ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — No. 25 is back.
And being away wasn’t easy for cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
“It’s a relief [to be back],” said Harris hours after signing a new one-year contract with the Broncos. “You want to play football. That’s what I do. If anybody knows me, I’m football. I’ve got my kids and my wife — I take care of [them] and I’m straight football. This is all I do. To be away from it, it definitely [killed] me."
Harris attended his first voluntary OTA practice since signing his new contract, and the four-time Pro Bowler lined up in his familiar starting position.
“This was a roller coaster offseason,” Harris said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. … I just made sure I was ready to go whenever [the contract] got done, and I felt great today. I’m ready to go.”
Harris, who said “at one time in the offseason” he thought he was going to be traded, seemed ready to put his contract situation behind him and turn his focus toward the season.
“It wasn’t about winning [the situation],” Harris said. “It was just about getting back to the field and winning games on the field. That’s the only thing I’m worried about. I’m not even worried about the dispute. Everything’s in the past, and now it’s just about winning football games.”
Harris only took a couple of snaps at a time during Wednesday’s practice as the Broncos eased him back into full-speed work.
“He may have been working out hard wherever he was, but playing football is different,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said. “During Phase I and Phase II, we gradually build these guys up to be able to go out and do a practice. He’s got to get back in that shape. Today we limited him to two snaps at a time so he wasn’t out there too much. Just got to learn and get in football shape.”
Harris said after practice that he’s “ahead of schedule” in learning the system, but Fangio said he’ll need to see that demonstrated on the field.
When Harris masters the scheme, he should like what the team has at its disposal.
Outside linebacker Von Miller called Harris over the summer to tell his teammate that Fangio’s system is all that Harris has requested over the past few seasons.
“He was really explaining to me about the defensive scheme and everything that we’re doing,” Harris said. “How this is everything I’ve been crying about doing. I like it. I love it so far. I think it’s going to fit us well.”
In part, Fangio’s scheme could free Harris up to better his previous career high of three interceptions in a season. Harris said his interception total “will go way up” and that he’ll be able to show people “a different skillset that I’ve got.”
Mentality-wise, though, Harris should remain the same.
“I’m going to be me every time I step on the field,” Harris said. “I’m going to bring a swagger for this defense. I’m going to bring a different mentality for this defense. I’m ready to take on whoever. Whoever’s the best, I want them. And I’m up to the challenge. I’m the same competitor, same fighter on the field. Nothing’s changed when it comes [to] between these lines. I’m going to do the best to be me on the field every week.”
Harris didn’t speak much about how he expects next offseason will unfold, but he said he still hopes to retire with the Broncos.
“I’m taking it day by day,” Harris said. “I always said I wanted to retire here and that’s always been my mentality here. If I’ve got to go show them 16 games that I want to retire here, I’m going to go do it.”
One note: Harris’ retirement won’t come after this season.
“I’m not close to done,” Harris said.
Those decisions can wait, though. For now, Harris seems focused on the one-year deal that rewards him for both his past success and his goals for the future.
“That’s what it’s about,” Harris said. “You want to feel appreciated for the work that you’ve done and the work that you’re about to put in.
“… You can talk about the past and what I’ve done, but I’m excited about the future of what I’m about to do.”