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Chris Harris has versatility to hunt down receivers across the field.
It’s hard to compare the Broncos’ Chris Harris to other NFL cornerbacks, because he isn’t quite like any of them. Or better yet, they aren’t like him.
Make your list of the NFL’s shutdown cornerbacks and the Carolina Panthers’ Josh Norman, the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, the Arizona Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson and the New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis all are sure to get recognition. But none of those players displays the defensive versatility Harris does.
Harris starts on the outside but often moves inside when the defense goes with five defensive backs.
Harris isn’t limited to the left or right side, outside or inside. Wherever a receiver lines up, Harris will play him man-to-man.
“He’s got some real good hips, man,” cornerback Aqib Talib said. “And when you have real good hips like that, you can stay square in your ‘off ’ coverage and your ‘press’ coverage. That’s what makes Chris different from other corners.”
Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips calls more man-to-man coverage than anyone else in the league. The players take pride in it.
Phillips has the confidence in Harris and Talib to dare opposing offenses to beat them. For the most part, they don’t.
Harris was the best slot cornerback in football statistically this year, yielding 0.44 yards per coverage snap, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I’m kind of like the quarterback,” Harris said, “being able to orchestrate a lot of things out there on the field and being able to run different schemes and coverages.”
The most recent Broncos player with the versatility of Harris was 12time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
Harris was undrafted after starring at Kansas and earned his way onto the Broncos’ roster in 2011.
Talib credits Harris for his hips. Harris points to his technique. Receivers never seem to get much separation, and if they do, Harris has the speed to get back and break up a play.
“That’s just Chris. That’s just how God put him together,” Talib said. “You can either move like that or you can’t move like that, and Chris can move like that. That’s his strength.”
Harris has been the Broncos’ most dependable defensive player. He has played 1,063 snaps, or 97 percent of the defensive plays, most on the team and fifth among NFL cornerbacks.
Now, he has a deep left shoulder bruise that left his arm dead for the last three quarters against San Diego on Jan. 3. Harris said he’ll be ready to go Sunday when the Broncos play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. No way he’d miss this game.
“We’ve matched up Chris on a lot of great players this year,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “We put him in some tough positions.”
The roughest spot for Harris this season was three weeks ago when he had arguably the worst game of his career against Pittsburgh. Steelers receiver Antonio Brown torched Harris for 12 catches, 137 yards and two touchdowns on 13 balls thrown his way. To be fair, Brown does it to almost every cornerback he faces.
Harris said after the game that he let a questionable pass-interference call get in his head, and he owned his role in the loss.
“Wade puts all of the responsibility on us to make a lot of plays,” said Harris, who was a second-team all-pro and a Pro Bowl selection for the second consecutive season. “If I don’t play well, we usually lose.”
Harris hadn’t allowed a touchdown in more than two years before Brown beat him. Harris has that bad game on his mind. He believes it kept him from being selected first-team all-pro.
Sunday Harris gets his chance for redemption.
“You know what happened last time, so it’s just another chance to go prove yourself,” safety Darian Stewart said. “You all-pro? You go handle your business.”
Footnote: The Broncos on Tuesday signed tight end Manasseh Garner, punter Will Johnson and offensive tackle Darrion Weems to future contracts. Future contract players will be added to the roster March 9.
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft gets wrapped up by Broncos cornerback Chris Harris during their game in Denver in the regular season. Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post