The Jets hope Michigan LB David Harris will instantly upgrade the team's defense. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini loves referring to Pro Bowl-ILB Jonathan Vilma as “the quarterback of the defense,” an homage to the importance of his verbal leadership in the middle of a constantly shifting defensive line. So why spend a second round pick on Michigan ILB David Harris? It’s simple: actions speak louder than words, and Harris is as active and productive against the rush as they come.
Take, for example, Harris’ stats from a game in 2005 between his Michigan Wolverines and rival Minnesota. In a losing effort, Harris was named the player of the game after recording a career-high 18 tackles, including one for a loss. The incredible performance came against one of the nation’s best rushing offenses, too. Leading the rushing attack was RB Laurence Maroney, now a star for the New England Patriots.
Harris, a Second-Team AP All-American and two-time honoree as Michigan’s top linebacker, is reluctant to accept the title of “natural leader” given to him by Coach Mangini and loads of NFL scouts, however.
“I just try to go out and lead by example,” he explained. “I mean, I think that’s the best way to go nowadays because everybody can talk, but I think the best way is to try and do it with your actions.”
Throughout his tenure at Michigan, Harris amassed a laundry list of accomplishments on the playing field, and this consistency is a testament to his strong work ethic.
After an injury early in his collegiate career, Harris worked hard to get back into football shape, ultimately starting the final 25 games for Michigan. During that span he led the team in tackles for consecutive years, making him only the 11th Michigan player to accomplish the feat. He also received his back-to-back “Top Michigan Linebacker” awards during that time period.
Despite these successes, Harris remains a very humble rookie, eager to learn the system and help out his new team. Having veteran linebackers with great leadership abilities like Vilma on the team also is helping ease the pressure on Harris to step right in as a defensive leader, which he is very grateful for.
“They’re great teammates,” he said. “They know what they’re talking about, they’ve been here for a while, they try to help you every chance they get, and they’re great leaders to look up to.”
Coming from a big college program in Michigan, Harris is used to the high intensity levels of practices and the media attention he will have to deal with as a pro football player. He is also used to practicing in bad weather, something that Coach Mangini loves to make his team do.
Still, amid all the similarities, Harris is quick to point out how different the Jets’ defensive system is from that of Michigan. All this is despite the fact that Harris’ linebackers coach at Michigan, Jim Herrmann, is now his coach on the Jets, too.
“I mean, everything’s new like terminology and the defenses,” he explained. “You try to come in and get adjusted as quickly as possible and try to find a spot on the field.”
As a second-round draft pick, and an extremely versatile one at that, Harris is sure to find a spot on the field in 2007, but where exactly is yet to be determined and may not be for some time. The Jets’ linebacking corps was far from ideal in 2006 but contain a number of talented veterans who Harris will need to win a starting from to gain significant playing time this season.
Humble and eager to learn as always, Harris isn’t worried about that at all.
“I’m just trying to come in and try to get my feel for this,” he said, displaying the team-first mentality of a true Mangini-type player. “Whether its defense or special teams – anything – I just have to try to contribute, work as hard as I can, and help the team to win.”
Harris should be a solid contributor for years to come, but the Jets’ can already declare a victory of sorts in just managing to land this first-round talent, beaming with “core Jets values,” in the mid-second round of a fantastic draft for Gang Green.
-In 2006, Harris recorded 96 tackles for Michigan. It was the most tackles by a Michigan player since Victor Hobson, now of the Jets, recorded 99 tackles in 2002.
-Think Harris doesn’t remember Maroney, who he only faced once as a starter, in 2005? Think again.
“He had a couple good games against us,” laughed Harris. “He’s a great running back. I mean, you can’t say enough good things about him.” He later added, “I mean he’s a great back, and their scheme helped out a lot. In college, Minnesota is known for running the ball, that’s what they’re good at.”
-Harris and the Michigan defense couldn’t handle Maroney, and that was before he began fielding kickoffs. While never a return man in college, Maroney was excellent at the job as a rookie in 2006, especially against the Jets. He average 28.3 yards per return against New York, which was 8.0 more yards per return than the rest of the league had against the Jets.
-Laurence Maroney wasn’t the only future-NFLer to gash the Michigan defense as a member of Minnesota while Harris was on the team. RB Marion Barber III, now with the Dallas Cowboys, ran all over the Wolverines before leaving school early to join the NFL, but Harris never faced him due to his injury.
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