The hits just keep on coming for "Hitman" Harris. On a Jets defense not lacking for star power and bravado, David Harris is quietly becoming one of the National Football League's top linebackers and he's only played three games in this system.
"I've been putting in a lot of extra effort, studying and watching film, and watching a lot of old Ravens film trying to get used to the situation that I'll be in," Harris told newyorkjets.com. "I've been looking at guys like Ray Lewis and trying to put myself in his shoes. It's good. I'm beginning to feel real comfortable. I'm not nervous out there and we're allowed to play fast and fly around."
Harris leads the NFL's third-ranked defense with 24 tackles and he's been dominant at times. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after racking up 12 tackles, two QB hits (including a sack) and a pass defended in a season-opening win at Houston. Then earlier this week, head coach Rex Ryan awarded Harris a game ball after he collected a sack and an interception of Kerry Collins in the fourth quarter as the Jets held off a tough Titans team at home.
"I just try and go out there and take it one play at a time and just do my best in the scheme," he said. "Whatever they ask us to do, I try and do my best. If it's taking on lead blocks, I'll do that gladly if it means somebody else will make the tackle free in the backfield. I just try to go out there and play how we play."
The Jets have an embarrassment of riches on their defensive interior with NT Kris Jenkins creating room for both Harris and Bart Scott. After years of clearing space for future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis in Baltimore, Scott has stepped out of the shadows and leads the club in QB pressures with six and is also tied for the team high in tackles behind the line with four.
The problem teams have in preparing for the Jets is that the Green & White's inside 'backer tandem is not just talented but versatile as both men can line up at either the Mike [middle] or Will [weakside].
"We have the capability of flip-flopping roles," Harris said. "Maybe one week I'll do a lot of blitzing and the next week he'll be the one rushing. It all depends on the game plan. It's good when two linebackers can do that inside — it gives the defense a lot of flexibility."
Harris, who racked up five sacks as a rookie in 2007, has a team-leading two entering Week 4. He's got five QB hurries himself and the Jets' sack total of four is misleading because they've played a trio of veteran quarterbacks who can get the ball out in a hurry.
"I'll say everybody's blitzing a lot more. This defense puts a lot of pressure on the offenses with disguising and overloading, size and four-man blitzing off the edge, which is hard for offenses to pick up," said the Hitman. "When you see that, offenses play standard because they don't know who to pick up in the blocking scheme, so it allows us to go out there and kick butt, I guess."
It was Harris' phenomenal play as a rookie — he combined for 34 tackles in his first two pro starts — that enabled the Jets to deal Jonathan Vilma to the Saints in February 2008, getting back a pair of draft picks (CB Dwight Lowery, fourth round, '08, and a third-round pick in April's draft that they used to trade up and select RB Shonn Greene). The trade has worked out for both clubs as Vilma's 151 stops last season was the most for a Saints defender since 1997.
"We feel like J.V. is a treasure for us because he's a perfect fit for the style of defense we want to run. He's a guy that can get to the football, get up and down the line and is a great leader," said veteran S Darren Sharper. "That's probably the best thing that he does is just be a true professional, a true leader for this team and making sure everyone is on the same page. I know he's going to have a little bit of extra motivation and extra incentive playing a team that drafted him. He's definitely looking forward to playing this game."
Harris said this week that he hasn't spoken to Vilma in over a year, but the two "left on good terms." It's really ancient history now and the softspoken Harris is carrying a mighty big stick into the Superdome as the 3-0 Jets and the 3-0 Saints get ready to tango by the bayou.