When a new coach or coordinator comes to an organization, they often bring with them opinions on players they have coached before. A lot has been made about the elevation of wide receiver Charles Johnson to the starting lineup given his history with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but Johnson isn’t the only player with ties to Turner that is in the starting lineup.
Offensive tackle Mike Harris started 12 of 20 games he played in his first two NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers – the first of which he played under Turner, who was the Chargers’ head coach at the time. When Harris was waived by San Diego on Aug. 31, the Vikings claimed him. He is convinced it was his history with Turner that persuaded the Vikings to bring him to back up right tackle Phil Loadholt.
“To be honest, I think he’s a big reason I’m here,” Harris said. “I’m very fortunate that Coach Turner believes in me and trusts me in a starting position. He is a guy that I’ve looked up to ever since I came into the league. It’s motivation for me to go out there every day in practice to maintain that relationship. I’m really happy he’s here and brought me in to play here.”
One of the bonuses for both Turner and Harris was that they worked together in Turner’s offensive system. While many schemes are similar, one of the hurdles many players face in a new system is the terminology that is used when calling plays. No two systems are identical, so having that familiarity is a huge plus for Harris.
The biggest change he has seen is the difference in quarterbacks in the Turner offense. Philip Rivers is essentially a statue who moves with the speed of a tectonic plate, while Teddy Bridgewater is significantly more mobile and able to make plays with his feet that were all but impossible with the Chargers.
“The terminology and the play-calling are pretty much such the same, so it wasn’t as hard to learn the system as it might have been in a completely different system,” Harris said. “But with Teddy at quarterback we have a lot more versatility in the offense because he can run more than we had in San Diego. We have more plays that are designed to get him on the move or get him loose. But, other than that, there are a lot of similarities and it’s pretty much the same.”
When Harris arrived, he wasn’t expecting a starting job. Prior to his pectoral injury against the Packers Nov. 23, Loadholt had missed just two games in his six-year career. Harris was expecting to do most of his work in practice, but, thrust into the starting lineup, things changed in a hurry for him.
“It’s a lot different now,” Harris said. “Mentally, you’re preparing to play my opponent and going up against him for 60 or 70 plays. It’s a lot more film study and a lot more focusing on technique in practice – visualizing things I’ll have to get done on Sunday in practice.”
Getting back into the swing of things the following week against Carolina, Harris found out the hard way that practice can’t replicate the hitting and violence of starting. He went up against Carolina the following week – his first start as a Viking – and quickly learned that he would have to push himself to the extreme.
The immediate byproduct was that when his alarm went off Monday morning, it took him longer than usual to get out bed and he felt as wiped out as he had in a long time.
“I was exhausted,” Harris said. “It wasn’t just being physically exhausted, you’re mentally drained as well. That three hours on Sunday, you have to be in tune from the first play to the time the whistle blows at the end. But I’m enjoying it. I think each week I’m getting better and will have a big test this week with Miami.”
That test is going to come in the form of defensive end Cameron Wake. A ferocious pass rusher, he leads the Dolphins with 9.5 sacks and is going to give Harris everything he can handle.
“He’s a physical guy,” Harris said. “He has a good get-off off the ball. He likes to pass rush. I’m going to have to make sure I’m on my game and get physical with him. I’m sure I’ll be fine with a good week of preparation and just let it go on Sunday.”
Harris came from a successful franchise in San Diego and sees many of the same qualities with the Vikings. They’ve become increasingly more competitive as the team gets more comfortable in the new system and he sees the Vikings as a team on the rise that he is glad to be a part of. It’s one thing to be a cog in the machine when an established team is riding the crest of the wave, it’s another to be a part of the building process.
As an outsider coming into the Vikings, Harris doesn’t know what the offense is like with Adrian Peterson charging past him. From what he’s seen from the Vikings offense and a defense that has been the team’s calling card all season, he sees the Vikings as a team poised to make some noise moving forward.
“Almost every game that we’ve lost this year, we’ve been in it right to the end,” Harris said. “In quite of few of them, it has been a couple of plays here and there that have been the difference. We’ve had the opportunity to win a bunch of them. I see really good things for this team. Teddy is young – the sky’s the limit with him – and this offensive line is one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of. I think we have the players to go a long way.”
However the Vikings are configured next year – A.P. or no A.P. heading up that list – the rash of injuries the Vikings have suffered through this season has allowed “the next men up” to state their case.
When hard times hit, guys like Harris and a dozen other players have put themselves into the 2015 equation for roster spots. They have two more games to show what they can do under the spotlight and make their case for the camps that encompass the competition for roster spots.
Harris is looking as the next two games as a way to solidify his spot in that equation. The second Mike Zimmer training camp is going to be full of roster spots up for grabs.
“Definitely – that’s the NFL for you,” Harris said. “I know I’ve got to finish this season strong, show the coaches I can play and that I can be a starter in this league. At that point, you just let the cards fall how they’re going to fall. Competition makes everybody better and I look forward to battling for a spot. ”
Harris making case for his future
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