Damon Harrison was back on the field Tuesday for the New York Giants during the first day of mandatory mini-camp. The participation in practice came after the defensive tackle was not present during voluntary OTAs earlier in the offseason. His reason — “I was minding my own damn business.”
Harrison met with the media and he was at least in midseason form off the field. Here are a few highlights of his media session:
On Saquon Barkley and wanting to force some contact:
“The guy can play, man. ‘Saquad’, that’s what they call him, or something like that. I’m excited to get out there in training camp, so I can hit his ass [laughs]. See what he’s made of. I told him, it’s not Penn State. He’s not going up against [defensive tackle] Josh Banks at Wake Forest. But no, the guy’s explosive, you can see how they will use him in the offense, which will be to our benefit.
“Hey man, you get him between the lines, get the ball in your hand, I don’t give a damn what anybody says. It’s time to work. So no, I don’t think we’ll be able to hit him too hard, but I’m going to hit his ass.”
On James Bettcher and the differences between playing in a 3-4 and 4-3 base:
“He’s a good dude. Obviously, I’ve played in a 3-4 before under [New York Jets Head] Coach [Todd] Bowles, and Coach Bettcher and Bowles worked together, so I have a lot of familiarity with the system. It’s just all about reaching in that memory bank. Everything I was told to forget, I’ve got to remember again.
“Obviously, in some sets, it will be different, but it’s no different for the guys in the interior. It’s more so for the outside linebackers. Outside linebackers who are still defensive ends. So, yeah, I think people just think about it too much, they put too much into it. There’s really no difference at all.”
On Alec Ogletree’s impact in the middle of the defense:
“He comes downhill, man, and that’s something you can appreciate as a nose tackle and a defensive tackle. That means those centers and those guards have got to make decisions really fast. If not, he’ll be in the backfield and he’s a smart guy. I’m just excited to get in an actual game with him because I know those guys on the line, they have to respect what he brings to the field, so that should open up a lot for me.”
On lining up across from Jon Halapio and Brett Jones:
“Well, obviously, Halapio was a guy who was on the practice squad last year, who worked his butt off. And you can tell the coaching staff likes him a whole lot, just because of his aggression, he’s a strong guy. And if we’re going to be that ground and pound team, then I think that plays exactly into his strengths. And again, he worked his butt off and he earned the reps that he’s getting now. And everybody knows Brett. Brett was starting last year, he brings that toughness and that same type of strength to the line, but he also can move. Halapio can move, too. That’s an interesting battle that I’ve been watching myself, just to see the guys rotating in and rotating out. So, I get to watch it firsthand.”
On the outlook and morale of the team for 2018:
“I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of excitement right now because it’s new. We all have to learn. It’s not like we’re coming back and we know everything. So, everybody has their thinking caps on and just knowing that we all don’t know anything. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I like what I see from everybody so far.
“I honestly don’t think we were what our record was last year and I know it’s tough to understand that. Going 3-13, I think what we were, you would expect guys to come back down on themselves. That was just a humbling season for everybody. So, if anybody was on their high horse, they have no choice but to get down now and get back to the drawing board and work all over again, which is a good thing to see.”
Harrison appears to be excited in this early stage of the offseason program with an optimistic look on much of what was going on, including a glowing review of rookie B.J. Hill.
It’s also important to note Harrison’s response to playing in the 3-4 scheme. He did play under Todd Bowles, who was the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 and 2014 with James Bettcher as the linebackers coach. Bettcher moved up to defensive coordinator when Bowles left to take the head gig with the Jets in 2015. Bettcher then adapted Bowles’s attacking 3-4 and made it even more aggressive. Harrison’s best season came with the Giants and not under Bowles, but he was still a force on the defensive line with the Jets. That familiarity and Bettcher’s ability to adjust to players could make Harrison even more dangerous in the middle of the line, which should keep the happy vibes going and would be a nightmare for opposing offenses.