All at once, in the middle of the season, he was thrown into a new system, a new culture, and a new environment—a pretty big challenge. And unlike several of the running backs facing him on the line, Damon Harrison St. took it and ran.
Flourishing in his seventh season in the NFL, the veteran defensive tackle fondly known as “Snacks” has brought an unbelievable professionalism with him from New York, says Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia.
”He’s been great,” Patricia said. “I think we obviously got a long way to go and all that but for a guy in that situation, it’s never easy and I think he’s done a great job with it.”
In an otherwise unappealing 5-8 season, Harrison’s contributions to the Lions defense are among few patches of light. Detroit began the season unable to stop the run, allowing 631 rushing yards in their first four games for an average of 157.8 yards per game. Then Snacks arrived.
It’s easy to see how Harrison has made a difference. After what seems like a two-game adjustment as he learned a new defensive scheme, and then a leveling off, the Lions held the Bears to 54 rushing yards allowed, the Panthers to 56 and the Bears again to 38. That’s an average of 49.3 yards a game—a more than a 100-yard drop from the start of the season. You can argue a number of factors play into those numbers, but Snacks is undeniably one of them.
Holding the 11-2 Los Angeles Rams to 149 rushing yards allowed is no easy feat, especially when catching Jared Goff on an off night, as the Rams needed to lean on Todd Gurley more than usual. But then, back to business as usual. This past Sunday, the Lions held David Johnson and the Cardinals to 61 rushing yards allowed.
”I came into a new situation and just want to do whatever I can do to get on the field and help my team win,” Harrison said.
Though there hasn’t been too much winning since joining the Lions, Harrison boasts a career-high 3.5 sacks, a combined 36 tackles, three stuffs, a forced fumble and partridge in a pear tree. Igniting a defensive transformation, he’s plugging the holes in an otherwise leaky defense.
But Patricia said it’s not just his work on the field that sets him apart, but also his impact on defensive line teammates, including younger guys like A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand.
”For him to go out and have the production that he’s had out on the field with that and then take those guys in that room and bring them along... I think it’s really been very healthy for that room and has really helped that unit grow,” Patricia said.
As a rookie, Hand said veterans like defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois and Harrison have special tidbits of knowledge that make all the difference, like pointing out an opponent that switches his foot to try to throw the Lions D-Line off. Hand said that transferred experiential knowledge adds up.
”That man is strong. I don’t know how he moves people the way he does, but hopefully I can do that like him one day,” he said. “If that running back is coming this way, I know if it cuts back, he’s getting eaten alive. I just know. If Snacks’ in there—oh man.”
“Oh man” is right. Harrison has spent his time in the league as a powerhouse. Pro Football Focus awarded Snacks its Best Run Defender Award for the 2016 NFL season for having led the league in run stops and run-stop percentage the four seasons prior.
Linebacker Devon Kennard echoed the sentiment, relaying his personal experience playing as Giants teammates. He knows firsthand how seriously Harrison takes his job.
”He’s a dominant force on the inside,” Kennard said. “He’s hard to block one-on-one. He’s hard to block two-on-one.”
As you can see, Harrison is a very well-liked guy. And it’s not just his coach and teammates that appreciate him. Since his arrival in the Motor City, Snacks quickly became a fan favorite.
It could be his fun nickname.
It could be his antics during practice, trying his hand at cornerback, picking off the enemy and barreling his 353-pound self down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
It could be his sense of humor, using GameStop’s trade-in policies for a joke (if you can consider a cold hard fact as a joke).
I can give them $12 cash or $22 in store credit. I will also allow them to put the $22 towards the preorder of the new GameStop 2. https://t.co/sypziSWM6W— Damon Harrison Sr. (@snacks) June 20, 2018
But more than anything, it likely comes from the fact that Harrison routinely holds himself accountable to his fans for his work on the field, owning his mistakes publicly. In mid-November, Snacks earned respect after he took to Twitter to shoulder some of the blame in the Lions’ first loss to the Bears.
I’ve got to do better. 14 points I put directly on my shoulders. I can make those plays with my eyes closed. I let the team down. No excuses— Damon Harrison Sr. (@snacks) November 11, 2018
11:22 in the 1st quarter I should’ve made that play in the backside A gap on the 3 yd TD run. 8:14 2nd quarter QB draw on the 4 that was my play to make. I ran up the field instead of settling down and squeezing back. Terrible situational awareness by me. Those were both on me. https://t.co/T5j1HqD8ff— Damon Harrison Sr. (@snacks) November 11, 2018
This he wrote about an hour or so after the game—before reviewing tape, citing fairly specific times and plays that clearly stuck on his mind after the final whistle. Calling it refreshing, fans appreciated the transparency.
”Nobody’s harder than me than I am on myself and that’s the truth,” he said. “My wife can tell you.”
Whether it’s on the field, in the locker room or with the fans, Harrison is making a mark in Detroit. And now as the wave of support rolls in to send Snacks to the Pro Bowl, one might agree he’s among the Lions most deserving of a spot.