David Harris during a Michigan game
The Jets and the Patriots have always been natural rivals, but their competition has reached a new level over the past decade. Rookie linebacker David Harris played his college football at Michigan, so he knows something about rivalries.
"The whole year was pretty much dedicated to that last game, even though we had other games," Harris said. "Every day, we always had Ohio State in the back of my minds. It's college football at its best. It's a great rivalry that started with two great coaches — Bo [Schembechler] and Woody [Hayes]. There is a lot of history and tradition behind it. It's the biggest game of the year every season."
Harris' first professional game will come Sunday against the Patriots at the Meadowlands. The 6'2", 243-pounder won't start, but he'll contribute on special teams and he's also expected to spell Eric Barton and/or Jonathan Vilma at times on the inside.
"Every game in the NFL is a big one," he said of his introduction to Jets-Patriots. "Every team wants to win every week. This week we have a great opponent. You have to bring your 'A' game, and you have to be ready to go out and play."
Early Friday afternoon, the Jets had completed their Patriots practice week. All that remains is a Saturday walkthrough, a few evening meetings at a New Jersey hotel and a night of rest before Harris will be on a bus headed to the stadium. He played well in the preseason, but on Sunday he expects a totally different animal.
"Preseason games give you a chance to look at the young guys and the new veteran players," he said. "It's for all the marbles now, everything is on the line. What more can you say?"
Both Barton and Vilma have made it a point to help Harris. After practice today, he talked of the pair looking out for him and being "great teammates." While he hasn't been in the spotlight like two other members of the '07 rookie class — CB Darrelle Revis and OL Jacob Bender, both of whom could start Sunday — Harris had an excellent summer. He's a big presence who can deliver a blow and appears light on his feet.
"I think I have progressed a lot since rookie OTAs," he said. "But there is still room for learning and still room to grow as a player. I am still adjusting, but it's coming along good."
One of the Jets' chief defensive objectives will be containing RB Laurence Maroney. Harris has some familiarity with the second-year back from their college days. Maroney, a first-round pick of the Patriots in '06, and his Minnesota Golden Gophers beat Harris and his Michigan Wolverines the last time the two saw each other on a football field.
"We had their number until that year. That year they beat us," Harris said of Michigan's 23-20 defeat on Oct. 8, 2005. "It was the first time they beat us since 1986. They took the Brown Jug from us. They had a good running game and were one of the top five rushing offenses every year in the NCAA. They have a good zone scheme and [Maroney] had like 120 on us. He is a good explosive running back who runs hard."
Maroney's rush total was 129 yards on 36 carries as the Gophers pulled off the huge upset at the Big House in front of 111,117 stunned onlookers.
There will be close to 80,000 in the stands Sunday for the Jets and Patriots. The Green & White haven't won at home in this series since 2000 and that's the last time someone other than Tom Brady was starting at quarterback for New England.
Brady, who cut back on his throwing in the summer and has been listed on the injury report this week with a sore right shoulder, is also a Michigan product. He ran into Harris when the 'backer made a visit to Foxboro prior to the draft.
"He's great quarterback and he's got the hardware to show it," Harris said. "He's a great Michigan man and he's done a good job with the Patriots."
On paper, the Jets and the Patriots should be a close matchup. It wouldn't be a shock if either team won. They split the regular-season series last year and both made quality acquisitions in the off-season. The NFL doesn't have great upsets, but all the former Wolverines can only look back to last weekend at Appalachian State as an example of what a team can do when it's well-prepared and executes the game plan.
"Give Appalachian State credit," Harris said of the stunner at the Big House that dropped Michigan out of the Top 25. "They came with their 'A' game. They were a heavy underdog and nobody gave them a shot, but they did the impossible and they got it done."
But college ball is in the back of Harris' mind now. He conducted an interview following a brief on-field rookie meeting with Jerome Henderson. The director of player development was telling the group what is expected of them in terms of dress — business attire will be required before the game.
And then there's plenty of business for Harris to attend to come Sunday afternoon.