David Harris during a Michigan game
Life is pretty good for Jets middle linebacker David Harris.
"I can't complain," Harris said following a midweek practice. "As a defense we're right where we want to be and that's No. 1 in the league — No. 1 in scoring [16.2], No.1 in yards allowed [264.7] and No. 1 in pass defense [160.4]. I can't complain. We're doing very well right now."
Named to midseason all-pro teams by Sports Illustrated's Peter King and ESPN's Len Pasquarelli, the 6'2", 245-pound Harris paces the Jets with 123 tackles and he has also added 5.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles to his résumé.
"He's a playmaker," said DE Shaun Ellis of Harris. "He's smart. He knows where the ball's going and he has a natural instinct to get to the ball. When he gets there, he's relentless. He'll hit you, he can cover, he can do zone drops and he can blitz. He has the total package."
With Harris and weakside 'backer Bart Scott in the middle, the Jets have formed a tremendous pair who should be wreaking havoc for years to come.
"David is pretty much going to be in the center of the field all the time," Scott said on a recent episode of "Barking with Bart." "His job is pretty much to scrape side to side and make tackles. My job is we want to invite them to run to the bubble [where linemen aren't covered each other up], so I can try and spill it and so David can come over the top and make the tackle."
Harris, a third-year vet who was named to Pro Football Weekly's all-rookie team in 2007 after leading the Green & White with 117 tackles in his first season, has played 13 games in a defensive system that Scott has mastered over eight pro seasons.
"Bart knows the defense so well. Anytime I have a question, he'll be glad to answer it. A lot of times on the field, he'll call the play out before they even hike the ball," Harris said. "He just knows so much information — he is able to put everybody in the right spot every play."
A reserved, polite fellow off the field, "Hitman" Harris is grateful for the opportunity to play under head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. One of the key cogs in the Jets' current three-game win streak, Harris collected 18 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble in wins over the Panthers and the Bills. Then he set the tone in Tampa, picking off a Josh Freeman pass on the first play from scrimmage and New York's AFC representative never looked back.
"Rex and Coach Pettine have put me in a perfect situation a lot of plays, so I just have to execute my job. Like against Tampa, I just did my job and the quarterback threw the ball right to me — I had to catch it," he said with a smile. "If I dropped it, I would have caught so much flak from my teammates."
Before he was studying opposition offenses in-season, Harris put in the tape of another AFC team and watched one of the NFL's greatest players.
"I watched a lot of Baltimore film. That's where our defense originated from. Anytime you have a guy like Ray Lewis to watch and study, he's probably the greatest linebacker of all time," Harris said. "He was the appropriate guy for me to watch since he plays the same position."
And if anyone knows what a Pro Bowl middle linebacker looks like, it's Scott. After playing next to the legend in B-More, the "Madbacker" thinks the "Hitman" should be headed to Miami for the league's annual all-star game.
"I think he deserves it. Whenever you've had the success like we've had and he has the numbers to back it up — he has the sacks, he has the game-changing plays, he has the tackles," said Scott. "Then what you do as a voter is you go in and see where does the defense rank and our defense is right up there with the best, so you have to reward some of the players in this defense."
The Jets are right in the AFC playoff mix and a home victory Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons would give them their first four-game win streak of the Rex Ryan era. Instead of crumbling when they dropped six out of seven from Oct. 4–Nov. 22, the Green & White have gotten hot and have a combination for winter success with a top-rated defense and the NFL's best rush attack.
"I think everyone in the locker room is excited. For pretty much the last three weeks, we've been in a playoff mode because we know that one loss and we're out," Harris said. "I think everyone has stepped it up a notch and you have to pretty much take it one game at a time."
A 25-year-old hit who loves the camaraderie of his teammates, it would be a shame if the humble Harris didn't get Pro Bowl nod. You knew he was good, but he's become one of the NFL's elite players before our eyes.
"If it did happen, it would be cool. I would be grateful for it," he said. "If your peers respect the job you do for your team, there's no better compliment than that, to know other guys around the league respect you."