Damon Harrison is arguably the league’s best defensive tackle, particularly against the run. He’s a guy so big and imposing that Monday’s scheduled total solar eclipse could also be credited to him. But all jokes aside about the 6-foot-4, 345-pounder, because even a guy his size still needs help along the interior defense.
Harrison was a first-team All-Pro, last season, for the New York Giants because he was the NFL’s finest run-stopping defensive tackle. He led all players at his position with 86 tackles (55 solo), including a career-high 2.5 sacks – obviously not a staggering total, but when considered that it was still 1.5 more than he had in his first four seasons combined, that says a lot about his progress in that department.
The man affectionately known as “Snacks” believes he can improve on those totals across the board, but to do so, he’ll need to get more help – especially with his tag-team partner of a year ago, Johnathan Hankins, moving on to the Indianapolis Colts.
Help is on the way for Harrison and he believes it’s in the form of young ascending talent.
“Dalvin [Tomlinson] is coming along. He’s taking coaching very well. He’s in the classroom all the time watching the film, trying to improve, and asking questions,” Harrison said about the rookie second-round pick out of the University of Alabama. “And [rookie] Avery [Moss] as well and [undrafted rookie free agent] Josh Banks. So, I think we have a good group. It’s a good competition.”
Those neophytes could certainly provide help, but there’s a young veteran that also likes his chances of starting alongside Harrison.
“Jay’s come a long way. It’s just a testament to him being in here in the offseason,” Harrison said of his likely opening day co-starter, Jay Bromley. “I come in here to run and he’s already running. He’s lifting weights [and] he’s focused. It’s night and day from where he was a year ago.”
Unlike his first three seasons, Bromley has a legitimate chance to start at defensive tackle. He started the Giants’ preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers and was credited with three tackles, including one for a loss. Whether it’s Harrison, head coach Ben McAdoo, or Bromley himself, to a man, they see the improvement in the former Syracuse University product’s game.
And while Bromley is certainly a better player than he was last season, and having a good training camp, he is also quick to admit that sans Hankins, the path to starting role has been made easier.
“My first three years, I had Johnathan Hankins on my team. It turns out he is a decent defensive tackle,” Bromley said. “And then I had Snacks on the team last year, so that made it that much more difficult. But this is a great opportunity right now. His [Hankins’] departure opened up an opportunity for me. Nothing is easy in this league. But definitely if Hank would have come back, that would have made starting a lot more [difficult]. I think it is a blessing that he did what he did [signing with the Colts], that way it is a win-win situation … I am just fortunate to be in the situation I am in right now. I am a better player now then I have ever been, so everything is just falling into place.”
While he mentioned the rookies by name, it’s evident that Harrison is very high on Bromley, specifically, noting his natural skill set and hard work that he’s put in this offseason.
“He’s faster than me, he’s quicker than me, he’s a pass rusher, he’s strong, he’s long. Now he’s just more comfortable in the defense and he knows exactly what’s asked of him and he’s doing a pretty damn good job of putting forth the effort,” noted Harrison. “Obviously, you saw it translate out there on the field [against the Steelers], so I’m just excited to watch him grow as the season progresses. … He’s versatile with his power and speed. But I’m the one true nose tackle. I told him and the younger guys that I’m the only one-trick pony on the defensive line. It’s nose tackle or bust for me. He [Bromley] can have that three-technique [pass-rushing defensive tackle assignment].”
McAdoo has noticed an improved Bromley and without playing favorites or tipping his official depth chart, reasoned there’s a new Bromley at camp.
“I think Jay’s improving,” said McAdoo. “He’s playing with some hostility out there. He’s playing aggressive, playing physical football … It’s still early to say [the starter next to Harrison], but of those guys, it seems like they [Bromley and Tomlinson] seem to have a leg up right now.”
Bromley just wants the chance to show he was worthy of that third-round pick in the 2014 National Football League draft. He said the more reps he gets working next to Harrison, the better he’ll be.
“I had the most productivity my second year. I feel like the more I play, the better I play. You get more comfortable in the system, more comfortable in your own skin, and knowing that as soon as I make a mistake, I am not looking toward the sideline like I am about to get pulled out,” Bromley said. “That trust you build with the coach, you know where you are going to be 90 percent of the time … The one thing I learned from watching Hankins and Snacks was I don’t care about mistakes. I no longer worry about mistakes. The great ones have short-term memories.”
Harrison is still the great one in the defensive tackle room, but if Bromley can be even half as good as the All-Pro he’s learning from, the Giants’ defensive line will be great across the board.