Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez break down the season with their annual holiday gifting for the Detroit Lions.
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
Seven seasons into his NFL career, and with a couple Pro Bowl snubs already in his pocket, Detroit Lions defensive lineman Damon Harrison is resigned to the fact that he won’t ever make the league’s all-star game.
“It’s happened so many times to where I’m used to it,” Harrison said Friday. “I knew I wasn’t going to make it (this year). It wasn’t no big surprise.”
Harrison was passed over for a Pro Bowl nod when rosters were announced this week despite leading all interior defensive linemen with 74 tackles.
Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox were named NFC starters at defensive tackle, Akiem Hicks was the backup, and players like Kenny Clark and DeForest Buckner were picked ahead of Harrison as alternates at the position.
Harrison, who has a career-high 3.5 sacks this season and has helped transform the Lions’ run defense from one of the NFL’s worst to one of its best since his midseason trade from the New York Giants, has never been picked for a Pro Bowl despite being a first-team All-Pro selection in 2016.
He said family members were responsible for tweets this week about his snub – one tweet read, “Still no pro bowl … what y’all really want from me” – but that he’s frustrated by the lack of recognition all the same.
“It’s just a notch under your belt,” Harrison said. “Some of the best players in the NFL are Pro Bowlers so for somebody like myself who considers myself the best at what I do, to not get that recognition, yeah, it’s disappointing.”
Harrison, who’s in line to be just the eighth player to appear in 17 regular-season games since 1931, had two things working against him in his quest to be a Pro Bowler this year.
First, Harrison’s cumulative season statistics did not show up on the Pro Bowl’s fan voting page, so some voters may not have realized how statistically dominant a season he’s had. Last week, Harrison became just the second NFL player since 1994 to record at least 70 tackles, eight for loss, three sacks and eight run-stuffs in a season.
Second, as a nose tackle, Harrison does not amass the sparkly sack totals that tend to impress voters. Donald, the probable NFL defensive player of the year, has 16.5 sacks, and Cox, Hicks, Clark and Buckner all have at least six sacks.
“There should be a spot designated for nose tackles because our job is different and we shouldn’t be punished for playing that particular position,” Harrison said. “I’m used to it, man. I told my wife I’ll never campaign for it again and I won’t allow anybody to campaign for it again.”
Harrison returned to practice on a limited basis Friday for the first time this week after rolling his ankle in last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills. He’s listed as questionable on the Lions’ injury report, but is expected to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Lions ruled wide receiver Bruce Ellington and safety Charles Washington out of Sunday’s game with hamstring injuries, and while quarterback Matthew Stafford remains questionable with a back injury but is expected to play.
Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks is out for the Vikings with a hamstring injury.
Don Muhlbach was a full participant in practice Friday after sitting out Thursday’s workout with a calf injury. The Lions did not list Muhlbach with a game designation for Sunday, meaning he’ll play. But Lions coach Matt Patricia said the team regularly works a backup long snapper in practice as insurance in case something happens to Muhlbach.
“When you have positions on your roster that are singular in manner, you always have a plan because it doesn’t take much,” Patricia said. “(It’s) a little bit different than, say, your linebacker, for which you might have a little bit more depth on the roster. So there’s a lot of different guys rolling through and whatever you feel comfortable with from that standpoint.”
Fullback Nick Bellore (in high school) and tight end Jerome Cunningham (as a practice squad player with the Tennessee Titans) have some experience long-snapping, but Patricia declined to name his emergency long snapper.
“We have a couple guys in there that we use, so we’ll kind of wait until Minnesota to try to figure that out – if needed,” he said.
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