about himself -- or anything else.

"That's part of football," Harris said of 2008. "Each and every one of us has a war story, and that was mine."

Sure, it's a war story. Good luck hearing Harris tell it.