Charles Harris has gone from draft bust to Detroit Lions sack leader: ‘Man on a mission’

Detroit Free Press

Charles Harris is on a hot streak like he has not seen since college.

An outside linebacker who has played a more prominent role than anticipated this season because of injuries to Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara, Harris has one sack in each of the Detroit Lions’ past four games and a career-high four sacks on the season.

Like a shooter who catches fire on the basketball court, Harris said he feels “locked in” right now.

“My vision, it zeroes in,” Harris said. “And I think that’s the biggest thing, I’m locked in, I’m on a routine. We’re actually practicing every single day the same drills, same techniques, and I think that’s what heightens is just your attention to detail, making sure you’re doing the same things if not more to keep the production going, if not surpass, and that’s kind of where I’m looking. I’m looking to go higher and better versus being stagnant or falling off.”

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Considered a first-round bust in the years after the Miami Dolphins made him the 22nd pick of the 2017 draft, Harris has rejuvenated his career in his fifth NFL season and first in Detroit.

He has more sacks this fall than he had in three seasons with the Dolphins (3.5), and one year after being traded to the Atlanta Falcons for a seventh-round draft pick, Harris is an every-down player for the first time as a pro.

“I think we all know his story about the NFL, came in as a first-round pick and people — we had a very open conversation about this — viewed him as kind of an underachiever,” Lions outside linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said. “I never did. It was certain situations where schematically it was things he was being asked to do previous when I went back and watched his tape that didn’t fit his play style, really.

“And a lot of things go into this, it’s a lot of dynamics, but the No. 1 thing is since Day 1 of training camp, since Charles Harris walked in this door, he’s been a man on a mission. And it was clear and evident to this entire staff that he was out to prove something to not only us but the entire league.”

Harris appeared ticketed for duty as a situational pass rusher when he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Lions in March.

He had a strong training camp, played well in a backup role Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers, and had his first sack of the season a week later in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Green Bay Packers.

When Flowers missed the next two games with knee and shoulder injuries, Harris filled in seamlessly in the starting lineup. When Okwara suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in a Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears, Harris became a full-time starter.

“You saw previously guys worked him inside, 5 technique, even in some systems all the way down to the 4i, and that’s not what he’s built to do,” Sheppard said. “He’s built, in my opinion … to play on the edge. He’s a very physical, a quick-twitchy player so he gets on and off of blocks well and he does things that a lot of other people — you have to have a motor to do a lot of the things that Charles Harris does on tape, and it’s non-stop from the first whistle to the last.”

One of college football’s most productive edge rushers in three seasons at Missouri, Harris said he never felt out of place bouncing around the defensive line his first few years in the NFL, though he acknowledged he is playing a role more suited to his skill set now.

His four sacks — one more than he had in 13 games with the Falcons last season — have come a variety of ways, and with a variety of pass rush moves.

Against the Packers, Harris beat left tackle Elgton Jenkins with a bull rush to haul down Aaron Rodgers. Against the Baltimore Ravens, he benefitted from great coverage to sack Lamar Jackson as Jackson tried to escape the pocket. And the past two weeks, he beat overmatched tight ends Cole Kmet and Ben Ellefson with power moves.

Harris said his production through five weeks is “a testament to the guys I play with,” and said he has not changed much about his approach from early in his career.

“If I had the secret answer I would have done it a long time ago,” he said. “I can’t really place it all on the individual, on myself. Just kept my faith and just going hard every day, listening to the coaches, just doing my job, so that’s really what it’s all about.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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