FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — David Harris’ teammates and coaches said all the things he couldn’t say about himself.
“I don’t think we can function on defense if David wasn’t playing right now,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said of the middle linebacker. “David’s probably the most underrated guy over there, but he’s the glue that keeps everybody together.”
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“He just comes to work every day and pushes guys to get better,” safety Calvin Pryor said. “And that’s something I respect about him and that’s why I love playing with him.”
For nine seasons, Harris, nicknamed “The Hitman,” has allowed his keen eye and physical play to speak volumes about his work ethic, competitiveness and love of the game. “Oh, David’s everything, man,” defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said. “He’s a person that leads by example, really. He’s somebody I looked up to since I walked in here, since Day 1.”
Harris, 31, is always reserved and not at all a fan of self-promotion. So when the spotlight focused on him in the locker room Wednesday, he had very little to add to the conversation.
When questioned about not being the type of guy who seeks the spotlight, he said, “Why should I have to be? I just go out and do my job, that’s all.”
He may not be “flashy” like Wilkerson or cornerback Darrelle Revis, Bowles said, but Harris is indispensable. As the quarterback of the defense, he’s responsible for communicating the play calls and making sure everyone is in the right position.
“David keeps that core intact, he’s our coach on the field,” Bowles said. “Without him, I don’t know where we’d be.”
In March, Harris signed a three-year deal worth $21.5 million, with $15 million guaranteed over the first two years, to remain with the Jets, who drafted him in the second round in 2007. The Bills, now led by former Jets coach Rex Ryan, also had their eyes on him. But Harris’ offseason meeting with Bowles convinced him he’d be back in green and white.
“Before free agency started, I had a chance to meet with him in his office. Pretty much, he told me what he expected out of me if I came back. He told me his scheme, so I was confident with what he told me. I’m glad that I’m here right now,” said Harris, who has 88 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three passes defensed after tying his career high in sacks (5.5) in 2014.
He’s never been named to the Pro Bowl, but individual accolades have never been his concern. For Harris, the journey has always been about hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
“I’m just trying to get a Super Bowl ring. That’s the most important thing,” he said. “Everything else will fall into place if it does happen. I don’t lose any sleep thinking about that.”
True to form, Harris offered a matter-of-fact response to all of the praise from his coaches and teammates: “At the end of the day, you play the game to win and to earn respect. That’s all I’m trying to do.”