Sophomore Slump

As a rookie, DT Tommie Harris proved why he was the first defensive lineman taken in the 2004 draft. However, there are obstacles in his way from taking a step forward this year.

Harris started all 16 games and finished the season with 3.5 sacks, 58 tackles, including 6 for loss and one forced fumble.

At times he looked like the best player on the field and other moments his inexperience showed.

While Harris posted six tackles, two of which were for loss and a sack against Tampa Bay, he jumped offside and hit quarterback Brian Griese after the whistle blew. The indiscretion resulted in a fine and taught Harris that he must have discipline even in the heat of the moment.

Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera sees a world of potential in the 22-year-old, but cautions that early success can sometimes get the best of a young player.

"I think it's still a learning process and sometimes in the second year people talk about the sophomore slump and that's always a potential as well," Rivera said. "You know guys show a little confidence, they don't work as hard, but hopefully we've avoided that with a guy like Tommie. I think Tommie has done some terrific things during these OTAs."

Often times the difference between a good player and one going to the Pro Bowl is work off the field. Learning tendencies by studying the opponent in the classroom can separate a player from the pack.

For those who have gotten by on athletic ability their entire career, it can be difficult to understand why spending time watching film is crucial.

Rivera points to Lance Briggs' maturation process throughout his sophomore season that earned him Pro Bowl alternate status. Now in his third year in the league, Briggs is positioned as a leader of the defense.

Harris is vocal enough to be a leader and another solid campaign will go a long way toward being recognized league wide as an elite defensive tackle.

Despite the defense producing 35 sacks last season, improving the pass rush is a top priority. Harris will play a key role, as he provides pressure from the interior of the line, which could have a domino effect for the entire unit.

"If we've got a better pass rush you get better coverage. Better coverage better pass rush," Rivera said.

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