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Film Review: Patriots LB David Harris can win a starting job against the Lions

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The former Jets linebacker is one of the better defenders for the Patriots.

New England Patriots LB David Harris played 24 snaps and recorded a team-high 4 tackles in week 2 of the preseason against the Houston Texans. He appeared to be competing directly with Elandon Roberts as the two swapped drives as the linebacker next to Kyle Van Noy and then Trevor Bates.

Harris is entering his 11th season after spending his whole career with the New York Jets and his experience is evident on film. He plays with a comfort and savvy that Roberts is still trying to claim, and he showed positive traits as a run defender, as a pass rusher, and in coverage.

“David’s...a real experienced player with a lot of – he’s a smart football player,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Harris joining the Patriots late in the summer. “So, he’s picked things up pretty quickly...I think he’s adapted. You know, he’s been very diligent in doing everything we’ve asked him to do and understands the defense and can run the defense.”

I went through the first half of the Patriots and the Houston Texans to highlight Harris’ strengths and if his age has caught up to him in any facet of the game. He is usually in the middle of the Patriots defense and wears the #45 jersey.

1-10-HST 42 (8:01) (Shotgun) T.Savage pass short left to R.Griffin to HST 48 for 6 yards (D.Harris).

On his first snap of the game, Harris is targeted by Texans QB Tom Savage. Harris is responsible for covering TE Ryan Griffin in the middle of the field. If Griffin’s name was “Gronkowski” he would have been flagged for pushing off the defender, but it’s the preseason so who really cares?

Harris does a nice job recovering from the push off and tackles Griffin in the open field with no yards after the catch. That’s a pretty impressive job by the linebacker, even if the tight end caught the ball.

2-4-HST 48 (7:26) L.Miller up the middle to HST 48 for no gain (D.Harris; P.Chung).

On the very next play, Harris, LB Kyle Van Noy, and SS Patrick Chung do an awesome job of stuffing the Texans rushing attack for no gain. RB Lamar Miller tries to bounce to the right side of the formation, is stonewalled, and tries to cut back to the left side.

Van Noy embarrasses his blocker (Griffin) to set the edge contain and prevent the bounce back. Chung penetrates into the backfield to held take away any reversal by Miller.

Patriots EDGE Caleb Kidder gets blocked out of the play by the left tackle and left guard and the left tackle looks up the field for more blocks. Harris engages with the left tackle and drives him back to the line of scrimmage.

Harris is blocked out at first, but Chung slips past Harris and the left tackle to grab on to Miller, and then Harris is able to disengage from the left tackle to help make the stop. This is team defense at its finest and Harris certainly played his part.

1-10-NE 25 (3:53) (Shotgun) T.Savage pass short right to J.Strong to NE 16 for 9 yards (M.Butler).

Watch Harris (farside linebacker) cover the wheel route. When is the last time a Patriots linebacker has been able to do that?

2-1-NE 16 (3:20) L.Miller right tackle to NE 12 for 4 yards (D.Harris).

Harris is unable to make the stop in short-yardage, but still makes the one-armed tackle to prevent a bigger gain. The Texans have a really great blocking scheme and their wide receiver does a nice job of engaging Patriots FS Duron Harmon down the field.

The Houston blockers all find one-one-on match-ups, with FS Devin McCourty and CB Malcolm Butler in no-man’s land, and that makes it easy to convert. Harris still reads the play quickly, but is unable to penetrate the offensive line to make the stop.

1-4-NE 4 (2:03) A.Blue up the middle to NE 2 for 2 yards (D.McCourty).

Harris simply gets blown out of this play and you can see him standing with his blocker in the end zone. I feel like these past two plays are ones where Elandon Roberts would have made his way into the backfield- for better or for worse- while Harris seems more calculated with how he engages the offensive line.

That’s not necessarily an analysis on who is better against the run, but it’s obvious they have different playing styles.

3-3-NE 13 (5:16) (Shotgun) D.Watson pass incomplete short right to D.Anderson.

Check out Harris defending the wheel route again. This alone should give him the step up in the roster battle.

Harris seems to be competing with Roberts for one of the starting linebacker jobs alongside Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy and I have to say that Harris should be the favorite to win the competition.

At middle linebacker, Harris shows a far superior ability in coverage and more controlled decision making against the run. There were some concerns that Harris’ age might result in him slowing down on the field and perhaps that’s evident against the run, where he seems more judicious in how he clashes with the offensive line. He won’t throw himself into the play with reckless abandon, but he’ll come across as more calculated in his defense. Harris might not rack up as many tackles for loss as Roberts would, but Roberts is also vulnerable to running himself out of the play.

Harris will have more opportunity to play with the starters against the Detroit Lions and hopefully he have a chance to showcase more of his coverage ability. If he has another strong outing, Harris could lock up the starting job before halftime.