The latter had been a starter since 1994 and signed with Minnesota shortly after Oakland released him. Harris, who now enters his second season from Northwestern, had his ups and downs in the first half of the season partially because he was making the transition from outside linebacker to middle linebacker.
Statistically, Harris' performance was not much different between the first and second half of the season but his comfort level was light years better.
"When I first got there a lot was thrown at me," Harris said. "I'd say about after the San Francisco game (in Week 9), I think everything came together. It's more reactive now and not just thinking."
Things figure to go much more smoothly for Harris, who has the athleticism to be a dominant force for many years. Harris combines that athleticism with good instincts.
"I definitely feel like the defense will run more efficiently this year because I'm more assertive," Harris said. "I know what's going on. My formation recognition is a lot better."
Harris' willingness to learn helped speed his progress but the veteran presence around him will continue to be a factor. Defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and John Parrella, fellow linebacker Bill Romanowski and free safety Rod Woodson combine for 55 years of NFL experience.
"It definitely helped somewhat because I had great guys around me but at the same time I think I put a lot of hard work into it," Harris said. "I learned, stayed with coach and got the job done."
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org