HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -David Harris was a big hit in his first NFL start.
Literally.
The hard-hitting rookie linebacker was all over the field after stepping into the lineup for the New York Jets last Sunday in place of an injured Jonathan Vilma. He was credited with 17 tackles, including 10 solo, and a sack while undoubtedly leaving a few bruises on some Buffalo Bills players with some bone-jarring pops.
``As a linebacker, you always want to be known as a hard hitter,'' Harris said Thursday. ``I just try to go out there and play the game. If people call me that, whatever. I just go out and play football.''
There are numerous video clips floating around the Internet that document some of Harris' greatest hits while he was at Michigan. Some of the impacts are absolutely vicious, and there's plenty of them because Harris always seems to have a knack for being around the football.
``All I think about is that he falls to the ground,'' Harris said. ``That's the only thing that matters. A tackle's a tackle.''
Harris started in the 13-3 loss after Vilma was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury last Saturday. While Vilma struggled to adapt to the Jets' complicated 3-4 defensive scheme, Harris appeared to be a natural.
``He's doing a good job with it,'' coach Eric Mangini said. ``I think he understands exactly what he has to do. It's a process of really understanding your fit against the offensive linemen versus the different running schemes. I like the way he's been building on the information since training camp. We saw a lot of that translate on Sunday.''
The Jets had a feeling Harris was special, evidenced by them trading up in the second round in April to snatch him. He finished his career at Michigan with 196 tackles, four sacks and interception and three forced fumbles.
``I run to the ball and make tackles,'' he said. ``There's no magic formula or anything.''
Harris was also attractive to the Jets because of his leadership qualities.
``That's what we expected,'' coach Eric Mangini said. ``He was the signal-caller in college. He had that role. He had a leadership position on the team so you would anticipate those things transferring to the next level. That's one of the things that we look for in our players that we bring in. Not just their play on the field, but what else they bring to the locker room and to the field.''
Harris took over Vilma's play-calling responsibilities, a hefty chore for a rookie, and appeared to handle it with ease. Veteran linebacker Eric Barton also played a role in helping get the defense in position.
``I give all the credit to my coaches and the other linebackers,'' Harris said. ``They did a good job with helping me prepare for the game. E.B. was in there with me a lot. He's made the transition easy and he's helped me out with certain things on the field and I just went out and tried to play my best.''
It ended up being quite a debut in the starting lineup. After compiling a handful of tackles in limited action through the first seven games, Harris got to work early and often against the Bills.
``He went out there and played remarkably well,'' defensive lineman Eric Hicks said. ``I remember looking up on the board during a TV timeout and saw that he had 11 tackles, and the second quarter wasn't even over.''
After reviewing the game film, Mangini said the coaches credited Harris with 14 tackles, eight solo, but there was no shortchanging the rookie's effort.
``I'm impressed,'' Hicks said. ``He doesn't really play like a rookie.''
Harris still acts like one in the locker room, though. He comes across as somewhat shy, but friendly, and seems uncomfortable by any kind of praise. With the way he hits, you might expect him to be a loud, boisterous presence - even off the field.
``Ted Johnson's a pretty quiet guy,'' Mangini said, recalling the former hard-hitting New England linebacker. ``He's split a few helmets and he's always very quiet. You wouldn't realize what a thumper he was just by meeting him.''
Unless you're the one getting tackled, of course.
``I just try to stay humble,'' Harris said. ``And I try to work hard and put my best foot forward at all times.''

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