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NY Jets Spotlight: Damon Harrison

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Now lets go dominate with some *&^%* Snacks.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Spotlight.  Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week.  Today's player in the spotlight is Damon Harrison.

Damon Harrison is a soon to be (November 29) 27 year old, 6' 4", 350 pound defensive tackle out of William Penn College.  After a dominating career at tiny William Penn, a school so obscure in terms of football talent it has produced exactly one drafted NFL player in its entire history, Harrison went undrafted in 2012 and was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent.  He managed to beat the odds and make the  team in 2012, eventually making the active roster for five games without registering a single statistic.

In many ways Harrison is the fortuitous product of random injuries.  He was a point guard for his high school basketball team before he tore the meniscus in his left knee in his junior season.  Harrison gained approximately 50 pounds during his recovery due to inactivity and the voracious appetite of a teenager, and in the process became too big to play point guard.  As a result Harrison decided to try football in the fall of his senior year.  Playing the line on both sides of the ball, Harrison quickly became a standout, earning All Southwest Louisiana honors in his only year of football. With only one year of football behind him, Harrison was overlooked in the college recruiting process and did not receive a single scholarship offer.  He enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College (NMCC), but dropped out after the first semester to work as a night stocker at WalMart. However, he was later recruited to William Penn by former NMCC assistant coach Steve Miller.  By his sophomore year at William Penn, Harrison earned second team all conference honors.  In his senior year he was first team all conference and an NAIA All American, after which he was promptly overlooked in the NFL draft.

After being brought along slowly in his rookie year of 2012, a random injury once again changed the course of Harrison's life.  The Jets had decided to move on from former star nose tackle Sione Pouha in 2013, part of an exodus of talent caused by a bad salary cap situation.  Kenrick Ellis, a 2011 third round pick of the Jets, was slated to start as Pouha's heir apparent at nose tackle, when fate intervened.  Ellis suffered a preseason injury, Harrison slid into his spot at nose tackle, and never relinquished the position.  From the time Harrison was given the opportunity, he seized it with both hands and never let go, becoming one of the best run stuffing nose tackles in the NFL.

Here are Harrison's statistics for the first three plus years of his career.

Year

Tackles

Assists

Sacks

Passes Defended

Forced Fumbles

.

2012

0

0

0

0

0

2013

36

30

1

2

0

2014

30

25

0

0

0

2015

12

13

0

0

0

Those tackle numbers are especially noteworthy.  The primary role of an NFL nose tackle in a 34 scheme is to take on double teams and leave the linebackers free from blockers so they can make the tackles.  Nose tackles rarely put up big tackle numbers, because they have to shed two blocks every play to even have a chance at a tackle. Yet Harrison put up 66 tackles in 2013, and another 55 in 2014, enormous numbers for his role.  Now in his fourth year with the Jets, Harrison is a steady source of strength and excellence on an outstanding Jets run defense. Unfortunately, the Jets salary cap issues may well mean this is Harrison's last year as a Jet.  With several key contributors unsigned beyond 2015, including Harrison, not all will be able to fit under the cap in 2016.  Harrison's future with the team is very much in doubt.   Tonight's matchup with the Buffalo Bills provides an excellent opportunity for Harrison to show the Jets that he deserves the big bucks he's likely going to command in free agency.

The Bills offense takes ground and pound to the extreme.  With two excellent backs in LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, the Bills prefer to run, run and run some more.  Nearly every down is a running down with the Bills, so long as they don't fall behind on the scoreboard.  The Bills have won four games this year.  In an astonishing three of those four games they have passed the ball less than 20 times, culminating in last week's game against the Dolphins, when the Bills passed the ball only 12 times all game.  If the Bills are having success running the ball, they will keep on running it and running it until you stop it.  The Bills rank 4th in the NFL in rushing attempts per game, second in rushing yards, and are one of only four teams in the NFL that have run the ball more than they have passed.

Damon Harrison is a run defense specialist.  He plays almost exclusively on running downs.  For most NFL teams that translates to first down and second and short.  For the Bills it translates to almost every down in the game.  If ever there was a game for Harrison to excel, this would appear to be the ideal.  Throw in the fact that the Jets have no backup nose tackle for the first time this year after cutting T.J. Barnes today and you have the recipe for a large helping of Snacks tonight.  How Harrison responds to the challenge may go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game.  Shut down the Bills potent running game and you stand a very good chance of winning.  Allow the Bills to run wild and you are very likely to lose.   With a division game on the line here, and a close competitor for a wild card playoff spot, now would be an especially nice game for Harrison to earn his hoped for new contract.

This is the time for Damon Harrison to excel.  This is an opportunity tailor made for a breakout performance from Snacks, a chance to show why he should be brought back to the Jets in 2016.  If we see Harrison dominate the middle and clog the running lanes then the Jets should be well positioned to defeat the rival Bills.  If on the other hand the Bills successfully neutralize Harrison and consistently open up running lanes, the Jets will be hard pressed to emerge victorious.  Either way, Harrison should prove to be a pivotal player in this game.   This is Damon Harrison's time in the spotlight.  Let's hope he shines brightly under the prime time lights.