FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — David Harris wants nothing to do with self-promotion, and he’s downright uncomfortable with any of your praise.
Try to get the New York Jets middle linebacker to talk about himself, and you might as well be trying to run for an extra yard against him.
“I just do my job,” Harris said flatly.
And he certainly does it well.
In his ninth season, Harris leads the Jets with 102 total tackles — a statistical category that he has paced the team seven times since being drafted in the second round out of Michigan in 2007. The one season he didn’t, in 2008, he missed five games with a groin injury.
“I don’t think we could function on defense if David wasn’t playing right now,” coach Todd Bowles said.
That’s high praise from Bowles, who doesn’t usually go overboard while complimenting his players. But when asked about Harris, he absolutely gushed.
“David’s probably the most underrated guy over there,” Bowles said of his defense, “but he’s the glue that keeps everybody together over there.”
Harris calls the defensive signals on the field, getting his teammates properly in place before each play. And even at 31, he’s still very much a key playmaker on a defense that includes guys with higher profiles, such as Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
Harris — nicknamed “Hitman” — has 2 1/2 sacks, six quarterback hits, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles to go along with his slew of tackles. Last season, he became the fourth player in franchise history to post 1,000 in a career.
“He does everything,” Bowles said. “Not only just mentally, he makes plays. He makes a ton of plays. They’re probably not flashy, like you see Mo and you see Revis and the rest of those guys. But, David keeps that core intact. David understands the game. He’s our coach on the field.
“Without him, I don’t know where we’d be.”
New York has the No. 5 overall defense in the NFL and the top-ranked unit against the run. Heading into the critical game against Dallas on Saturday night, the Jets are tied for fifth in the league with 24 takeaways and have held opponents to under 75 yards rushing six times. They’ve also been stingy in the red zone, allowing opponents to score 10 touchdowns in 30 trips inside the 20-yard line — an NFL-low 33.3 percent.
A big reason for that success, the Jets insist, is Harris’ presence.
“David is everything, man,” Wilkerson said. “He’s a person that leads by example, really. He’s somebody that I looked up to since I walked in here, Day 1.”
Harris said there wasn’t much of a learning curve for him going from Rex Ryan’s defense to Bowles’ system this year, despite needing to be the guy everyone would rely on.
“At the end of the day, it’s football,” he said. “It’s still a game of blocking and tackling. I’ve been playing middle linebacker since I was 10 years old.”
It was uncertain Harris would even be back at this time last year. He was due to become a free agent and Ryan and general manager John Idzik were on their way out the door.
Before looking elsewhere, Harris sat down with Bowles, and the coach discussed the team’s plans and vision for him.
“He told me his scheme, so I was confident with what he told me,” Harris said. “I’m glad that I’m here right now. That’s the end of it.”
A few days before he could have become an unrestricted free agent, Harris signed a three-year, $21.5 million contract, which includes $15 million guaranteed through the first two years. He was a priority in the offseason for the Jets, despite Harris never making a Pro Bowl during a productive career.
When asked why he has never really tried to take advantage of marketing possibilities while being in the Big Apple spotlight, Harris was incredulous.
“Why should I have to be?” Harris asked.
It’s a humble and, in the flashy, personality-filled NFL, unique approach.
“You play the game to win and to earn respect,” Harris said. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”
So, no, he doesn’t care about accolades. Pro Bowls and All-Pro recognition would be nice, but none of that drives him.
“I mean, I’m just trying to get a Super Bowl ring,” Harris said. “That’s the most important thing. Everything else will fall into place if it does happen. I don’t lose any sleep thinking about that.”
NOTES: RT Breno Giacomini (hip, ankle), WR Jeremy Kerley (calf), C Nick Mangold (hand) and LB Calvin Pace (abdomen, knee) were all limited at practice. The Jets will hold a light practice Friday before leaving for Dallas.
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