Harris' jump ball skills being counted on

Extra reps this spring helping Golden Bears redshirt freshman wide receiver Maurice Harris develop.

BERKELEY, Calif. – It doesn't take long to see what Maurice Harris' best attribute is as a wide receiver. He can pluck the ball out of the air.

Harris does it several times over the course of practice, looking more like a power forward pulling down a rebound.

It is a trait that has made Calvin Johnson and Vincent Jackson commodities worthy of multi-million dollar NFL contracts this offseason. It is a trait that can make Harris a critical component in the California offense this season.

"I feel like I have good hands and I like to be confident when going up and getting the ball. I rely on that a lot," Harris said.

"Maurice, he is unbelievable," quarterback Zach Maynard said. "He's so rangy. You just throw it up and he gets it, that big body out there."

Maynard would know, as he, his half-brother Keenan Allen and Harris are cousins. The family connection could be in full effect this season, Harris on the receiving of passes from Maynard with Allen lined up on the other side of the field, the way it was when the Greensboro, N.C. native was six years old started playing Pee Wee football.

"We have always connected in some way. I always know what each other's tendencies are, so that is always a plus," Harris said.

Maynard pointed out that whoever starts opposite Allen is likely to see favorable coverage as defenses focus on containing the All-America candidate. But with Allen sidelined because of an ankle injury this spring, Harris is getting used to facing the best cornerback everyday.

With the Bears also needing to replace seniors Marvin Jones and Michael Calvin, Allen is benefiting from plenty of extra reps because of limited numbers at receiver. It is giving him a chance to make up for his inexperience.

New wide receivers coach Wes Chandler is also helping Harris work on his route running, which he considers his main weakness. Chandler's NFL experience as both a player and assistant is already helping out, Harris said.

"He teaches a lot. We just take the time to learn it and try to translate it to the field," he said.

But even great technique can be superceded by physical abilities, and Harris' jump ball prowess could make a huge difference in the red zone.

Cal scored on 89 percent of its possessions within the 20-yard line last season, but scored touchdowns on only 34 of its 55 possessions (61.8 percent). The Bears only had 11 scoring passes, which could be improved simply by pairing Harris with Allen.

"I use my body to shade guys off," Harris said. "Having good body control when going up to get the ball, it helps you a lot."

Said cornerback Steve Williams: "He's a beast."

A new installment of beast mode could have a dramatic effect on the offense, only this time it could be coming from up in the air.

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