FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The Jets lost the guts of their defense earlier this season when nose tackle Kris Jenkins went down and overcame it to qualify for a wild-card playoff date Saturday in Cincinnati. Now, they face the possible loss of inside linebacker David Harris, their leading tackler and the player who represents the heart and the head of their league-leading defense.
If Harris can't play with his sprained right ankle, how will the Jets compensate, especially if his replacement turns out to be Kenwin Cummings, a two-year veteran of the practice squad who has yet to play his first NFL snap? It would be a big drop-off to veteran backup Ryan Fowler, who is suffering from a head injury, or to Cummings.
"It's about the unit," coach Rex Ryan said Tuesday. "It's not about the individual. Clearly, we would like to have David Harris because I think he's played better than any inside linebacker in the league this year. So, that is a big loss. But we have confidence in Ryan and Kenwin."
Harris did not participate in yesterday's full practice, but he took part in the walk-through before Fowler and Cummings split the practice snaps. Asked if he expects Harris to practice Wednesday, Ryan said, "I think we'll move slowly on it. This is a familiar opponent, so we'll probably give him as much time as he needs."
That suggests Harris' availability will be a game-time decision. The fact Fowler, who has made 21 NFL starts for Dallas and Tennessee, practiced Tuesday indicates he should be ready. Cummings was signed off the practice squad in November but has been on the inactive list the past seven weeks. All three likely will be active Saturday in case Harris can't go or Fowler experiences head injury symptoms.
But it's not far-fetched that Cummings, who last played a game for tiny Wingate University in NCAA Division II competition, might make his NFL debut in the playoffs. "The first play is going to be a little nervous," Cummings said. "But once I get that first play in, it's smooth sailing. I feel like I'm confident enough. I know my stuff well enough. Once I get out there, it'll start to come, and I'll feel right at home."
Still, if there's a way for Harris to get on the field, you figure he's at least going to try. Bart Scott scoffed when asked how the Jets might get by without Harris.
"How about I give you a big ol' 'No comment.' " Scott said with a smile. "But David, hey, put some dirt on him. That's what I say to everybody. This is for all the marbles. See how I said a lot without saying anything?"