For the five seasons prior to joining the New England Patriots, linebacker David Harris averaged 1,103.6 snaps per season for the New York Jets. He has played just seven snaps in five games for the Patriots, a huge drop in opportunity for one of the better linebackers of the past decade.
“I try to do whatever is best for the team,” Harris told the Boston Herald. “Whatever coach asks me to do, I try to do it. It’s been going good. We’re winning right now, and that’s all you can ask for.”
“[Not playing is] different,” Harris added. “I’m just trying to do what I’m asked to do...I just try to be a good team player. We have a lot of good guys in this locker room. We bust our tails every day. Everybody’s role is different. You’ve just got to be ready when your number is called.”
Harris’ selflessness has not been unnoticed by those both on and off the team.
“David's done everything we've asked him to do,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Harris. “He’s worked hard, been a great teammate. Yeah, I couldn’t have asked for him to have any better attitude or any more cooperation than we've had from him. He's been great.”
“David is one of the hardest workers, and he’s one of the steadiest workers that I’ve seen every day from the two years that I had him,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles added. “He prepared every day, he took notes every day like he was rookie, he never cut any corners, he was a class act off the field, he was a class act on the field, never took any plays off. If you needed him for scout team or special teams, he was there. And he was a hard-nosed player and he played very smart and it’s tough to find those kinds of guys these days.”
So what is Harris doing for the team behind the scenes if he’s not contributing on the football field? What is the veteran bringing to the table?
“A lot of knowledge,” defensive captain and fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “When I first came into the league I watched a lot of [Harris] and a lot of [Jerod] Mayo before. Then whenever I got here and still learning from Mayo, we saw David twice a year so we would always see film on him. It’s good to sit down with him. We sat down today and we talked a lot about football.
“It’s just great knowing and seeing from a different perspective from a guy who knows and has seen so much and has played great football. To me one of the best linebackers that’s played in the past couple of years. The production has always been there, but he's added so much really just knowledge and a different perspective as far as the defense goes and the front seven.”
The Patriots had a young linebacker corps in need of a steadying presence in addition to the value that Hightower already brought to the table and Harris filled that gap. Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are in their second seasons with the team, while Marquis Flowers and Harvey Langi are in their first years in New England. Having a smart player like Harris to explain how other teams function- and even simply how the league works- is a big benefit to the roster beyond just the linebackers.
“He’s helped that other waves of guys that are coming in, so for him to come in and learn the playbook as well as he has and still help the younger guys like E-Rob and the second and third year guys in the secondary, so it really helps to have that extra bag of leadership in the back end,” Hightower explained. “I think that says a lot about him. Not just as a football player but as a person, as well. You can take it as younger guys trying to take food out of his kid’s mouth or whatever, but David doesn’t see it as that. He’s taking it as a Patriot. He’s taking it for what it is and what it’s worth.
“It’s a long season. You never know what’s going to happen or when his number is going to be called. One thing is for certain, that whenever his number is called David is going to be ready. It's not going to be 'Can he still do it?' or 'Is he capable of doing it?' I mean, everything’s there. He’s definitely keeping a positive mindset and I know myself and a lot of the younger guys appreciate what he does and what he brings to this team.”
Harris hasn’t played due to a perceived loss of speed, but also as the Patriots tried to integrate newer players into the defense so the coaching staff could see what players like Flowers brought to the table. Perhaps Harris would see a larger role down the back stretch of the season if an injury at linebacker were to arise.
And if Harris doesn’t play another down for the Patriots, there’s always a chance that he could find another spot in the league as a coach like other former Patriots linebackers Mike Vrabel, Larry Izzo, Tyrone McKenzie, and Andre Carter.
“I’m not saying just linebacker coach,” Hightower gushed about Harris’ potential in the coaching world. “I’m saying like defensive coordinator-type stuff. I mean, coming from two different organizations back whenever he was at the Jets, guys know that if there’s one thing about David it's that he’s a real smart linebacker. I think that guys here saw that real quick and appreciate it.”