RENTON — First things first.
New Seahawks defensive tackle Damon “Snacks’’ Harrison says he’s fine being called either Damon or Snacks, the nickname he received early in his NFL career for his penchant for eating during team meetings.
What he does specifically want to be called, though, is an active member of an NFL team again.
And after a somewhat halting start to his Seahawks career — four weeks on the practice squad without being elevated to play — that’s what he’ll be again on Sunday, when Seattle takes on the Rams in Los Angeles.
With Bryan Mone ailing with a high ankle sprain, the Seahawks will elevate Harrison to play this week to fill out the defensive tackle rotation behind Jarran Reed and Poona Ford.
Given his pedigree as a veteran of 111 NFL starts with a first-team All-Pro pick in 2016, most figured he’d pretty quickly be on the field for the Seahawks when he signed Oct. 7.
Instead, he spent two weeks getting back into football shape heading into the team’s bye. And then, the last two weeks, the team simply didn’t have room for him on the game-day roster, needing only three tackles and happy with the play of Reed, Ford and Mone.
“It was tough because I’m a competitor,’’ he said. “I want to be out there. But I understood.’’
Indeed, Harrison took to Twitter a few times the last few weeks to let everyone know he was fine with how the process was working, and says he actually knew coming to Seattle it might take a little while to see the field.
“We had a plan coming in,’’ Harrison said. “I needed to work myself back into football shape. The only way you can get into football shape is actually playing football. … I spoke to coach (Pete Carroll), I spoke to general manager (John Schneider) before I got here, and we knew it was going to be a process, so that’s why I’ve been OK with it. Just working from the ground up.’’
Harrison is used to that. He went from being an undrafted free agent out of William Penn University, a private school of 1,050 students in Oskaloosa, Iowa, that plays at the NAIA level and has had only one other player reach the NFL (defensive lineman Wilbur Young, who played from 1971-82 with the Chiefs and Chargers).
Harrison became a full-time starter in his second year with the Jets in 2012 and has started all but one game he’s played since — that, interestingly enough, was against the Seahawks in 2018 in his first week with the Lions after the Giants traded him to Detroit, though he ended up playing 39 snaps.
Harrison, listed at 6 feet, 3 inches and 350 pounds, started 15 games last season for the Lions, but now, at 31, some wondered if age was beginning to take a toll — he had the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of his career (specifically, his run defense numbers, the area of his game that has always been his strength). His conventional stats also all dropped across the board (81 tackles in 2018 to 49 a year ago).
Harrison was released in February in what was regarded as a mutual parting of ways, with Detroit freeing up $6.7 million in cap space and Harrison contemplating retirement.
Harrison went back to his offseason home in the Dallas area with his wife, Alexis, and their seven kids, which includes 1-year-old twins and a five-month-old.
As the pandemic hit, Harrison joked one reason to keep playing was “being in the home with my kids full time during the season.’’
On a more serious note, though, the pandemic actually initially made him think he would sit the season out: “I wanted to see how the traveling and everything went before I decided to make my decision. I paid attention to it, everything went well. And I felt comfortable about getting back out there.’’
If he did decide to play, Harrison said Seattle was a place he had his eye on all along, in part because of the chance to be with a winning team (Harrison has played in only one postseason game, with the Giants) and because he knew a few players on the team, notably safety Quandre Diggs, with whom he played in Detroit.
“I had a good idea of where I was gonna end up and I felt like it was gonna be here,’’ he said.
Harrison also made a decision to move his family with him to Seattle.
That helped with staying patient during the last month on the practice squad, for which he gets $12,000 a month (once on the active roster he will make at least $47,647 per game, the prorated share of the veteran minimum), turning down reported opportunities to sign immediately with the 53-player rosters of Tampa Bay and Miami.
“I knew it was gonna take hard work, and it was gonna take some time,’’ he said. “Once the work became a little more than I had expected, I wasn’t going to run from it. I felt like I was supposed to be here. So I wanted to continue to do that. I’m moving my family here at the time too. I’m not a guy that likes to move around much or change sceneries a lot, so really once I got here and got settled in, it was a no-brainer to stay.’’
Harrison calls his wife “a real-life superhero’’ for managing the family’s move to Seattle.
Not that everything is yet settled.
Harrison can be elevated off the practice squad just twice. After that, the Seahawks would have to put him on the 53-player roster to play.
With Mone suffering a high ankle sprain, the Seahawks could put him on injured reserve (which this year means being out only three weeks) and put Harrison on the 53, and they could consider the next week or two an audition to see if Harrison still has it first.
Harrison admitted he can’t say for sure if he’s ready to produce at his prime career level, having not played in a game since last December.
“You know, I’m not really sure, actually, until I have opportunity to get out there,’’ he said. “Being in practice is one thing, but actually getting out there on game day, the speed, the tempo is different. So the jury’s still out on that until I actually get a chance to be on the field and evaluate myself then.’’