When he was thrust into the lineup as starting center, many asked, “Who is Jonotthan Harrison?”
For starters, everybody gets his name wrong.
“My name is always butchered,” the Indianapolis Colts rookie said with a smile. “I’m proud of the unique name and at times I do like to just clarify how to spell my name, but other times, I’m not really sweating it.”
His family is of Jamaican descent, hence the unusual spelling with the extra “t.” Harrison grew up in Groveland, Fla., where he starred at South Lake High School. He started 39 of 51 college games for the Florida Gators, and was a senior captain.
Undrafted out of college, he impressed Colts coaches during training camp. Fans will remember him for a couple of bad preseason snaps, but the team saw potential in how he handled himself in two starts.
The Colts raised eyebrows when they decided to start him instead of A.Q. Shipley in the season’s fifth game against Baltimore at Lucas Oil Stadium. Like for any rookie, the NFL is an ongoing adjustment. He’s had a few shaky moments, some poor snaps and miscommunications with quarterback Andrew Luck.
But Harrison keeps plugging along. He’s started the last five games. General Manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano have reiterated their faith in him.
“Honestly, I’m just here to work,” said Harrison, 23, when asked about the switch.
Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert was asked about Harrison and rookie offensive left guard Jack Mewhort, the Colts’ second-round pick in May, on Tuesday.
“I think out of Jon and Jack so far, they’re both progressing like you would think with rookies,” Gilbert said. “They’re obviously making some mistakes, but overall I think from a technique standpoint from learning the offense, the progression of where they are is heading in the right direction. Their toughness, probably the one thing, (and) both of them are extremely smart, so we’re able to do the things that we want to do and they handle it pretty well.”
Gilbert was asked what the Colts saw in Harrison as an undrafted free agent.
“When we started seeing him, when Khaled (Holmes) went down and he came in, you watch how his performance in games for three straight games was at a very, very high level,” Gilbert said. “He played with great leverage. Probably one of the biggest concerns you get about a rookie is all the different things when the moving parts start going live, how does he handle it? He handled it really well.
“Obviously getting in that first environment you get worried about the snap count, and that’s gotten better. We had one (Monday) and that’s something that we keep talking to him about that he’s got to eliminate. But overall I think that just from a strength standpoint, the way he plays the game with leverage, we thought that, ‘Hey, this is a guy that could put a lot of snaps on in preseason.’ We thought very highly of him then. We felt we had to give him an opportunity and so far he’s playing pretty well.”
One concern is that Harrison, at 6-4 and 308 pounds, keeps his weight up.
“That’s one thing where you just kind of watch him, and his body type is, you know he’s playing against guys that are 340, 360 pounds, so he’s got to do a pretty good job of that,” Gilbert said.
Harrison says he’s just a humble rookie, willing to do whatever is asked, and he’s tried to stay focused on learning how to be a professional. It’s a lot different from college, he admits.
“Really, do what they tell me, not think too much about it,” he said. “There was like a day or two when I was honestly thinking about (the switch), and then I was just like, ‘You know what? I’m going to drive myself crazy if I really try to figure out the reasoning for the move, figure out the motive. Just do whatever they ask me to and keep my mouth closed and keep working.’”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.