Harris Lends Helping Hand

Posted Aug 30, 2011

In an illustrious career that has spanned 13 seasons, Rams cornerback Al Harris has pretty much done it all.

Harris has been to Pro Bowls, he’s earned a Super Bowl ring and he’s been a part of rebuilding processes that end with a whole lot of wins.

So it came as no surprise during the offseason when Harris signed with the Rams rather than retire following an injury-plagued 2010 season.

“Just coming off an injury, you can’t leave when you’re hurt,” Harris said. “You can never leave when you’re hurt, so you always leave when you’re strong.”

Bound and determined to retire from the game on his own terms, Harris opted to sign with the Rams and to play for coach Steve Spagnuolo, whom Harris played for in Philadelphia when Spagnuolo was the team’s defensive backs coach early in the decade.

“I love the game man, love the game,” Harris said. “I’ve still got something to prove. I’m here to help win. Spags is a great guy. I remember him from back in Philly. I’m just trying to help build something.”

Harris knows a thing or two about building something. When he arrived in Philadelphia, the Eagles were searching for some consistency. By the time he left, the Eagles were competing for Super Bowls on a yearly basis.

When Harris left for Green Bay, the Packers were similarly inconsistent and when he left Wisconsin, the Packers won a world championship (Harris got a ring despite finishing last season in Miami).

That experience and knowledge can be particularly valuable to a Rams team that seems poised for a breakthrough of its own.

“Well, I have been in this situation before, not so much coming off injury but to help build,” Harris said. “We weren’t always the best teams in Philly or Green Bay so you help build by working. The things that were passed on to me, I can pass on to the young guys.”

Harris’ knowledge isn’t limited to winning. He’s quite familiar with the basic concepts of Spagnuolo’s defense though he acknowledges that things such as terminology and techniques have changed since he was last in the scheme.

“Yeah, it’s some of the stuff we did but just a little…Spags has put his little touch on it which is what pretty much every guy should do,” Harris said. “If I was in that position I would do the same thing.”
For now, Harris’ role with the team remains to be seen. He’s worked with the second team outside at cornerback behind Bradley Fletcher and Ron Bartell though the Rams have experimented with kicking Bartell inside in nickel packages with Harris stepping in on the outside.

“Whatever they need me to do is how I look at it,” Harris said. “I see the young guys and I want to help them. However they do it, whatever they need me on defense, I am more than willing to get in there and help out.”

If nothing else, Harris’ knowledge of the position and his long resume of success there is something Spagnuolo thinks will greatly benefit the team’s younger corners. 

"I think he's a great influence on the rest of the guys in that group, because he's been through it," Spagnuolo said. "He's been doing it a long time. We put a lot of value on press corners, and Al has done that for a long time. So hopefully, by osmosis here, some guys will learn something and he'll play some good football, too."

LINEBACKER DANCING: Upon the release of Na’il Diggs on Monday, it became clear the Rams feel pretty good about free-agent signees Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber on the outside.

Spagnuolo said that duo fared well in its first start together last week against Kansas City.

“Both (were) solid,” Spagnuolo said. “I think they’re both still feeling their way through the defense and there was a couple of things there that they probably weren’t used to. I think every time they, every rep they get they get a little bit more and more comfortable but, I thought they were pretty solid.”

Clearly, Poppinga was solid enough to essentially solidify his position but Leber is catching on quick too.

“He gets more and more comfortable with the mental part of our system every day,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s what good veterans do. He’s got the physical part of it.”

FORGOTTEN MAN?: The competition at wide receiver has clearly been the most hotly contested in this year’s preseason.

Spagnuolo said Saturday that he didn’t think there was a whole lot of clarity for who will make it at that position just yet. Then, the team trimmed the ranks by two in cutting Joe West and Jared Jenkins on Sunday.

While making plays on offense is a big part of being on the roster, the players near the bottom of the depth chart also must contribute on special teams. That’s why a player like Dominique Curry can’t be counted out yet.

Curry made the roster last year and was viewed by Rams coaches as a potential star on special teams, even blocking a punt early in the season before a knee injury ended his season prematurely.

In this camp, Curry has been limited by a hand injury as a receiver which could make landing a spot difficult but he continues to be a standout on special teams.

“Well, he’s been a consistent key guy for (Special Teams Coordinator) Tom McMahon on special teams and that hasn’t changed,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s battled his hand injury and hasn’t been over there catching passes as a wide receiver, but the tricky part there will be can you keep somebody on your roster that just does special teams? That’s why Dominique has to hopefully get some reps as a wide receiver. The thing that’s kind of held him back is the hand injury, but he did perform really well last night in each phase of the special teams game.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams got down to their 80-man roster on Tuesday by placing defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo and cornerbacks Dionte Dinkins and Mikail Baker on the waived/injured list.

It’s possible Dinkins and Baker could be brought back for practice squad purposes when they heal up but Cudjo is not eligible after playing in 10 games last year.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (calf) will not make the trip to Jacksonville. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins did some individual work but nothing in team drills.

Harris returned to practice after sitting out Monday.