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Inside Job: Harris Ready to Step In for Vilma


David Harris during a Michigan game

Jonathan Vilma hasn't missed a game since he entered the NFL in 2004. But his 55-game streak may be over Sunday.

Vilma, who has a knee injury, hasn't practiced this week and could be replaced in the lineup at inside linebacker by rookie David Harris.

"I'm very comfortable right now. I have great coaches and great teammates helping me along since I've started," said Harris, the club's second-round selection from Michigan. "I'm adjusting pretty good."

Last week in Cincinnati, Harris had his most productive day as a pro. He registered career highs with eight total tackles and four solos. Vilma's day was limited, playing just on the nickel and goal line in the third quarter and then being relegated to the sideline in the fourth. Harris played in the Jets' base in both the third and the fourth alongside Eric Barton and also stayed on the field during nickel situations.

"The more you play, the more time you're on the field, the more you get used to everything," Harris said. "The quicker you get adjusted to seeing different plays, you're able to play fast without thinking as much."

In Vilma's place, Jets head coach Eric Mangini has delegated Harris his traffic cop for primarily the front seven.

"He did it all during college. He's pretty used to having that role. I'm sure it's probably an adjustment for him the other way, where for the first time he wasn't calling the signals," Mangini said today. "That's something that should be a fairly smooth transition. He's done it several times through the course of training camp, preseason and the regular season."

Harris sure sounds at ease with the familiarity of the role. He was the defensive quarterback of the Wolverines.

"Playing linebacker at Michigan for four or five years, you get used to calling the defensive huddle. I get here and Vilma and Barton call it in the huddle," he said. "Now Vilma is down and I have to pick up more responsibility."

Through seven games, Harris has collected 24 defensive tackles plus seven special teams stops. He is a big presence at 6'2" and 243, but he has impressed with his coverage skills.

"I do like the things he does in pass coverage for a bigger guy," Mangini said. "Most of those bigger guys are usually a little slower, a little bit more like an aircraft carrier as opposed to a speedboat."

Growing up, Harris idolized a speedster who used to wreak havoc with the Kansas City Chiefs. Derrick Thomas, an outside linebacker, was a sack machine and one of the greatest defensive players of all time.

"I just liked the way he played," Harris said. "He was a great pass rusher off the edge and was always able to get to the quarterback."

Harris' game, though, is on the inside. He might make his first professional start Sunday against the Bills at the Meadowlands.

"Vilma is a great player. Anytime you lose a player like that, it is very hard to fill his shoes," Harris said. "He's a great team leader, he's very well respected and he has run the defense for four years now. I'll try to be ready when my number is called."

Safety Kerry Rhodes, who has developed quite a bond with Vilma, said not having No. 51 on the field would be like "Ed Reed without Ray Lewis." But Rhodes also expressed confidence in No. 52.

"He is a good young player, he can make plays, and he knows the system because he has been in it before," Rhodes said. "He is pretty comfortable making adjustments and making plays in this defense. He has done a pretty good job so far, so we'll see how it goes if he is asked to step in there."

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