(Long Island, N.Y.) There were many highlights and accolades in the Jets 24-7 win at Houston to start the 2009 season. Of course the main attractions were the ‘firsts’ that took place, mainly head coach Rex Ryan’s first NFL and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez’s first start and win.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker David Harris made the first sack of the campaign and went about his business as he always does – quietly and efficiently. He led the team with 11 tackles and also had one pass defended and two quarterback hits.
And all of this came with two of the Jets starters missing the game due to league suspensions.
Ryan even made a joke about Harris’ low-keyed mannerism. “It’s hard to have a conversation with him,” he said with a laugh. “Nah, he’s really not that quiet, but I guess compared to Bart (fellow linebacker Scott), anybody seems quiet.”
The former Michigan Wolverine is entering his fourth season in the NFL and has been a starter since the middle of 2007 when he took over for an injured Jonathan Vilma. In his rookie season, Harris had 121 tackles (86 solo), five sacks, three passes defended and two forced fumbles.
In the month of November, Harris recorded 36 tackles and a sack and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month. He became just the second Jet to lead the team in tackles as a rookie, following Stan Blinka in 1979. Harris was also named to the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie team.
Last season, Harris missed five games with an injury but still had 76 tackles (second on the team), one sack and one pass defended. On five occasions, Harris either led the team or was tied for the most tackles. This is a man that always seems to be around the ball, something not lost on his defensive coordinator.
“David is a tremendous football player,” said Mike Pettine. “I think in the system in the past couple of years, he’s felt the need to gain a little weight, to be more [of] a true 3-4 [linebacker]. He was taking on guards more. I think he beefed up a little bit and I think he took our advice in the spring when he first got here that he could drop some pounds and improve his movement skills a bit.
“He looks good,” added Pettine. “He’s flying around. I think he and Bart [Scott], as we’ve said before, are very good complements to each other in our system.”
With Harris dominating against the Texans, he showed that he could step it up when necessary. Fellow linebacker Calvin Pace is suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance policy and defensive end Sean Ellis had to sit out the first game as penance for a marijuana-related arrest last year.
Ryan was not surprised that Harris added to his personal awards by being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. “I think David definitely deserved it,” he said. “He had (11) tackles and made some hits that made a difference in the game. David is a fine player and I’m sure he’s going to win that award several times.”
But then Ryan has a little locker room rule that keeps the men keenly aware that it is about 53, not one. “The thing is, you can be the AFC Defensive Player of the Week, but you can’t be the team’s defensive player of the week,” he said with a smile. “So if you get that award, immediately we take your game ball from you. That’s what we did.”
If Ryan has his way, they’ll be an entire collection of game balls in his office. There’s a good bet that they’ll be more than one coming from Harris.