Harris deserves Pro Bowl nod

Cornerback has only allowed one touchdown this season

Most people know who Al Harris is because of his long dreadlocks which hang out of his helmet. But the way the Green Bay Packers cornerback has played this season, Harris might be better known for his play on the field.

Harris has played at a Pro Bowl level this season while covering some of the NFL's best wide receivers. Just two weeks ago, Harris didn't allow a completed pass to Chicago's Muhsin Muhammad, including a fade pattern in the end zone, and earlier this season Harris drew praise from Cincinnati's colorful Chad Johnson, who called him one of the game's best at the position.

When the Packers traded a fourth-round pick to Philadelphia to get Harris in 2003, they weren't expecting Harris to be a lock-down type player. He was supposed to play opposite Mike McKenzie, who at the time seemed to be on his way to Pro Bowl status.

But McKenzie forced his way out of Green Bay last season with a trade to New Orleans, so the onus fell on Harris to step up his play. Not the biggest or fastest player, Harris was asked to play a role the Packers didn't envision him being in. This was a major step for Harris, whose role with Philadelphia was a nickel back behind Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Harris didn't blink, however.

He's been the Packers' best defensive player this season on a defense which is shockingly ranked in the top 10. Furthermore, the pass defense ranks first. Not all of this is because of Harris, but take him off the field and these rankings don't exist.

"He's the best DB in the league," said Lions wide receiver Roy Williams before playing the Packers on Dec. 11. "I always look at this (matchup) as the biggest challenge of the year."

Harris is of slight build — 6-foot-1, 185 pounds — but he excels where many younger cornerbacks, like teammate Ahmad Carroll, don't — bump-and-run coverage.

Although Williams (6-2, 212) is bigger, Harris doesn't back down from receivers like him. "He pressures you all game," Williams said. "He just gets up in your face. He knocks you off your route. He knocks your timing off. He just disrupts everything."

Monday, Harris will go up against Derrick Mason, Baltimore's top receiver. Mason isn't having a Pro Bowl-type season as he did a year ago in Tennessee, but still he should be a challenge. Nonetheless, at this point you almost expect Harris to dominate most receivers whose last names aren't Moss (either Moss), Johnson, Harrison, Holt or Owens.

Based on his play, Harris is a Pro Bowl player, but so often statistics are the reason players are selected or not selected to the Pro Bowl. With just two interceptions and 15 passes defended, Harris' numbers are ordinary, but he also doesn't get thrown at a lot because of his effectiveness.

Plus, who wouldn't throw Carroll's way?

Harris does admit getting a Pro Bowl nod is important.

"It matters," Harris said. "But the main goal is to win."

The Pro Bowl rosters are announced next week, and Packers coach Mike Sherman is in Harris' corner.

"I can't say enough about Al," Sherman said. "He's been as much if not more than I expected." And looking back at recent player acquisitions by the Packers – trade or free agency - Harris' addition to the Packers has been arguably the best move since Green Bay acquired Eugene Robinson during the Super Bowl run in the late 1990s.

What's interesting is, Harris flies under most people's radar, but maybe if the voters get it right this month, Harris will finally be known for more than what's under his helmet. It'll be hard for Harris to get to the Pro Bowl, but he's not the reason the Packers are 3-10. However, he is a big reason the Packers' defense has made massive strides this season and he should be rewarded for it.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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