Harris wasn’t allowed to make a slow transition to active roster. Instead, he went from the practice squad to starting against one of the NFL’s hottest quarterbacks in Carson Palmer. While Harrison Smith recovered from injury, Harris was thrown into the fire and held up well.
“I made sure I paid attention a lot last year coming into the spring and then all throughout training camp and throughout the season. I think I was able to build and take strides,” Harris said. “There was a point where I got a lot of the defenses down to where I could start to analyze things. Now I’m just trying to fine tune that area and build on what I know of the defense and continue to learn on some of the defense I might have struggled with last year.”
The undrafted rookie had surgery after his final season at Virginia and was forced to watch and learn rather than practice and learn during his first offseason in the NFL. But, gradually, he went from learning the defensive calls to becoming familiar enough with that first step to take his maturation to the second step – assessing the offenses he was playing against.
“Just pairing together how we’re going to get our calls on defense versus what personnel and stuff we get on offense, I’m able to think ahead a little bit before the offense comes out – how the information applies so I can put myself in the right position instead of playing behind the 8-ball,” he said.
This year, Harris could be in contention for an increased role from the outset, but so far Andrew Sendejo has been the starting safety opposite Smith in offseason practices.
“It’s still a work in progress. We’re trying to look at all the different guys,” Zimmer said earlier this month. “You know Griffin is still learning. I like some of the things that Kearse is doing. You know Exum is athletic. Anthony Harris very seldom makes mistakes and Sendejo is solid like he usually is. So, we just have to keep going. One thing I try not to do, especially in OTAs where we’re not in pads, is try to jump to some kind of conclusion of who should be the starter. I’ll kind of let that play out in camp.”
Harris was mainly relegated to second- and third-team reps in offseason practices, but at least he was practicing. Off the field, his focus was on getting back to a manageable playing weight after losing muscle while he was idle following surgery last offseason.
He had dropped to 185 pounds.
“Coming off of injury and not having an offseason last year I just wanted to get in the weight room, get my strength back, get my weight back up, work on the explosion and different things of that sort,” Harris said. “It was just kind of an all-around thing that I wanted to get better in all aspects.”
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Now, he’s up to 197 pounds and looking to build on a rookie season in which he gained some valuable experience and NFL coaching.
“I think the coaches did a good job of staying on me all throughout training camp, throughout the season and getting me prepared for whatever may happen in the future,” he said. “I think they do a good job here of developing players, so I think it worked to my benefit that they did a good job trying to develop me and just tried to stay focused. I was able to take in information and be ready to go in when my number was called.”