ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Chris Harris has come a long way from leading a 3-9 Kansas team and signing with the Broncos as an unheralded college free agent.
"My senior year was unfortunate, I wasn't on a good team and then I'm coming from a basketball program and my coaches didn't help me," Harris said of going undrafted. "When you get put in a situation like that, it's hard. It's easy for someone to fall through the cracks, and that was just my situation."
But the cornerback didn't take his opportunity for granted. He fought his way onto the roster, going on to play in all 16 games in 2011 to make the PFW/PFWA and Football Outsiders' NFL All Rookie Team.
Now entering his third season, Harris is coming off a year in which he tied for the team lead with three interceptions and was the league's only corner to record multiple picks and sacks.
"I feel like I am a starting corner in this league, easy," Harris said Tuesday. "I'm an undrafted guy that's taking advantage of the opportunity. That's the easiest way that I can describe it to you. I'm just taking advantage of the playing time I get."
Harris was a starter last season, opening a career-high 12 games. This offseason, the Broncos added another cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who might end up as the starter opposite Champ Bailey at outside cornerback. But even if Harris is designated as the team's nickel cornerback, he'll still see plenty of playing time -- nearly 70 percent of the snaps, in Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio's opinion -- and might even grab a handful of official "starts" if the opposing offense opens with three wide receivers.
But "starter" or not, Harris knows what he can do.
"You play with the Broncos, they're bringing in good guys every year -- you always have to be ready to play," he said of raising his game to compete with veterans. "Now I feel like I'm one of those guys. I'm going into my third year. I've played a lot and experienced a lot. Playoffs each year that I've been here and I've played well. That's definitely helped put me out there."
In 2013, Harris will have a chance no other corner that defends the slot has -- the opportunity to match up with arguably the best slot receiver in league history every day in practice.
"He's one of the best slot receivers, and I think I'm one of the best slot corners," Harris said of his daily battles with Wes Welker.
One of the most important traits that has helped him succeed as an inside cornerback, Harris said, is his knowledge of the game. It's a position that demands intelligence, as he'll have to communicate with the outside cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers.
"I have a lot of responsibility in this defense," Harris said. "Coach Jack (Del Rio), he puts a lot of responsibility on me and it comes easy to me because I know the whole system."
Now that the third-year cornerback has come into his own and has the trust of his coaches and teammates, he's looking to improve on his speed and strength to continue playing at a high level.
No matter where he lines up on the field, Harris is confident in what he can bring to the Broncos.
"I really see myself as a true corner that can play slot," he said. "The reason why I'm good at slot is because I know what I'm doing. I know the defense. I know the system. That's where I can communicate with linebackers, communicate with the safeties and put everybody in the right coverage. That's something that really sets me apart compared to a lot of DBs."