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NOTEBOOK: Harrison a dominant force on defensive line

Since joining the Detroit Lions via trade with the New York Giants in mid-October, Damon Harrison has been dominant.

Since Week 8, when Harrison first strapped it up for the Lions, he’s been graded as the third best interior defender in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, right behind Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City’s Chris Jones.

Counting his time in New York this season, Harrison leads all defensive tackles with 64 tackles. He also has the most defensive stops (22) among interior defensive linemen. He’s the only defensive tackle in football with 60-plus tackles, eight-plus tackles for loss, three-plus sacks and two forced fumbles. In summary, he’s been great, and he’s signed through 2020.

It’s no surprise the Lions have played much better collectively on defense, especially upfront, since Harrison’s arrival.

Take last week’s performance against the Rams for example. The Rams came into that game averaging more than 35.0 points per game. They had 16 points midway through the fourth quarter until they were gifted two short fields, and MVP candidate Todd Gurley broke loose a couple times.

“There was a lot more good than bad,” Harrison said of the Rams game tape. “We actually played a pretty good game. The score wasn’t a great indication of how close that game was. It’s encouraging to see everybody taking the technique and the coaching and bringing it to Sunday.”

“Everybody” is the key word there from Harrison, because his addition seems to be having a profound effect on fellow defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand, too. Robinson (11th) and Hand (18th) are also graded in the top 18 by PFF among interior defensive linemen.

Lions head coach Matt Patricia said Wednesday that Harrison has been great for the defensive line room and really has helped that unit grow.

Hand, Detroit’s fourth-round pick this year, couldn’t say enough good things about the veteran Harrison and what he’s meant not only for the defensive line room, but for his game personally, earlier this week.

“It’s always good when you have a great vet coming in that has a lot of knowledge about the game and can add on to anything, your run stopping ability and just seeing things that a person with his experience can see to pass on to me has been a blessing,” Hand said of Harrison.

Harrison said collectively the defense is playing good football right now, just not winning football. He wants to see that side of the ball clean up some of the technique lapses they’ve had in some spots and finish games. Doing that, Harrison says, will go a long way to building up this defense for the long haul.

“It’s all about confidence,” he said of the importance of playing good football the final month of the season. “It’s hard to gain confidence when you’re losing. Just stay in it. Be able to go into the offseason on a good note.”

HOPING TO RETURN

The Lions haven’t closed the door on rookie running back Kerryon Johnson returning this season.

Johnson hasn't played the last two weeks because of a knee injury he suffered in the win over Carolina Nov. 18. Patricia’s comments on Johnson this week made it sound like Detroit is still hopeful to get their top runner back for the final stretch.

“He's working really hard to try to do everything he can to get himself back out there,” Patricia said Monday. “We'll see how it goes through the course of the week.”

Patricia said Wednesday Johnson was day-to-day. When he’s ready to compete and help the team win, they’re open to him doing just that.

In Week 3, Johnson rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries, breaking the Lions’ streak of games without a 100-yard rusher dating back to 2013.

He has 118 carries for 641 yards (5.4 average) and three touchdowns on the year. He’s also chipped in 32 catches for another 213 yards and a score. He accomplished all that without starting until Week 4 and then missing the last two games.

Veteran LeGarrette Blount has started the last two games in place of Johnson, rushing 35 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

The Lions conducted a walkthrough in lieu of practice on Wednesday, but they estimated Johnson would not have practiced on the official report.

CARDINALS BANGED UP

Arizona will have three rookie starters on the offensive line this week vs. Detroit.

Center Mason Cole has started every game this season after A.Q. Shipley tore his ACL in training camp.

Korey Cunningham, a seventh-round pick this year, will start at left tackle with D.J. Humphries going on IR Wednesday.

Because of the season-ending injury to guard Mike Iupati announced this week, Colby Gossett will be the starter at left guard. He was a sixth-round pick from this year’s draft signed off Minnesota’s practice squad in October.

The Cardinals now have zero offensive linemen left playing in 2018 that were part of the original starting lineup heading into training camp.

REEVES-MAYBIN TO IR

The Lions placed second-year linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin on IR Wednesday, ending his season due to a neck injury.

Reeves-Maybin was a reserve linebacker and core special teamer through nine games. He finished the season with 13 tackles.

The team promoted defensive end Eric Lee to the active roster from the practice squad to take the place of Reeves-Maybin on the 53-man roster and signed free agent defensive tackle John Atkins to the practice squad.

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