Raiders tab versatile defender in Harris

The Raiders continued to look defensive in the draft Saturday, picking up heralded linebacker Napoleon Harris with the second of their two first-round selections. Harris should lend an immediate boost to Oakland because of his ability to play both linebacker and on the defensive line, skills that head coach Bill Callahan says the Raiders plan to exploit.

''Situationally, as we bring him in here and develop him and get exposure to his skills, we'll see. But we know that's one element that we like, that he does have the ability to rush the passer and that he can blitz from the off position,'' said Callahan. ''He can cover from the off position. He lends a lot of qualities to our team in that respect. We just feel that we have a versatile player that has athletic skills, the size and speed that can futuristically help our team.''

Harris had been projected by many draft experts to be the Raiders intended target, only most had Oakland using its first pick in the first round on the 6-3, 253-pounder who was a two-time second-team All-America at Northwestern. Oakland instead waited until the 23rd overall pick but still got the guy they wanted.

Just where Harris will fit in remains to be seen. He played outside linebacker his first three seasons at Northwestern before moving to defensive end, a move made out of necessity for the Wildcats who were loaded at linebacker but thin along the defensive line. Harris said playing defensive end helped him as a linebacker, particularly in shedding blocks with his hands. As a senior Harris had only three sacks but led Northwestern with 19 quarterback pressures.

Because the Raiders loaded up at linebacker in the offseason, signing Bill Romanowski and Gerald Dixon, there won't be pressure on Harris to come in as an immediate starter.

''He won't be right off the bat as we come into training camp but Napoleon gives us a lot of versatility,'' Callahan said. ''He'll be capable of playing the outside position, possibly the Mike position, as well as participating in the special teams as a coverage guy to help that unit as well, and like we talked about, putting him down in the nickel situation just adds that other dimension that a lot of people don't have. To have that luxury to transfer those skills situationally, we covet that. It's obviously one of the reasons for the pick aside from the size-speed element. The production was there at both positions in his college career.''

In a related note, Callahan said that contrary to reports the Raiders have not signed linebacker Roman Phifer. ESPN had said a deal between the two sides had come earlier this week, but Callahan denied the reports, though he did say the team continues to have interest.


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