There is something special about players going up against a team they used to play for. Some players will downplay it as being just another game. Others will let it be known that it means a lot, such as when Brett Favre was heading to Green Bay as an enemy for the first time – apparently a crime worthy of five years of shunning.
Vikings guard Mike Harris has been finding his whirlwind of a second season in Minnesota a daily challenge. He’s playing a position he’s never played before, he has a rookie on his right shoulder and, as a fourth-year player, he is looking at free agency at the end of the season and the more positives he can put on tape, the better.
Throw in that, on Sunday, he’s going up against his former team and friends he still has warm feelings toward and the saga of Harris’ 2015 is getting more complicated all the time.
Harris wasn’t shy about saying that he has a little extra motivation going up against his former teammates. He has a wealth of inside information on them that his offensive teammates don’t and going up against them with the bullets flying instead of practice is something he’s looking forward to.
Is there is a little extra juice for this game?
“Of course there is,” Harris said. “I’m thankful for the Chargers and everything they’ve done for me. It will be nice to get after those guys. I know Coach (John) Pagano is a great defensive coordinator and he’s going to have something special lined up with good pressure packages. As an offensive line, we’re going to have to be prepared to pick them up.”
It became obvious that Harris has strong ties to San Diego when it came to discussing the little things that teammates pick up on during the drudgery of going up against them for thousands of practice snaps. While there isn’t a lot of full-fledged hitting, there are times when they’re going full out and they learn how the handle one another in practice. Players try to perfect a new arsenal of move moves and techniques against one another. They know the things the other is working on because they’re viewed as deficiencies.
Harris has a full dossier on his former defensive teammates and knows that it goes the other way as well. Although he’s facing them for the first time, it was clear that Harris has plenty of experience going up against San Diego’s standout defensive tackle Corey Liuget, defensive end Kendall Reyes and linebackers Melvin Ingram, Manti Te’o and Donald Butler.
They’re still on a first-name basis after almost two years apart.
“Most of them are still the same guys,” Harris said. “Corey, Kendall, Manti, Donald and Melvin, I played against all of those guys in practice. Going up against them for 2½ years, I know what kind of players they are. I’m familiar with all of them and all I can say is it’s going to be a good matchup because we’re going to have to be on our game because I know that they’ll be on theirs. I know some little things about them, but it goes both ways. They know my strengths and weaknesses as well.”
With Adrian Peterson coming off an impressive game against Detroit last week, the focus Pagano and his defense are going to bring to stop Peterson and apply pressure up the middle is going to be intense – not like it isn’t that way every game A.P. is on the schedule. But that interior pressure is going to be coming head-on to Harris and he’s ready to take on the challenge of his old defensive running buddies.
“Last week, we were able to run the ball like we know we could,” Harris said. “They know that and, like every week, their goal is going to be to stop the run game because we have a great back coming at them that is very important to our offense. We’re looking forward to making it a long day for them.”
Harris believes he showed a great deal of improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, but he isn’t anointing himself as The Man just quite yet. He sees the incremental improvement coming, with himself and the line as a whole, but knows that he is far from a polished product.
The change from tackle to guard doesn’t happen overnight, but the biggest improvement Harris sees himself making is in the mental aspect of the game. He is now seeing the defense at all three levels. It’s a lot on his plate and he’s mindful that it is a learning process.
“It’s a work in progress,” Harris said. “I know every day I’m learning different techniques. I’m becoming a student of the game as well – being able to pick up the things that the center – (John) Sullivan and Joe (Berger) – have to be responsible for. I’m learning to do that as well, because I know I have a young rookie tackle (T.J. Clemmings) that relies on me for help.”
On game day, much of the focus of media attention will be Norv Turner going up against his old team. But Turner won’t be on the field taking lumps from his friends.
Harris will be.
As a result, friendships he has made, maintained and will continue to have into the future will take a three-hour hiatus Sunday.
“Friendship takes a back seat,” Harris said. “We’re going to be getting after one another. The Vikings are my team now. For us, it’s another game we must win. For me, it’s exciting to go up against guys I’ve hung out with and spent a lot of time with. I look forward to the matchup.”