Tackle Damon Harrison: a key to Giants success on defense

FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2016, file photo, New York Giants' Damon Harrison stretches during practice at the team's NFL football training camp in East Rutherford, N.J. There are a lot of reasons for the New York Giants success on defense this season, and then there is Damon Harrison. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) There are a lot of reasons for the New York Giants' success on defense this season, and then there is Damon Harrison.

Affectionately called `Snacks' by his teammates, Harrison isn't what one would consider a glamour player on coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's unit.

Other players are more noticeable. Second-year safety Landon Collins is having a career year with 87 tackles and five interceptions.

Jason Pierre-Paul is playing like the old `JPP' with seven sacks, including 5+ in the past two games.

Fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon has sacks in four straight and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie are helping to limit opposing big-play receivers.

Harrison's work is more covert. With his dreadlocks reaching underneath his helmet, the 6-foot-3, 343-pound Harrison is the force in the middle of a defense that has not allowed a player to rush for 100 yards this season. Only three teams have gained 100 yards in 11 games.

''It seems like every week there is something he does that has me saying (Wow), how in the heck did you do that,'' linebacker Devon Kennard said of Harrison.

''It's ridiculous. It might get overpassed by some of the other plays we are making all over the field, but I don't know if I have seen a defensive tackle dominate, the way he dominates.''

Kennard said there was a play against Cleveland this past weekend when the Giants won their sixth straight game on which Harrison split a double team and made the tackle.

Harrison's play has helped the Giants (8-3) jump from the NFL's last-ranked defense in 2015 to No. 16 heading into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh against the Steelers (6-5).

Giants guard Justin Pugh laughed when asked about playing against Harrison, who made the NFL as a free agent with the Jets.

''Just look at him,'' Pugh said. ''He's an unmovable person. He's a good player. He plays low and he has a chip on his shoulder.''

That chip helped Harrison get a five-year, $46.2 million deal from the Giants in the offseason.

Spagnuolo said he didn't know what to expect from Harrison other than what he saw on videotape, a force in the middle of the defensive line who wasn't satisfied simply being a run stopper.

Spagnuolo got that and more, even a couple of hits on the running backs coming through the line on pass plays.

''He has been such a key component to the way this thing has kind of gelled together and I am not talking about when he is out on the field, as much as when he is off the field, when he is on the sideline, when he is in the locker room,'' Spagnuolo said.

''I watch him all the time. He has been the glue. He has been the guy that can get the guys to refocus. You need somebody in the group that will do that and he has been that guy.''

Harrison said he spoke with Spagnuolo after signing and the defensive coordinator just told him to be himself.

He has done that playing what is a thankless position. More often than not, he is getting double-teamed, although playing in a 4-3 formation with the Giants has helped him focus on one gap.

He had to handle two gaps playing a 3-4 scheme with the Jets.

''I'm getting old,'' Harrison said. ''I used to like the double teams, but now I'm just trying to run away from them. Pass them on to (Johnathan) Hankins. A young guy.

''If that'll help the team and make the team better, cause the linebackers to make more plays, then I'm all for it. I try to fight through the double team and still make the play. I'm not just sitting on the double team and holding it. I want to make plays. Double team and single team, I still think I have a chance to make a play.''

The statistics bear that out.

Harrison is third on the team with 63 tackles. He also had 1+ sacks, four tackles for losses, three quarterback hits, a pass defended and a forced fumble.

NOTES: Safety Nat Berhe (concussion), LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) and DE Owa Odighizuwa (knee) did not practice for the second straight day. Pugh (knee) and fellow OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) and Brett Jones (calf) were limited. Returner Dwayne Harris (wrist) practiced fully. ... Collins was honored as the NFC defensive player of the month. The NFL said that Collins is the first safety with 30-plus tackles, three-plus interceptions, and more than one sack in a calendar month since Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins in 2006.

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