NFLPA Bowl Practice Report: Day One

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris wants to use the new NFLPA Bowl to show concerns about interceptions and decision-making are unfounded.

CARSON, Calif. – Jacory Harris is trying to balance two very different goals ahead of the inaugural NFLPA Bowl this Saturday.

On the one hand, the Miami quarterback wants to prove himself worthy of a chance to play in the NFL. On the other, he has one more chance to be around four of his Hurricanes teammates.

"Those are my friends," Harris said. "Those are my boys. We've been knowing each other for eight years.

"It's a blessing just to be out here on the field with them, so I'm happy we're together one last time."

Wide receiver Aldarius Johnson and offensive tackle Brandon Washington were part of the illustrious 2007 Miami (Fla.) Northwestern team that was declared national champions.

While the core of that high school team formed the basis of a heralded signing class for Miami, Harris and co. never were able to live up to their lofty billing.

Harris became the first true freshman to start a season opener since 1983 and finished with the second-most touchdown passes and passing yards in school history, but Miami never played for an Atlantic Coast Conference or BCS championship with him under center as was expected.

Many of those same players from the Class of 2008 were also involved in the extra benefits scandal that resulted in numerous suspensions and led to Miami declining a bowl bid this season.

Harris was held out of one game, but responded with his best season in terms of accuracy (.650 completion percentage) and touchdown-to-interception radio (20-9). He struck a philosophical tone discussing the adversity of his senior season and career.

"I always believe that success is good, but failure is better because I'll take a guy that failed over a guy that succeeded all his life," he said. "The guy that failed understands the mistakes he made and tried to get better at it. Once it gets better and he learns from those mistakes, he is going to be successful for a long time."

Success at the next level will come only if Harris can show he can avoid the rash of interceptions and poor decision-making that defined much of his career. In his sophomore season, he threw 17 interceptions in 13 games, followed up by another 15 interceptions the next year.

Harris points to the improvement he made this past season and wants to prove it again this week.

"I am someone who took the time to get better and just progressed and got better as things went on," he said. "Yeah, I had a down season one year and make a few mistakes but those mistakes don't determine anything."

But Harris will have to show his development against his teammates and friends, as he is on the National team, while Johnson, Washington, linebacker Jordan Futch and defensive end Marcus Robinson are part of the American roster.

"I guess the NFLPA didn't want all of us on the same team," Harris joked.

Tuinei Not Surprised by Thomas' Decision
Oregon wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei knew the Rose Bowl would be the final game of his collegiate career. He went out in style, with a career-high 158 yards and two touchdowns.

No one expected that the quarterback who threw him those passes would also be making his last appearance as a Duck, as Darron Thomas confounded most draft experts by bypassing his senior season and a chance at a potential third-consecutive Pac-12 championship.

Not Tuinei.

"It didn't catch me by surprise. Darron is a great player. He's been overlooked. He is going to show out when he gets the opportunity and whoever gets him is going to be really lucky," he said.

"He is an NFL quarterback for sure."

Good Start
The first practice of an All-Star game might be expected to result in ragged play, but the National team under coach Dick Vermeil had no such opening day jitters.

"I was amazed how quickly these kids assimilated all the information and then went on the field and practiced it. It was amazing," he said. "You would think they were practicing for a week together."

Part of the credit might belong to the familiarity Vermeil has with his staff, as all but one of his 12 assistants played for or coached with him previously.

Martz Effect
Mike Martz, who served as Vermeil's offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl-winning 1999 team, announced his retirement Tuesday, but Vermeil hoped he might reconsider.

"Mike Martz is truly a great football coach," Vermeil said. "I'm sorry to see him retire. I hope he doesn't regret it, but he hasn't been able to find the right environment, the right situation that allowed him to be all he could be for one reason or another.

"I think it's a mistake because he has so much left to give the game."

Martz resigned his position with the Chicago Bears on Jan. 3, never able to recapture the magic of his record-setting offenses either as Vermeil's successor in St. Louis or an assistant.

Coincidentally, Harris said his new scheme at Miami this past season relied on many of the concepts Martz and Vermeil used to such great success.

"It's crazy because my offensive coordinator Coach (Jedd) Fisch, all we did was watch the St. Louis Rams," Harris said.

"It did change football," he added. "It just shows that those guys are great coaches. They had players that listened and bought in to what they believed in and their system and made it work.

"It was ‘The Greatest Show on Turf.'"

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