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Giants tackle Damon Harrison not comfortable with new defensive scheme

Assuming a leadership role incompatible with his personality. 

Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison works against guard

Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison works against guard Will Hernandez during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

Welcome to the somewhat reluctant evolution of Snacks.

Damon Harrison, the Giants’ defensive tackle and self-proclaimed enemy of change, finds himself on a team where he is being asked to adapt to a lot of newness. From the players to the coaches to the scheme he’s going to be playing, Harrison is grappling with the adjustment. He’s also altering his game to suit not just the responsibilities of his place in the system but the natural limitations that are beginning to pop up as he pushes closer to his 30th birthday in November.

On a team where just about everyone is positive and optimistic about the dawning of a new era in Giants football, excited for what the immediate future holds, Harrison seems to be the lone voice in favor of status quo.

“I’m not a guy who likes change,” he said Wednesday, “so it’s a real difficult time for me.”

For him to succeed this year, though, he’ll have to embrace it. All of it.

He’s trying.

“To get to know people – new faces, new coaches, new players – I just find that difficult because I’m a very personal guy and I don’t like to,” he said. “I’m not good at talking, I’m just not, and that’s something that I have to break out of. I have to force myself through it to see how I fit in the new locker room. That’s the difficult part.”

On the field he finds himself having to adjust, too. Or maybe go back.

“It’s kind of like a Rex Ryan-type defense,” he said, comparing James Bettcher’s system to the one he played when he entered the league with the Jets. “It’s a lot of attacking, it’s not sitting around waiting, trying to read and see what the guys on the offense are doing. It’s playing defense with an offensive mentality. These are the types of systems that we love to play in.”

Even having said that, though, Harrison has reservations.

“I think it’s just more of an emphasis on attacking one gap and trying not to two-gap, which will be tough for me because I’m a two-gapper by nature,” he said. “You’ve got to change your body type to be able to do what Coach Bettcher is asking of the defensive line, which is to get up the field and attack, and anybody who knows me and likes me, that’s not something that’s been a strong point in my game. I can do it, I like to kind of use it as a changeup every now and then, so yeah. I do have to adjust, not only for the system but also for me getting up there each whistle.”

The one thing the Giants don’t seem to be doing is forcing Harrison to be a vocal leader. Last year he rejected the idea of being a captain for the defense and grudgingly wore the C at the end of the season after interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo bestowed it upon him. This year, the coaches seem content to allow Harrison to go about his business without having to deal with being the out-front personality.

“We talk frequently about leadership, that’s where everybody goes, but I also think we need to talk about followership,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “In other words, there are some guys that are outstanding players, and have been outstanding players their whole lives, and they want to come to work and do their jobs. We need to embrace those guys, too.”

The Giants also added and retained plenty of other defensive players who can be what people think of when they visualize leadership. They added Alec Ogletree and Connor Barwin and Michael Thomas, all of whom were captains for their former teams. And they still have Landon Collins and B.J. Goodson and even Janoris Jenkins, who is stepping further into that role.

Still, Harrison has tried to become more vocal. He’s flanked in the starting defense by second-year player Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie B.J. Hill. As Harrison enters his seventh NFL season, he’s the sage veteran.

“If the situation calls for it, then I’m willing to step up to the plate and be that,” he said. “But I think as an overall leader, we have some guys who would be perfect in that role.”

On that matter, it seems, Harrison’s mind is the one thing that won’t be changing.

New York Sports