David Harris during a Michigan game
The daily approach that rookie linebacker David Harris has been taking since coming into the NFL seven months ago has indisputably been paying off.
"I feel like I can always get better so I approach every day that way — as a chance to just get better and go out and do what I do," the Jets second-round selection in April's draft said before Thursday's practice. "But I think I'm doing OK."
Over the last few weeks, Harris has been taking the field more often and many would argue that the young man from Michigan is doing better than OK. Harris is fitting in nicely amidst a very deep and veteran group of linebackers and has not only gained more time on the field but has gained the respect of his older teammates.
"David, he's just a good player. They brought him here for a reason," linebacker and special teams captain Brad Kassel said. "Right away you can tell that he takes pride in his job and he is always doing what he's supposed to do. I just like having him and guys like him as teammates."
Harris' formula for his success and production sounds almost too simple.
"They just call my number and I just try to be ready when the time presents itself," he explained softly. "Coaches rarely say anything, so I just go out there and put my best foot forward every chance I can get. I want to get out there and show them my best any way I can."
While his transition into the league appears to be going smoothly, Harris said it is still sometimes difficult to believe he is in such an incredible situation.
"I kind of feel like I'm still in college because I'm young," he said, "but then I say to myself, 'This is my profession and I'm actually getting paid to do this.' "
But that doesn't mean he has approached the game tentatively. The rookie has caught onto the Jets core values and appreciates the way that head coach Eric Mangini approaches the game as well.
"Coach Mangini, he runs a tight ship and he expects everybody to be on time and in complete focus at all times," Harris said. "But as far as the game, football is always going to be football, there's never any changing that, and that's what I love. It's the same game I've been playing since I was little, but this time it's just with the best guys on the planet."
While the overall game has remained the same, Harris has been introduced in his first NFL season to a "fun" aspect of the game: special teams. Even though he played some punt coverage in his four seasons at Ann Arbor, the former All-America second-teamer has found a new way to enjoy the game he's always loved.
"It's fun because everything and everyone is moving so fast out there — it's real intense," he said. "You have to react so much quicker because the plays and players are so quick, so you have to be ready and aware for everything and anything. It's crazy but it's fun."
It also helps that Harris has one of the sport's greatest special teams professors. Mike Westhoff has molded many players like Harris into top-of-the-line special teams players.
"He's a good coach. He knows what he's doing. He's been coaching for 27 years, so every time he says something, we sure do follow it," he said. "Right now we're playing good special teams and we look to continue it, especially with him coaching us."
Another Jets staffer who has helped Harris get on the fast track is linebackers coach Jim Herrmann, who was Harris' defensive coordinator at Michigan from 2003-05. It was Herrmann's coaching that helped Harris garner 196 tackles and two trips to the Rose Bowl in his college career.
Now that Harris and Herrmann are reunited in Hempstead, the rookie hasn't missed a beat. He's playing more and more in the base defense and in the nickel packages. He has 16 tackles by the coaches' video breakdown. One of his tackles was of Giants RB Derrick Ward on a reception for a 4-yard loss. Last week vs. Philadelphia, he got his first pro pass defense with a diving breakup of a Donovan McNabb toss for TE Matt Schobel.
"Obviously, it takes a while for everyone to learn the ins and the outs and to eventually crack the lineup," Kassell said of Harris' progression. "Being drafted in the second round, you're going to get some playing time. But I think it's all very well-deserved. He hits hard and he knows what to do.
"He's a down to earth guy," Kassel added. "He's always in here doing his extra work, he seems like a real good dude, and me and him have become buddies. He's a level-headed guy who ought to have a lot of productive years in this league."