Damon Harrison admits this move from the Jets to the Giants is still taking some getting used to. From the annoying drive to the Giants’ training facility because he still lives closer to where the Jets practice, to the red-and-blue team colors, even to his choice of Italian ice.
Finally back to practice after a stint on the physically unable to perform list, Harrison couldn’t escape the day without a teammate poking fun at his inability to completely shake his allegiance to the Jets. The Giants’ equipment staffers were offering up frozen treats after practice, and the burly defensive tackle picked his favorite flavor, only to be chided by fellow tackle Johnathan Hankins.
“They were handing out frozen ice bars, and they were asking which one I wanted, so I picked the green one,” Harrison said. “[Hankins] said, ‘Why you want the green one?’ I said, ‘It’s green. It looks sour. I want it.’ ”
Green, of course, is the jersey color Harrison wore with the Jets.
“Yes sir, it is,” Harrison answered when a reporter asked if it felt weird being a Giant. “You can ask [Hankins] because he gives me a lot of crap about it every single day.”
Harrison grew into a fine nose tackle with the Jets, coming to the team as an undrafted free agent out of tiny William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa. After four seasons in green-and-white, the first three under Rex Ryan, who famously gave him the nickname “Snacks,” the 6-4, 350-pound Harrison is still adjusting to life with Big Blue.
From switching to a four-man front from a three-man alignment with the Jets, to learning the nuances of how his teammates play, to dealing with rush-hour traffic, it’s still a work in progress.
“I’m trying to get situated myself and get closer to here,” said Harrison, who signed a five-year, $46.25-million free-agent contract in March. “I’m not used to all the traffic and [Routes] 17 and 3 and 46. I’m used to just driving through Florham Park and just going home. That’s been the hardest part.”
Now comes the fun part. Harrison was held out of practice for nearly a week to deal with some swelling in his left knee, the residual effects of multiple surgeries from his college days. The most recent surgery, in 2010, was a microfracture procedure that has given him chronic discomfort. Structurally, the knee is fine, and Harrison rarely missed practice and played all 16 games his last three seasons with the Jets. But once he got the swelling down, the end result was relief.
“This was probably the first practice I’ve had without pain in about two years,” he said. “It’s no secret. I’ve had a few surgeries on my knee. Normally, I fight through it, but the Giants wanted to make sure I came back and was 100 percent with no swelling.”
The Giants are counting on Harrison’s presence as part of a massive reconstruction on defense during the offseason. Along with defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, as well as the return of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Harrison is a key piece. His inside presence alongside Hankins, who had quietly emerged into a very reliable tackle before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury last year, figures to greatly benefit both the run defense and the pass rush.
But it was an admittedly sluggish start for Harrison in his first practice in pads on Tuesday. Oh, he certainly looked fine as he bull-rushed center Weston Richburg on several plays, but it wasn’t up to his standards.
“I pride myself on being a technician, and I wasn’t able to show that,” he said. “I expect so much more from myself, and I know I’m a whole lot better than that. I was slow out there. My hands weren’t working with my feet and my eyes. I didn’t have it all together.”
Then again, the end result can sometimes overcome poor technique.
“You’re never wrong when you knock them [offensive linemen] back,” he said.
Still, he’s expecting more from himself.
“I know I’m a whole lot better than that,” he said. “I can’t afford to have another day where I’m slow off the ball. They’re giving me a lot of money to come here and perform and do what I’ve been doing the past few years. I gotta start showing that.”
Gotta love that kind of attitude. Gotta believe it will show up on game day.