FOXBORO -- If David Harris is a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option, then it would seem now is as good a time as any to let the shards hit the floor.
With Dont'a Hightower out for the season with a torn pec, the Patriots will have to try to fill his role -- and quickly. They could make a move before next week's trading deadline, but odds are they'll piece things together with the players already on their roster.
That includes Harris.
"You hate to lose a guy like that, but it's on all of us to step up," Harris said Thursday. "Myself included. Injuries are part of the sport, unfortunately. It's always next man up."
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Few know that as well as Harris, who's 33 years old and in his 11th season. But to remove Hightower from the middle of the Patriots defense -- and from the locker room, where Harris' stall is situated next to Hightower's -- is an especially difficult blow, Harris explained.
"We have a lot of veterans in this locker room," he said. "Guys that have played a lot of ball. Like I said, myself included. I’ve seen numerous guys go down over my career, but Hightower is a special guy in this locker room."
What Harris may lack in speed, he makes up for with experience. He quarterbacked the Jets defense for a decade and could be the player best suited to replace what Hightower brought to the table in terms of his football IQ. But likely because of Harris' physical abilities, younger players like Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts have found themselves ahead of him on the depth chart.
Harris played seven snaps on the year before entering last weekend's win over the Falcons, five total in Weeks 2 and 3, which Hightower missed with a knee injury. In the Atlanta game, Harris played 19 snaps and acquitted himself relatively well.
Can he continue that kind of progress against the Chargers on Sunday? Harris will need an opportunity first. Should Roberts miss more time -- he's been limited in practice this week due to an ankle issue that held him out of Week 7 -- Harris could be in line for significant work.
"Just ready when my number's called," Harris said, "and I continue to prepare for that instance . . . This is the NFL. Each game is important. Everybody is important. You gotta prepare as a professional because this is our job to be ready whenever you're on the field so nothing changes in that aspect."
But on game days, with Hightower out, his workload could.