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A little piece on Harris..

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by Pack93z, Oct 25, 2007.

  1. Pack93z

    Pack93z You retired too? .... Not me. I'm in my prime

    Aug 1, 2005
    Hopefully this year gets him to Hawaii.. it is long overdue.


    Al Harris can't win. He wants to be known as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and he wants to make the Pro Bowl. In pursuit of those goals, he has worked to perfect his technique, studied hour upon hour of film and consistently shut down the best receivers in the game. And that's the problem. The better he gets, the lower his profile.

    If it's possible for unimpressive stats to be vastly impressive, that's the case with Harris. He doesn't get many interceptions because offenses are afraid of him -- and because his guy is never open. In the same way, his tackle numbers are meager because there's nobody to tackle. That might sound like hooey, but it's not. Harris always covers the opponent's best receiver, and he's on pace for only 37 stops.

    There's more in this less-is-more vein. Charles Woodson, the Packers' other cornerback, credits Harris' stifling coverage for Woodson's setting a career high in interceptions last year (eight). Although Harris appreciates the compliment, the two compete against each other and Harris wanted more than his three picks in '06. Says Woodson: "Al went up to (Jets quarterback Chad Pennington) and said, 'Don't you see the man picking the ball off every week? Throw me one!' "

    If it's possible for somebody to be considered underrated by a lot of people, that's the case with Harris. His teammates, opposing wide receivers, former teammates, TV commentators, Harris himself -- everybody thinks he deserves more credit. Even now, there's a fair chance you're still wondering, who the heck is Al Harris? Maybe you don't know his name because you never see it. It's right there, on his jersey, but it's obscured.

    His mane covers his name.
    He's the dude with the dreads [​IMG]
    who tears big-name receivers to shreds.

    Harris is a big reason the Green Bay defense is one of the best in the league, if not the best. The team is 5-1, and the NFC North is the Packers' to lose. And though a certain quarterback has gotten the majority of the attention, the defense is the real story in Green Bay. It's a story with 11 main characters -- not a Ray Lewis and 10 Other Guys script. "It's hard to put a face on our defense because we have so many guys who are talented and make plays," middle linebacker Nick Barnett says.

    Th at might sound like more hooey. But it's not. Talk to experts about this defense and they'll keep changing the subject. Not to the offense but to a different part of the defense. A guy will be extolling the virtues of one player, stop and say, "But hold on, the guy I really like is ... "

    The scheme is a vicious cycle that begins and ends with press coverage from the cornerbacks. They disrupt receivers' timing, which allows the linemen to get to the quarterback without much need for blitzing help. And the linemen are so good, they force opposing quarterbacks to rush their throws, which makes the defensive backs' jobs easier. Meanwhile, the linebackers swarm all over.

    The defense started dominating opponents at the end of last season as the players became more comfortable in the scheme and with one another. "We've had a year, all of us, as starters," Woodson says. "We had the heartbreaking games, we had the games where big plays killed us. A lot of those things we've learned from. We know where to be, where to make our plays."

    The Pack's defensive strength, like Harris', does not show up on the stat sheet -- outside of wins and losses -- but opponents are aware of it. "Our defensive coaches were the first to tell us, 'When you get to the Packers, you're going to have a problem,' " Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said before a Week 6 matchup. Those coaches proved prophetic .

    The Packers' defense dominated the Redskins in the second half, allowing Green Bay to pull out a 17-14 win despite an atrocious performance by the offense. In addition to scoring the winning touchdown, the defense clamped down on Washington and made play after play.

    Strong safety Atari Bigby is named for a Japanese word for attack, so guess how he plays? Against Washington, he stopped Clinton Portis on third-and-1 on a key drive in the fourth quarter, forcing the Redskins to punt. On Washington's first play on the next drive, Bigby helped force a fumble.

    It would be too cool if the defense had someone named Colecovision. As it is, Barnett is starting to make a name for himself. When the defensive linemen keep blockers off him, he roams from sideline to sideline and makes plays. He stopped Ladell Betts on fourth-and- 2 on a key fourth quarter drive, and Betts never got within the length of one of Harris' dreads of the first-down marker.

    In typical Harris fashion, his biggest contribution nearly got lost in the rain that pelted Lambeau Field. He was still playing bump-and-run with 1:14 left in the game and Green Bay clinging to a 3-point lead, when most cornerbacks would be in bend-but-don't-break mode. Harris' guy -- Brandon Lloyd -- didn't make it 5 yards before he was eating turf, the victim of a perfectly legal shove after he turned his shoulder in, a Harris trademark. Quarterback Jason Campbell, flushed from the pocket, was forced to throw the ball away as Harris, his man lying uselessly on the ground, bore in on him, dreads streaming out of his helmet like angry snakes.

    After Harris, the best defensive player on the team probably is left end Aaron Kampman, who made the Pro Bowl last season . Just as the defense excels because it is solid throughout, Kampman excels because his game is solid throughout -- moves, leverage, strength, speed and hard work. Which is fine by Kampman. He doesn't want to be known for one thing. He wants to bring plenty of all of it.

    Against Washington, he did. He stuffed the run, he drew double-teams, he was everywhere. Or maybe it just seemed like he was everywhere because of his size. He's 6-4, 270, with arms so long he could clean his gutters without a ladder. And those arms are as powerful as they are long. Kampman bulled past lineman Stephon Heyer for two sacks in the fourth quarter, the second time pushing him so hard that Heyer hurt his plant leg. "Our philosophy is to disrupt, to dictate, not be dictated to," Kampman says.

    If Kampman isn't the unit's second-best player, Woodson, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is. It's a measure of how good Harris is that based on matching up with opposing receivers, Woodson is the team's second corner. It is almost without question that the two constitute the best cornerback duo in the game.

    Though his technique isn't as good as Harris', Woodson is faster and he still has the knack for making plays. Against Washington, he had an interception in the second quarter and the play of the game in the third. After tackle Corey Williams forced a fumble, Woodson, who was on the ground at the time, slid over Santana Moss, picked up the ball and ran 57 yards for the winning touchdown. Harris ran from across the field to slow Campbell's pursuit just enough to allow Woodson to score. Maybe Harris just wanted to be in Woodson's camera shot. Can't let him get all the love.

    Here's some for Harris. Lions wide receiver Roy Williams calls him the best cornerback in the game. Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson has called him "ridiculously good." Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad says he does a "great job."

    Despite those accolades, Harris, 32, has never been voted to the Pro Bowl. Which is totally a bunch of hooey. But that day has to be coming soon, doesn't it? This is a talented, hard-working, well-liked guy whose skills and derring-do are uniquely suited to the job he has. "This scheme just fits me," Harris says.

    It's a scheme that rewards aggressive play and punishes mistakes. Though Harris rarely gets burned, he commits a lot of penalties. He got his nickname, "Dirty One, " after a particularly hard foul when he was with the Eagles. A ref admonished him, "That's dirty, 31," and that became Dirty One.

    When done properly, bump-and-run coverage is effective because it knocks receivers off their routes and messes up the timing of offenses. But if it's done wrong -- if the bump doesn't slow the receiver -- the cornerback can be out of position when the play is just a few steps old.

    Harris thrives on that tension of being one misstep from someone else's highlight reel, even if doing his job well means he'll never have his own reel. Harris pops the receiver he is covering on virtually every play, unheard of in the NFL today. ("He gets off the bus playing man-to-man, press coverage," Muhammad says.) But there's always a pregnant pause, as if maybe this play he'll let the guy go untouched. Harris isn't teasing his opponent; he's watching him. "I'm going to let them declare whatever way they want to go. Then I'm going to disrupt the route," he says. "If he's going outside, I'm trying to push him out of bounds. If he's going inside, a lot of guys dip their shoulder, I'm just going to lean on the shoulder and push him to the ground."

    That approach requires perfect technique, which he needs because he lacks great speed. He's not the tortoise with the hair, but he can't afford to let guys get behind him unmolested. "Your technique has to be king," says Ron Pitts, a former Packers defensive back who now calls games for FOX and loves Harris' technique. "It's not about speed. Speed helps, but speed without technique is like a Ferrari without brakes."

    Even now, in his 10th year in the league, Harris works on his technique constantly. He has developed his own mantra: Stay square. From the time he lines up to the time he smacks the receiver, his hips and shoulders remain parallel to the line of scrimmage. "If I ever get turned," he says, "the guy's gone, he's running his route."

    After administering the bump, Harris runs -- and likely knows exactly where the guy is going. Harris watches a lot of video because it gives him clues about receivers' routes.

    Harris traces his study habits to the way he made it to the NFL. He didn't come out of nowhere -- he came out of everywhere. He played high school football in Florida, then played two years for Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, followed by two more years at Division II Texas A&M-Kingsville. "I wouldn't trade my path for anything ," he says. "It humbled me. It made me more of a student of the game. I had to work harder than everybody else."

    Sometimes he must work hard just to find suitable tape of receivers facing bump-and-run because so few corners have the ability to play that style. He often has to watch himself in previous games against his opponents. But his film work pays off.. As Minnesota's Troy Williamson ran a deep route in Week 4, Harris broke early and deflected the pass. If it looked like he knew it was coming, it was because he did. Harris loves doing that, finding receivers' tells.

    But he needs to work on his own poker face; he goes out of his way to make it obvious that he knows what's coming. "I see a lot of receivers looking at me going, 'Augh!' "

    It sure beats, "Who are you?"

    Keep this under your hat


    Al Harris has not gotten a haircut since 1999. It's not a coincidence that that was Andy Reid's first year as coach of the Eagles, Harris' team at the time. Harris wanted to make a good first impression. Turns out Reid didn't care, so the locks flowed again.

    That wasn't the first time he had altered his appearance out of respect for his coaches. Ron Harms, the head coach at Texas A&M-Kingsville during Harris' two years there, says he never saw Harris without a hat on, so he never knew about the dreads. "I'm not sure he thought I'd be too excited about that," Harms says. "I wouldn't have done anything, but I wouldn't have been too excited about that."

    Harms was surprised to see the dreads once Harris started playing in the NFL. "My assistant coaches told me, 'Yeah, he had that when he was here.' "
  2. longtimefan

    longtimefan Super Moderator Staff Member Super Moderator

    Mar 6, 2005
  3. Greg C.

    Greg C. Cheesehead

    May 31, 2005
    Nice article. Thanks!

    I don't think Harris has even had a chance at a pick all year, which is typical because so few balls have been thrown in his direction.
  4. nathaniel

    nathaniel Cheesehead

    Jan 22, 2007
    "He doesn't get many interceptions because offenses are afraid of him -- and because his guy is never open."

    Love it.
  5. Timmons

    Timmons Cheesehead

    May 8, 2006
    I have to admit, I take Al for granted.
  6. Heatherthepackgirl

    Heatherthepackgirl Cheesehead

    Nov 22, 2005
    Al is the very best! Hope he makes the pro bowl this year he deserves it.
  7. Zero2Cool

    Zero2Cool I own a website

    Dec 11, 2004
    I opened up my laptop while on the can and seen this. Oh, a little piece? Okay, why not. I'll read it.

    it kept going

    and going

    and going

    and going

    and going...

    little my ***!
  8. Zombieslayer

    Zombieslayer Cheesehead

    Aug 12, 2006
    I'm going to be pissed if Al Harris isn't in the Pro Bowl this year. He takes out the #1 WR of the opposing team. One of the best in the NFL, and nobody knows who he is.
  9. MassPackersFan

    MassPackersFan Cheesehead

    Apr 18, 2007
    At least we know D. Hall won't be stealing a Pro Bowl spot from him or Woodson. :)

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