Niners catch a FA corner that has been around

For a team in dire need of veteran experience at cornerback, the 49ers couldn't have done much better than Walt Harris, who inked a 2-year deal with the club Wednesday. At this point in his career, Harris hardly was one of the big-name talents available on the open market, but he brings to San Francisco a CB who has been through the wars of 10 NFL seasons as a starter, and he'll be a mentor to the several youngsters the team has vying at the position while competing for a starting berth himself.

Harris said Wednesday afternoon that he still has something left to offer as a top-shelf cornerback after 147 games in the league – 127 of them as a starter, including 12 starts last year with a Washington Redskins defense that finished the season ranked No. 9 in the NFL.

"That's one of the motivations I have," said Harris, who turns 32 in August. "People are going to wonder, ‘Does this guy have it? Is this guy still for real?' My work ethic and the way I have learned to train over the last couple of years has really made me feel a whole lot more confident that it is still there. I trained exceptionally hard last year, harder than I ever have in my career, and I felt 100 times better. I think my training and work ethic and (coming to) a team that understands training and not overdoing it and how to take care of players is only going to add to it."

The 49ers – despite all their need for experience at cornerback now that Ahmed Plummer has been jettisoned – wouldn't be bringing in Harris unless they felt he could still play and had plenty to offer the team on the field as well as off the field as a sage veteran.

Harris experienced something of a career rebirth last year in Washington, where he broke back into the starting lineup after spending the 2004 season as a reserve in his first season with the Redskins. Before that, Harris forged his reputation as a solid cover corner by starting 30 of 32 games in two seasons in Indianapolis and 83 of 87 games in Chicago, where he played from 1998 to 2001 with 49ers safety Tony Parrish.

Harris wasn't just taking up space. His career totals include 690 tackles, 20 interceptions, three touchdown returns, 14 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries and 100 passes defensed.

The rest of the cornerbacks on San Francisco's roster – combined – can't come close to those totals. But the new old man in the 49ers' secondary plans to add to those numbers as he helps groom younger players at the position.

"I always see myself as a starter coming in and definitely a contributor in helping this team get to where it needs to be," said Harris, the 13th player selected overall in the first round of the 1996 draft. "Anything less from my standpoint and how I see myself just wouldn't be up to par."

"I've been through a whole lot and learned how the game should be played, how the game should be approached, how to carry yourself and not putting yourself ahead of the organization if you want to be successful," Harris continued. "That's one thing that I've learned. It's all about sacrifice. If you want to have a winning organization and be successful, it's all about sacrifice."

When asked if he was aware of the chaos that reigned at cornerback for the 49ers in 2005, Harris replied, "I'm somewhat aware, but I'm definitely ready to come in and help. I've been a young guy before and I know how I thought as a young guy about so many things coming at you and what I needed. I was surrounded by a lot of veteran leadership early in my career - guys who had been around and understood the game - and that helped me out a whole lot. I just really want to repay the favor. Being in the league this long, you understand how it works. I think the younger you can get that understanding, the better off you'll be. If you can get younger guys to understand from the get-go that the better the team gets, the better they'll get.

"I think me coming here can really help these guys in coming together and be a whole lot closer and play the game like it should be played."

Harris doesn't expect it to be a long process. Instead of signing with an established contender in the twilight of his career, he opted for a rebuilding team that he can see making a quick transformation.

"At this point, I think the organization is in a process where it's very close to making things happen," Harris said. "The main thing was to get me in here, a veteran guy, and get my leadership that goes with it. It's always good to be a part of something in an organization to help get things turned around."

Harris, who has experience at both right and left cornerback, will be in the mix for the starting role at left cornerback in 2006 to fill the void left by Plummer's departure. He also could be a candidate for nickel back duties. At the very least, he buys the team some veteran insurance if it can't upgrade the position further in free agency or in the April draft.

"I'm real confident," Harris said. "As an athlete, you want to be familiar (with) what you are walking into. I do understand the importance of being around. You have a better idea of what you need to do and how you need to train when you know those things."

Niners Digest Top Stories