The Denver Broncos held an on-field practice for the second time on Wednesday. The new players and coaches are getting their opportunity mingle and get to know one another, while Vance Joseph's new modus operandi is assimilated.
All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. shared some thoughts on the new-look Broncos following practice.
“It feels good to be back getting out there to play football again," Harris said. "Just knocking the rust off, and trying to get our fundamentals on point."
With the news that 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback — and six-time first team All-Pro — Champ Bailey will be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame this year, the topic soon turned in that direction. Harris was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2011, and played with Bailey for three seasons before Denver parted ways with the decorated veteran.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1773403-pre-draft-flash-sale-get-... Harris talked about what Bailey meant to him as a young pro. And revealed something Champ shared with him that he's never forgotten.
“Champ was an unbelievable mentor for me. Just a good friend," Harris said. "That’s one thing, you don’t see a lot of the older guys like him becoming friends with the younger cats. Just to be able to have that relationship means a lot.
"It’s just one of many awards that he’s going to get. I’m pretty sure he’ll get every award that you can possibly have. The Hall of Fame is probably next, then the Ring of Fame. I love playing with Champ because he—I told one of the guys yesterday—he said he never missed a day of work as long as he played. That’s just something I kept in my head.”
Against all odds, Harris — who wasn't even invited to the Combine in 2011 — fought his way onto the Broncos 53-man roster as a rookie. Those three years he spent learning at the feet of Bailey likely played no small part in Harris' evolution into a three-time Pro Bowler. Harris took a lot away from his time working with Champ.
“Techniques. Just different techniques on-the-field-wise, fundamental-wise, how he played square—I’m like an old school corner with techniques," Harris said. "I play square through my fundamentals. It’s definitely something that I kept from Champ for sure. And just that mentality. I already had that mentality, but seeing Champ have that some mentality that I had. If you get beat, line up again. That’s something that he, even at year 15, he still had that. So that’s the mentality that I always want to keep.”
Harris has turned in back-to-back-to-back seasons of elite-level cornerback play. Although he might not always line up against the opposition's No. 1 wideout, like Bailey did for a decade and a half, Harris still has had to square off with some of the best in the game.
After going two years without giving up a touchdown in coverage, Harris was torched by Antonio Brown in a road loss in Pittsburgh in 2015. Harris bounced back and still turned in a Pro Bowl-caliber performance down the stretch and into the playoffs, culminating in a victory in Super Bowl 50.
That short memory? Thanks be to Champ. That's not all Harris gleaned from one of the best shutdown corners to ever lace 'em up.
“When I played with Champ, he was at the end of his career," Harris said. "I didn’t get to see the prime, super prime Champ up close. At the time, he was just really focusing on making sure those fundamentals were tight. He could still run and do everything. He focused more on his fundamentals the older he got.”
Harris and his partner Aqib Talib are arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. In 2016, they became just the second pair of cornerback teammates in NFL history to earn three consecutive Pro Bowl nods. Like two ships passing in the night, Talib missed Bailey in Denver by a couple of short months.
Harris is one of just five undrafted cornerbacks in NFL history to make three or more Pro Bowls with his original team. Broncos fans have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to Champ Bailey, but perhaps one of his most lasting accomplishments in Denver will be the influence he had on Chris Harris, Jr.
Knowledge. The gift that keeps on giving.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.