Harris' toughness deserves praise

Al Harris, who has started every game since joining the Packers in 2003, showed his worth against the Eagles, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

His consecutive-games streak is amazing, isn't it?

Brett Favre? Well, yeah, that is amazing. But the Packers have somebody else on quite a streak: Al Harris.

If Favre would have had one of his extremities immobilized after being blind-sided and re-entered the game, the fans and media would be going gaga about Favre's legendary toughness. Well, that was Harris' day against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the cornerback who, unfortunately, is known more for his hair than his play, has barely received a word of praise for what he did.

Counting Sunday, Harris has started all 68 games since being acquired for a second-round draft pick before the 2003 season in perhaps Mike Sherman's finest hour as general manager. In all, Harris has never missed a game because of injury. He spent his rookie season, 1997, on Tampa Bay's practice squad, then played in all 16 games with Philadelphia the next five years. Add it up, that's 155 consecutive games, including 10 in the postseason.

By now, you know what happened to Harris on Sunday. He volunteered to help the punt-return unit — his pal and fellow star cornerback, Charles Woodson, was returning kicks — and he got nailed around the elbow by the helmet of hard-charging teammate Atari Bigby.

Harris left the game for tests. Instead of waiting for the results, though, Harris had the trainers all but immobilize his right arm, and he came back into the game. Not only did he play, but he was his usual extraordinary self. The Eagles only threw one ball in his direction, and he was there to knock the ball away from Kevin Curtis in the end zone in the third quarter.

Harris' absence amplified his value. The Packers have a terrific group of cornerbacks, but Harris is one of the best corners — not to mention one of the most underrated players — in the NFL.

Together, Harris and Woodson give the Packers remarkable defensive freedom. With their cover skills, they can afford to blitz less frequently. Yet, because they are so good, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is free to blitz whenever he chooses. Plus, because they are so good, the linebackers can worry more about the run rather than getting into their zones to cut down the passing angles.

When he was out, it set off a domino effect that led to rookie Tramon Williams matching up against Curtis, who caught 100 passes for 10 touchdowns the previous two years in St. Louis. Williams gave up a long completion to Curtis that set up the Eagles' first points. Harris returned early in the next drive, but by that point, Donovan McNabb had gotten into a bit of a rhythm and led the Eagles to a tying touchdown.

"I've played with broken ribs, I've played with ... I can fight through it," said Harris, who needed help getting his helmet on during the game and help getting out of his shoulder pads after it. "I just had to stay close enough to (the receivers) to where I could put my hands on them."

Bump-and-run coverage is Harris' strength, and it's a staple of the Packers' aggressive defense. So, while an arm injury isn't nearly the handicap for a cornerback as, say, an ankle injury would be, the arms are a big deal for a physical player like Harris.

"I'll say this about his injury: He toughed it out," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "It was a pretty significant injury. When it happened, (team trainer) Pepper (Burruss) felt that he was done, and then the next thing you know, he has his arm taped up and went back in."

If there was any doubt that Harris' lucrative contract extension wouldn't affect his play, the toughness he showed Sunday spoke volumes.

"I was coming back," he said. "That was not an option."

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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