New York Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison at training camp...

New York Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison at training camp in Cortland. (Aug. 11, 2013) Credit: Hans Pennink

Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis knew it would come down to this.

Even before Ellis suffered a back injury in the weight room last month, they knew they'd be fighting for the starting nose tackle job at some point this season.

They spent almost every day together this offseason training in New Jersey. Side by side, the defensive linemen pushed each other toward peak condition, refusing to settle for second best.

That's what competitors do. But in the case of Ellis and Harrison, that's what friends do as well.

It's no surprise that Ellis has nothing but kind words to say about Harrison, the second-year lineman who was the only undrafted free agent to sign with the team in 2012.

"Man, 'Snacks' -- Damon's been ballin'," Ellis said of Harrison, who has filled in at nose tackle since his injury. "He's been doing his job, so it's a competition. He's balling. He's doing a good job, so we'll see. I'm proud of him."

Ellis was limited in practice this week and is not sure when he'll suit up for the Jets. "It's up to trainers," he said, adding that he's been given no assurances about retaining the starting job when he's healthy.

But even though the competition between the two is ongoing, Harrison said the reality of the situation is "it's Kenrick's job. He's the guy they drafted [in the third round in 2011] to take over for Bo [former nose tackle Sione Po'uha]," he said. "But it's still an open competition. May the best guy win. I tell him that every day."

While everyone assumed the training camp competition for the nose tackle job would be between Ellis and veteran Antonio Garay, Harrison said, "Garay was a defensive tackle, so it's always been a competition between me and him."

But being friends has made things easier, he said.

"So when it came time for him to step back a little with his back, he was comfortable with it," Harrison said of Ellis. "We've been supporting each other since last year. We knew this time would come.

"If he wins it, I'll be right there to support him. And if I win it, he'll be doing the same thing he's been doing."

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