After a strong training camp and preseason, Vikings middle linebacker Napoleon Harris considers last season to be nothing more than a blip on the radar screen. History will show, Harris hopes, that 2005 will be the exception to his NFL career, not the rule.
After being a starter in the middle for the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of his career, Harris was packaged with the draft pick that eventually led to Troy Williamson and dealt to Minnesota for Randy Moss prior to the 2005 season. But Sam Cowart, a former disciple of then-defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell in Buffalo, held the middle linebacker spot most of last season, making Harris the odd man out, which led to his rotation to the outside.
Cowart is gone. So, too, is Cottrell. But Harris' presence has never been more strongly felt at Winter Park and after a successful preseason, it appears the Vikings are comfortable with their man in the middle.
"He's the guy that has to look the other 10 guys in the eyes every snap, and he has to have a calming effect and demeanor about him," defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said. "Napoleon has been doing some good things."
There were a variety of factors why Harris made limited contributions in his first year with the Vikings. Some coaches exercised loyalty to other players. Harris' attitude became a concern, some said. And he was coming off a knee injury with the Raiders that might have played a role in his productivity. In limited play last season, Harris made 25 tackles and registered one sack.
"I have no doubt in my mind I am going to play better this year," Harris said at the beginning of training camp.
After an entire preseason schedule it appears his foreshadowing is correct. Harris has welcomed his homecoming to the middle and seems to have adjusted well to Tomlin's newly-instituted "Tampa-2" defense.
"It hasn't been too much of a big adjustment," Harris said. "I think the biggest adjustment has been calling out the plays of the defense and getting the defense to communicate. But after that, once you're off the ball you're off the ball and it's all gap responsibility after that."
New head coach (Brad Childress). New coordinator (Tomlin). New defensive scheme (Tampa-2). New position (middle linebacker). New role (quarterback of defense). New attitude (fresh start).
Harris is ready for the 2006 season to begin.
"I'm definitely more comfortable being that this is my second year (with the Vikings)," said Harris, 6-2 and 225 pounds. "At the same time, it's a new beginning because we've got a new coaching staff and new everything, so it takes some time to get adjusted to it. But I think it's a great thing because being here the whole offseason, learning the new system, learning what's expected of me, learning what's expected of my teammates... Once we all get on the same page everything should jell and work smoothly."
Harris Refreshed with 'New Everything'
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