This is not a record to be proud of, and Harper has been a very frustrated indiviudual. He has a burning desire to get on the field and show what he can do, but Jets coach Herman Edwards has not given him the opportunity.
This spring, he will finally get a chance to participate in regular season action. This thanks to the decision of Jets GM Terry Bradway to send him to NFL Europe.
So far, so good. In the NFL Europe training camp, which is held in Florida, Harper was one of the standouts. He beat out Denver Bronco draft pick Nick Eason for a starting defensive tackle position with the Scottish Claymores. Eason was one of the better defensive tackle prospects in last year's draft after a standout career at Clemson.
So why has Harper been inactive for two straight years? Well there seems to be a divide in the Jets organization about him. Bradway is a big fan of Harper and wants to see him play. Edwards doesn't seem to share Bradway's enthusiasm.
While Bradway does have final say on personnel decisions, he refuses to tell Edwards or his coaches who to play on the roster.
"All I can do is keep you on the roster, I can't make them play you," Bradway told Harper late last season.
While a lot of football people say it's better to have a general manager making personnel decision instead of the coach, the Harper situation is one of the pitfalls of this setup. On game day, the coach usually decides who plays. They obviously don't have to use players they don't like. Conversely, a coach like Denver's Mike Shanahan, who has final say on the Broncos personnel decision, picks the players and decides who plays. There is no chasm at any time.
From what we hear, Edwards doesn't think Harper has either the ideal size or quickness to excel as an NFL defensive tackle. Harper is just 6-1, 285 pounds and ran a 5.24 forty at the 2002 combine. That is obviously not a good size-speed ratio. But Harper was a very productive player at Fresno State despite his limitations due to his motor and quickness. As a senior, he amassed 12 sacks, an impressive total for an interior defensive lineman.
Another concern about Harper, when he came out of college, was his lack of strength. However, over the last two years, under the guidance of Jets strength coach John Lott, he has increased his strength significantly, so that should not a problem anymore.
Harper doesn't understand how people can make assessments about his NFL ability when he has never played.
"Put me out there and let's find out," Harper said last season.
Well NFL Europe will be a start. There are a lot of NFL caliber offensive linemen in that league. So his performance overseas should be a good barometer for the Jets about what he might be able to do in the NFL.
In retrospect, the Jets probably should have let Harper play last season instead of Chester McGlockton, who was clearly past his prime and devoid of mobility.
But just like the punting situation, the Jets current football brass seems hesitant to go with young players.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl last season starting a rookie center and two rookie defensive backs. It's clearly time for Bradway, Edwards and company to get over this mindset.
As for Harper, if he has a standout season in NFL Europe, it will certainly help his case to get on the field next season, either with the Jets or another NFL team (if he's cut).
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