The Minnesota Vikings needed a lot of young and inexperienced players to step up last Thursday when they took on the Arizona Cardinals because of injuries suffered to four defensive starters. One of those players was undrafted free agent rookie Anthony Harris.
Harris had spent the entire season on the Vikings practice squad, slowly coming along and learning the defense. Then on Tuesday, Dec. 8, just two days before their game against the Cardinals, the team announced that they were signing Harris off the practice squad and onto the active roster.
The rookie safety was asked to start the game alongside Terence Newman, who was moved from cornerback to safety. Harris joined linebackers Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway as the only three players to play in all 67 defensive snaps during the game. But with the addition of playing nine special teams snaps, Harris ended up playing more snaps on the football field than any other Vikings player with 76.
It was quite the change for a player who had been signed off the practice squad earlier that week, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer seemed to be happy with what he saw from his safety.
“I think he did good for the most part,” Zimmer said. “First time out, the game didn’t seem too big for him. He made some plays; it was a nice break on the one ball down the middle. He made some good tackles in the ballgame. He had some mistakes like everybody does, but I think he showed some good things.”
Harris ended the game tied with a team-high eight tackles and he also recorded a pass defensed, which came when he broke up what would have been a touchdown pass deep down the middle of the field. But Harris was also able to do some good things that did not record any stats.
One example was in the fourth quarter with 1:47 remaining in the game, which was tied at 20. The Cardinals were driving down the field and looking as though they had momentum toward a touchdown drive to go up by seven. Instead, on first down from the Vikings 23, Harris was able to assist in dropping Cardinals running back Kerwin Williams for a loss of 8 yards.
He lined up on the line of scrimmage as if he was going to rush in. Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald motioned in and lined up right in front of the rookie. When the ball was snapped, Harris gained leverage on Fitzgerald and moved him backwards into the running back. That caused the Williams to run backwards and Xavier Rhodes was able to drop him for a loss of 8 yards.
That was the start to the series that ended up killing the Cardinals drive and held them to a field goal, which then gave the Vikings a chance to tie or win the game with their final drive.
Harris was able to make plays that benefited his team on multiple occasions, but he also made some mistakes throughout the game. That was to be expected from a player who was making his first NFL start after being on the practice squad all season.
The most notable mistake came on the 42-yard touchdown to Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd. Both Floyd and Fitzgerald were left wide open on the right side of the field, and when Harris tried to move over to make a tackle he got upended by Fitzgerald and was left laying on his back while Floyd ran past him and into the end zone.
Harris would also give receivers too much cushion on multiple occasions, which would lead to some big passes down the middle of the field, but by doing that he also never got beat deep down the field – which could have been what the coaching staff wanted him to do.
Another thing the young safety still needs to work on is disguising the defenses. On multiple occasions throughout the game he would run up to the line of scrimmage, acting as though he was going to blitz, but then slowly hop around and move backwards before the ball was snapped. You could tell he was too anxious to get back so he did not get beat deep, but by dropping back early he could expose what the defense is trying to do and that could really hurt them against a veteran quarterback like Carson Palmer.
In the end, Harris’ performance on the field had to have been a pleasant surprise for Mike Zimmer. The rookie made some mistakes and there are some things he needs to clean up, but for the most part he played well, especially considering his inexperience.
“The good thing for him is he’s a very smart kid,” Zimmer said. “He understands concepts and understands things. He’s been sitting in meetings, so it’s not like we got him off of the street; he’s been in meetings. He wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he did some natural things out there. Considering he didn’t get a lot of time in the preseason because of an injury as well, it was good to see.”
It is unclear what the future holds for him, but the way he played had to at least earn him some consideration for more playing time down the road.