HARRIS JR. EXCELLING**
Chris Harris Jr. entered the league undrafted out of Kansas in 2011 and tore his ACL late last season. But this season he is playing lights out, quietly becoming one of the top defensive backs in the NFL. In fact, Pro Football Focus rates him as the top corner in the league.
When Jack Del Rio joined the Broncos' staff three years ago, Assistant Secondary Coach Sam Garnes told him: "You're going to love this guy."
Garnes was right.
With Sunday's game against the Dolphins approaching, the Broncos were honed in at practice on Thursday.
"He competes his butt off," Del Rio said. "He prepares very hard. He's very tenacious and that's how he approached his [ACL] injury and coming back from his injury. It was a major injury to come back from, but he attacked it and worked so hard every day. That's the way he plays for us. It doesn't surprise me because I watch the way he works, his work ethic. He's an intelligent player, super, super competitive, and that's what we love about him."
On Sunday, Shaun Hill threw in Harris' direction just three times and all fell incomplete. Harris enjoys that quarterbacks are afraid to throw at him and he's looking for more of those "shutouts."
Two days after that game in St. Louis, Harris attended former teammate Champ Bailey's retirement press conference. Harris always admired how Bailey was a true professional and how hard he worked every day. The 12-time Pro Bowler had some positive feedback regarding Harris' play: ""He's playing better than anybody in this league right now."
Del Rio sees similarities between Bailey and Harris.
"One thing I always spoke of regarding Champ is that he was a consummate pro and he attacked his job every day," Del Rio said. "He did not ever approach it like, 'I've got this. I'm a Pro Bowl corner. I've got it figured out.' It was never like that. It was always attention to detail and working hard on his skill, and that's what I see in Chris. I think that work ethic and being around a guy like Champ early in his career has been very beneficial. It's a credit to Chris to go with it and do it and make it who he is."
The Broncos are constantly watching and reviewing film – analyzing their technique and how they can improve. Today, in addition to the normal footage, they watched videos of sharks attacking seals.
That's how they want to pounce on the ball, like a predator attacking its prey.
The Broncos haven't had much luck on the defense when it comes to fumbles, as they have only gotten to two of their opponents' 10 fumbles. Del Rio noted that the Broncos were close to a potentially game-changing fumble when they were down by eight in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Near midfield, DeMarcus Ware came around the edge and sacked Hill, who fumbled the ball. But Hill landed perfectly on the ball, maintaining possession.
"We've had some unfortunate calls that were later said, 'Well, we might have missed that.' We have a couple other forced fumbles. We're getting the ball out. We track it," Del Rio said.
At this point last season, the Broncos had recovered four fumbles. Del Rio said the team continues to emphasize capitalizing on and creating those turnovers. The predators versus prey videos the Broncos watch change each week, but after this week, Del Rio may think twice about where he will go on vacation in the offseason.
"I'm still thinking about whether I'm going to get back in the ocean right now, so it's made an impression on me," he said.
Coming into the season, the Broncos had one of the youngest running back corps in the NFL. With Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman injured and questionable for Sunday's matchup against the Dolphins, it just got even younger and more inexperienced.
In fact, if Ball and Hillman are sidelined, all three of the Broncos' backs will be former undrafted players, with the most experienced player, C.J. Anderson, only in his second season. Rookies Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs sit behind him on the depth chart.
Anderson displayed explosiveness against the Raiders with 90 yards on 13 carries, in addition to a beautiful multiple-tackle-breaking 51-yard touchdown catch. But during Sunday's loss to St. Louis, he carried the ball nine times for 29 yards.
Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said he feels good with Anderson playing.
"He's shown the last couple of weeks what he can do and just him getting in the rotation has been an eye opening," Gase said. "We might have something good and you just don't know because he hadn't had an opportunity. He's taken most of the opportunity he's had and the rest of these guys it's just going to be, 'Make sure I know who's in the game and help them as much as possible' whether it be in the protection game or in the run game."
The Dolphins, with one of the best defenses in the NFL, sit No. 8 in rush defense. Gase said while protections can be challenging for young backs, it usually comes down to instincts when running the ball, which is why undrafted backs often have great professional careers.
"They just know once you give them the ball, they are just going to find the open hole and hit it. The good ones seem to develop quickly. I think that is why you see a lot of free agents come and have success. If you're in a complex system and the protections are tough, that is where guys struggle but if you're in something that is easy then you can have a lot of success," Gase said.