Jerrell Harris Back In The Mix

It's hard to say that things would have been better for Alabama football in 2009 if Jerrell Harris had not been suspended for six games. But things would have been better for Harris, and it might have changed the outlook for 2010.

Just before the start of the 2009 Alabama football season, three Crimson Tide players were suspended because it was alleged they received improper benefits. Two of those players—Mark Ingram and Julio Jones—resolved their issues quickly and were reinstated in time for Bama's season-opening game. Ingram would have an outstanding season, winning the Heisman Trophy, as the Tide went 14-0 and won the national championship.

Jerrell Harris had a separate situation and he admittedly made mistakes in how he dealt with his problem. Published reports said he not only received an improper benefit, but also tried to cover up his transgression. That earned him a six-game suspension and he was off the radar at linebacker by the time he returned.

Now Harris, an upcoming junior from Gadsden, is back, and he's bigger and better.

Alabama had its first scrimmage of spring practice Friday. Harris made four tackles, including one for lost yardage, and broke up a pass. Alabama Coach Nick Saban repeated something he had said earlier.

"I think Jerrell Harris has had a really good spring," Saban said.

Earlier Saban said, "Jerrell was doing a great job last year before he got suspended. We had some plans and packages he would be a starter. After being suspended for six games, he got lost in the shuffle. Lost a lot of games, lot of plays, lot of experience. He did come back and contribute on special teams."

"I couldn't practice as much as I wanted to; or get in the mix like I wanted to; or learn the plays like I wanted to," Harris said. "It was kind of hard having to pick up and trying to catch up."

This spring, Saban said, Harris has been "paying attention to detail and making a lot of progress. He has picked up where he left off last year. He did well in off-season and in spring practice."

Saban said that Harris has worked both at inside and outside linebacker spots (as have many of the linebackers in the spring). "I don't know where he'll end up, but he's done a really, really good job this spring," the coach said.

Harris, 6-3, came to Alabama in 2008 at 212 pounds. He got up to "220 or 225" last year. Good diet and a tough workout regimen have made Harris bigger and stronger, although not as big as he first told reporters—"338. I mean 238!"

Following practice last week, Harris said, "Man, I'm hungry." But he wasn't talking about gaining more weight. He is hungry for football.

"I haven't played a full season since I've been here," he said. "I'm just looking to get a fresh start and go full speed ahead and compete."

Harris played sparingly in 10 games as a freshman, seeing a little time at outside linebacker, but most of his action on special teams.

Harris isn't looking back at his suspension. "No," he said. "It's a learning process. Everything happens for a reason. Learn from it and move forward. Learn that everyone makes mistakes and you have to learn from them and you have to be more aware of what you are doing. I was young when I made that mistake.

"Coach talked to me. ‘Keep moving forward. You can't go back.'"

Going forward this spring has meant working at three linebacker spots. In the past he had worked both at strongside (Sam) and weakside (Will). He's also getting some repetitions at middle linebacker (Mike).

"I was doing the same thing last year, going back and forth from Sam and Will," Harris said. "I have to go to the books every day and review those, plus update on the Mike." And he also works on special teams—"all of them."

Harris said practice is going well, even though he doesn't know where he might end up. "The coaches tell me to stay positive wherever I work, that we're trying different things right now," he said.

Harris said, "This is the first spring where things have been natural. I'm not nervous. I'm just playing."

With Rolando McClain having left Bama early for the NFL and Cory Reamer and Eryk Anders having graduated, the linebacker corps is being rebuilt this spring.

Harris said, "It's a lot different than what it was last year. It's not young, but it doesn't have as much experience. It's about speed. That's what this linebacker corps is going to be about. Speed and reaction time."

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