Detroit — Due to injury and illness, the Detroit Lions have needed to get creative in the secondary this season.
Nowhere has the creativity been greater than with the usage of third-year safety Will Harris in recent weeks. He went from playing every snap in his typical role, to moving to nickel cornerback after rookie AJ Parker was sidelined for three weeks with an ankle injury, to being unexpectedly shifted to outside cornerback against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Lions’ defensive backfield had been decimated by COVID the past week with safety Tracy Walker and four cornerbacks going on the list. Knowing the team might need some help, Harris volunteered his services wherever the coaches thought they could use him.
“It’s a credit to him,” coach Dan Campbell said. “He is like, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever you need.’ And that’s a credit to him.”
Harris said that’s been his mindset since arriving in Detroit as a third-round draft pick in 2019. And while he hadn’t played outside cornerback since high school, he trusted the coaches to put him in the right positions to perform.
“I’m just comfortable playing defensive back,” Harris said. “… There’s obviously a couple different intricacies in playing safety, playing nickel and playing corner, but at the same time, I’m up for the task. All it is is a lot of film study and just taking off the safety hat and putting on the nickel hat, or taking off the nickel hat and putting on the corner hat.”
Ultimately, he ended up playing a key role in Detroit’s outstanding defensive performance against the Cardinals. The opposition came into town averaging more than 27 points, but was held well under that mark in the Lions’ 30-12 victory.
“Mr. Do It All,” teammate Amani Oruwariye said about Harris’ performance. “That’s what we call him, Mr. Do It All. Nothing he can’t do. Knows the system like the back of his hand. He’s just a plug-and-play guy, so I thought he competed well.”
Harris had his 26th birthday on Sunday and noted there wasn’t a better way to celebrate than with a victory.
There was no immediate indication the Lions plan to keep Harris at cornerback. Campbell noted had rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu not been on the COVID/reserve list through Saturday, he probably would have been the team’s go-to choice.
But with depth still questionable following a season-ending ACL injury to Jerry Jacobs, it’s become increasingly clear the Lions won’t hesitate to use Harris anywhere in the back end of their defense.
“Any way I can help this team, I’m going to continue to do that,” Harris said.