Perhaps the biggest surprise headed into Arkansas’ Saturday scrimmage has been the elevation of redshirt freshman Josh Harris to first-team middle linebacker.
Harris (5-10, 220), the son of former 12-year NFL player Jackie Harris, has gotten more reps this week with the starters than Khalia Hackett.
“It has been a jump, a big jump, but honestly it is still football at the end of the day,” Harris said before Friday’s walk through practice.
“I actually practiced with the ones every day last year because I was on the scout team. So I had a feel for things, but now I am learning my keys, learning my fits and now everything is just flowing because I know more.”
Arkansas linebacker coach Vernon Hargreaves would like for Harris to be bigger, but can’t find many other faults with the former Watson Chapel star.
"I would love to have a 6-3, 240-pound guy there and doing the same thing he's doing," Hargreaves said. "Well, as long as it gets done, who cares what it looks like? All that matters is the job getting done and plays getting made.”
He notes that Harris has simply made plays this spring and summer to elevate himself up the depth chart.
“We realize there may be some limitations," Hargreaves said. "But hey, I would rather have the guy we know on first down, if they run the ball, we have a pretty good shot of getting the thing on the ground."
It’s no surprise that Harris has a high football IQ seeing as how he was raised in a football family.
“Football has been in my life since I was born because I was born in Tampa when my dad was playing with the Buccaneers,” Harris said. “My mom would come have us watch TV when there was a big game on, but we really wanted to watch Barney.”
Jackie Harris played with Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Dallas during his NFL career.
“Now that I think back at it, I wish I had been at the football games,” Harris said. “Now that I am older I realize what a big impact in my life he has been both on the field and off the field.
“I guess it is just in my genes - see ball, hit guy with ball.”
He talked with his dad after getting moved to the first team.
“Yeah, I talked to him the other day and he was telling me, 'Stay humble. Stay positive. Keep doing what you do,’ Harris said, “and a quote he told me was that 'The good is the enemy of the best. So don't be satisfied with good so you can be greater.’”
Harris had 142 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions during his senior season and had offers from smaller schools, but decided he wanted to play at the highest level.
“I just knew I could play at this level and now I am trying to go out there and prove that,” Harris said.
Harris redshirted last season as a true freshman, but grabbed Hargreaves’ attention during the spring and has certainly done that in preseason camp.
“You have to stay positive, especially when you redshirt,” Harris said. “ You go from being a high school star to a college player that is on the sidelines watching a lot of games.
“You just have to stay positive and take advantage of that, especially in the weight room, on the field, off the field, watching film, learning from the other guys, too. But you have to have a positive mindset that your time is coming and you just have to be patient.”
He feels comfortable in the middle.
“You just have to have good vision and you have to see the ball,” Harris said. “If you are running to the ball or away from the ball - your keys will take you one way - but as long as you see the ball, you can’t let any penetration come up the middle.”
Harris certainly looks more physical after working with Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert during the off-season.
“I have put on a few pounds, actually lost a lot of fat and put on muscle thanks to Coach Herb,” Harris said. “Him and his crew have been doing a major job for us, just to make us thicker and stronger people and make plays because it the SEC is a big league. Coach Herb has been a big part of that.”
Harris has worked at all three linebacker spots, but seems to have found a home at the Mike.
“Coach Hargreaves told us from day one, ‘just learn every position because you never know what will happen. You need to learn Mike, Will and Sam because one day you might be here, one day you might be there. When I call you your name, you have to be ready.’”
He wonders what it will be liked if he is matched up with a 6-4 receiver.
“You just have to play them tight,” Harris said. “You have to play them a different way because I can't jump with them as good as the other guys. You just have to use your football I!Q and make plays. Positioning is a big key. You have to gain leverage on them and different techniques.:
He says he has been watching film of former Miami and current San Diego Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman (6-0, 243), a smallish defender.
“I don’t necessarily pattern my game, but I have been keeping up with Denzel Perryman ever since I saw him get drafted during draft day,” Harris said. “He is like 5-10 or 5-11 and 240 or 250 and I have seen how he plays and I like him.”
Harris says that all the linebackers are helping each other as they know all will be needed.
“The linebacker crew is good and we are building and as a whole we are teaching each other as well,” Harris said. “The deeper we get the better we are.”