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Giants turn to Damon Harrison to captain defense after Jonathan Casillas’ injury

Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo sees the Giants’ All-Pro defensive tackle as a leader.

Damon Harrison of the Giants signals first down

Damon Harrison of the Giants signals first down after a penalty call against the Seahawks at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 22, 2017. Photo Credit: Mike Stobe

When Jonathan Casillas was placed on season-ending injured reserve last week, the Giants didn’t necessarily look to replace him as a linebacker. More important was that they replace him as the defensive captain.

For that task, interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo turned to defensive tackle Damon Harrison, giving him a “C” to wear on his uniform and represent the unit.

“He’s a leader,” Spagnuolo said simply when asked why he made that choice.

That may be the one thing Harrison and Spagnuolo disagree on. Harrison often has downplayed his role as a leader on this team, pointing to others on the roster more deserving of that title. He even said during training camp that if he were elected captain he would decline it.

So what changed?

Harrison wouldn’t say, but he did seem touched by the captaincy.

“The coaches and my teammates put their trust in me,” he said, “so I’ll gladly accept what Spags asks.”

Spagnuolo knew Harrison would be reticent to the idea.

“I just said [to him]: ‘God gifted you with some leadership tools,’ ” Spagnuolo said. “I mean, we talked about that. He was more than willing to step up and be that guy. He doesn’t like to be in the forefront of things. You know how there are all different kinds of leaders. There’s guys that lead by example. There’s quiet leaders. There’s vocal leaders. He’s a leader.”

Most on the team fall into Spagnuolo’s way of thinking, not Harrison’s.

“They’re just being nice, man,” Harrison said when told teammates supported the decision. “They’re afraid of me so they’re just being nice.”

Harrison is not only a leader but a producer. According to Pro Football Focus, he leads the NFL in run stops among interior defensive linemen with 31 this season. He has 64 tackles, second-most on the team. It’s been a dismal season for the Giants, but Harrison has been a bright spot and will likely earn a Pro Bowl nod.

“It means a lot, man,” he said of receiving a large number of Twitter votes from fans in this year’s Pro Bowl balloting. “Fans appreciate what I do each and every Sunday. I continue to go out there and fight no matter the score, no matter the outcome, I have a job to do. I love this game, so just to get that love reciprocated in Pro Bowl votes, it means a lot.”

Getting there would be good, too. Harrison was an All-Pro last year but was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. Unlike being a captain and a leader, being a Pro Bowler actually is something he’d like have on his resume.

“I’ve never been, so, yeah,” he said when asked if it would mean something to him to go. “I’m guessing that’s one thing I can check off my to-do list.”

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