Allen Park — In his two seasons with the Detroit Lions, safety Will Harris has been one of the biggest enigmas on the roster.
Harris has all the physical ability you could want at the position. At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, he has the prototypical build for a safety. At the scouting combine, he posted better measurables, across the board, than teammate Tracy Walker, who has had his fair share of early career success.
Additionally, Harris is smart, hard-working and accountable. So the fact that things haven’t clicked for him through his first two seasons, despite playing nearly 1,000 defensive snaps, has been puzzling to say the least.
The early reviews of Harris from the new coaching staff have been overwhelmingly positive. Getting plenty of work opposite Walker with the first-team defense, the descriptor being most commonly thrown around is confidence.
“Confidence, knowing exactly what to do,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “Give him a job, and tell him he’s got to do his job well. And then competition. There’s no one that has a spot, even with Tracy. But the thing is, he bought into everything we were doing, and I like everything about that player right now.”
Harris joins a long list of players who have found a quick comfort level with the new staff, particularly the teachings of Glenn, who played in the league for 15 years, and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.
All offseason, coach Dan Campbell and Glenn spoke about the need to build up the confidence of players on the defense — a unit that finished with the worst yardage and point totals in franchise history a year ago — getting them to think less and react more.
“That’s just not football,” Glenn said. “You don’t want guys who have to think a lot. This is physical, fast and aggressive. Understand what your job is and go play. Don’t overcoach the player, but make sure you give the player enough nuggets so he can go out there and be successful. That’s what we try to do.”
Even though Harris was never singled out in those statements, he was easily one of the first players who came to mind.
“I’ve seen Will take major strides,” Walker said. “I feel like Will, one thing Will was struggling with was being more confident and understanding what he knows and just driving on his plays. Now, he just goes. He’s out there communicating and he’s as confident as I ever seen him. Like I said, he’s going to be somebody to reckon with this year.”
To be fair, Harris also spoke about his improving confidence ahead of his second season, and that didn’t translate as expected. We won’t really know if the new scheme and teachings are clicking until he gets into games, starting with the preseason opener next Friday against Buffalo at Ford Field.
“Throughout the work week, you think and you prepare all day long, but at the end of the day, when you get out there on the field, it’s time to apply what you learned in the classroom,” Harris said. “Obviously you have to critically think out on the field. But, overthinking is something that can set you back as well, which is something I’ve been getting out of my game recently. I’m having fun with it just being out there and just going. Taking what I’m learning in the classroom and just going.”