EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Damon Harrison is the wizened sage in a room filled with precocious young defensive linemen
The seven-year veteran whom everyone calls Snacks is entering his third Giants season as the team's most experienced and accomplished front seven defender. And since he is never shy about offering his opinions on almost any subject, Harrison is the unit's leader in both deeds and words.
"He most definitely is, just because he knows what he's doing," fellow tackle Robert Thomas said. "You can definitely tell that he loves this game. He has a passion for this game, and he knows what he's doing in this game. He's what you're striving to be like. This is what you're trying to be, this is what you want your game to become."
"Snacks has always been a great influencer," second-year tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said. "He's always just helping me get better each and every play. When I'm in the game, or even on the sideline, he's always coaching me up, teaching me techniques and things to see and notice on the field like I wouldn't even ever look for. Snacks is just a great guy and he's helping me improve my game in every way possible."
For decades, the Giants' defensive line meeting room has been a zone that should be avoided by the thin-skinned. That is true today with Harrison as its most vocal denizen.
"Snacks has jokes," Tomlinson said. "It's all great, we all joke on each other, just what you do in football. He's going to tell you about yourself when you mess up on the field, too. You have to have thick skin with that and just take it and improve on it."
"You have to realize those are some of the toughest guys on the field in one room together," Thomas said. "You got like, mostly in grade school, like this is all the bullies in one room togethD-Liner [laughs]. You definitely have to have thick skin in there because it's a big room and big personality and big bodies."
Harrison today spoke to the media for the first time since training camp opened last week. He talked about the players in his room, particularly Tomlinson and rookie third-round draft choice B.J. Hill.
"Me and Dalvin developed a great relationship last year, so it was kind of a carryover," Harrison said. "We spoke a lot during the offseason. B.J., he's an interesting character, man. I don't know if you guys have been watching, but he's probably the most athletic defensive lineman that we have, and that says a lot. He can do a little bit of everything, which is encouraging to see. So I'm excited to get a chance to go out there preseason game one and beyond it, and actually see what he can do during game day."
Harrison and Tomlinson were two of the five Giants who started all 16 games last season. The veteran mentored the second-round draft choice, who was named to the PFWA All-Rookie team.
"He always sees something and tells me, and I'll see some stuff now and just tell him, 'Hey, you see this?'" Tomlinson said. "He has helped me with a lot of different things. I love having Snacks inside."
"A lot of people don't understand, but he's a very smart ballplayer," Thomas said. "He knows the game through and through. He's one of those guys who knows formations, so anytime he sees something that's a little different, he tells you real quick. He's going to put you in the best place to make that play. He's like the coach on the field."
He's also durable and productive. Harrison has started 81 consecutive games – one in the postseason – dating back to when he was with the Jets in 2012. One of the NFL's best run defenders, Harrison was a first-team All-Pro in 2016.
Last season, Harrison and Tomlinson were the starting tackle tandem in the Giants' 4-3 defense. New coordinator James Bettcher runs a 3-4 scheme, but everyone seems to have made a seamless transition.
"I think the adjustment is they're really going to have a lot of fun – because, it's a really aggressive, attacking defense where they're not riding blocks," defensive line coach Gary Emanuel said. "You're having to keep linebackers clean as much as you would in some other defensive schemes. It's a single-gap defense, so it's the same thing they were doing before. It's just called a 3-4 as opposed to 4-3. Playing the shade on a center is playing the shade on a center, whether it's a 3-4 or 4-3."
"It just takes me back to my first years in the league," Harrison said. "It's kind of like a Rex Ryan-type defense. It's a lot of attacking, it's not sitting around waiting, trying to read and see the other guys on the offense are doing – it's playing defense with an offensive mentality. For the guys like myself and O.V. (Olivier Vernon) and Dalvin and Robert, these are the types of systems that we love to play in."
When they step on the field, there's no mystery who will lead the way.
"Snacks has already stepped up and been a leader," Tomlinson said. "If it's not always vocal, it's always by example. He's gonna go out there and show you how a true defensive lineman plays his position."