ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Davontae Harris’ first day as a Bronco, he looked up from his locker to see an unexpected visitor.
Harris had arrived in Denver just hours earlier, after he was waived by the Bengals during roster cutdowns. The Broncos claimed the second-year player, and he headed to Denver to bolster the team’s secondary.
When he arrived, his expectations weren’t all that high. He thought he would largely contribute on special teams, and he told Assistant Special Teams Coach Chris Gould he wanted to be a Pro Bowler for the unit.
Harris did, however, expect the opportunity in Denver to be better than the one in Cincinnati, where he recorded just a single tackle in three appearances in 2018.
“There’s purpose in adversity,” Harris said Monday. “I didn’t know where I was going to go, I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, but I knew for sure it was going to be better than where I was.”
Harris started to get that indication on that very first day when Von Miller headed over to his locker to introduce himself.
“I’m going to be honest, when it happened, afterwards, I called my dad and was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know if this is normal or not, but Von walked up to me to say what’s up, so I think it’s going to be a good situation,’” Harris said. “So that made me be positive and understanding that this is a different situation than I came from.”
Harris estimates he’s been to Miller’s house nearly 10 times since joining the team, and he’s joined his defensive backs group at a haunted house and a number of other activities.
“Cincinnati, it was good, but as far as the player-to-player relationship and the camaraderie, it wasn’t as close-knit as it is here,” Harris said. “I think that’s made a hell of a difference in me really adjusting to being part of a team.”
It may be a slight understatement to say Harris has adjusted nicely to Denver.
After playing exclusively on special teams for the first four games of the season, Harris started to see defensive snaps against the Chargers in Week 5 and took over a starting role against the Titans after De’Vante Bausby suffered a season-ending injury.
The Illinois State product has held his own as the No. 2 cornerback opposite Chris Harris Jr., and the pair of Harrises help anchor a passing defense that ranks fourth in the NFL.
The younger Harris seemingly put together his best game as a pro in a win over the Browns, as he broke up a pass in the end zone and also forced Jarvis Landry to drop a fourth-down pass to secure a win.
Harris, though, focused more on a missed tackle that allowed Landry to score in the fourth quarter and cut the Broncos’ lead to a single possession.
“That’s something that I have to get better at: making plays on the outside tackling,” Harris said. “If I can make that play [and] also make the other plays, then that just takes my game to a whole new level. If I were the person who was like, ‘Hey, it was bigger for me to make the fourth-down stop’ and forget about the missed tackle, then the missed tackle goes into the next game. What growth happened from one point to the next? My goal is always to grow.”
He has plenty of people around to help him make strides. Harris said he’s had individual meetings with Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell to gain extra information, and his teammates have kept his confidence high whenever he misses a play. That includes, of course, Harris Jr., whose background and path to the Broncos feels similar to the younger Harris'.
“I think the last name definitely helps,” Davontae Harris said. “Also he went to KU, and I’m from Kansas. There’s a couple things that we relate to really well, but also just the underdog mentality — him being undrafted and me being cut from the Bengals and coming here. I think that has [brought] us together and gravitated him to be like, ‘OK, I’ve been in a situation similar to this, been an underdog. This is how you do it. This is how you overcome adversity. And this is how I did it.’”
His head coach, Vic Fangio, thinks Harris and fellow cornerback Duke Dawson Jr. — who also arrived after the preseason — still have plenty of room to improve.
“Those guys are not totally honed up yet in what we’re doing,” Fangio said Monday. “We’ve haven’t paid a big price for some of their mistakes, [but] sometimes we do. You’ve got to crash course, cram it, expose them to things on the practice field and you have to do a good job teaching through video, and hopefully they can bring it to the field.”
Harris, though, isn’t going to make excuses as he continues to move forward in his first extended NFL playing time.
“I’m just going to say that I’m a relentless soul,” Harris said. “In regards to what people have to say, regardless of the situation, I’m going to go into a situation with the best mindset possible, and I’m happy that [being waived by Cincinnati] occurred because I think it struck a fire in me that I needed and it put me in a position mentally where I had to either grow or I wasn’t going to grow. And I decided to make the best of that situation.”
That situation should only continue to improve as Harris gets more playing time alongside Harris Jr., Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson.
“I think another seven games can turn me from like a rookie or like a first-level player to almost like a vet mentality,” Harris said. “I think one year in the NFL is huge for anybody, especially playing corner and especially playing around guys like K-Jack and Chris and Justin and just having those guys to learn from. Really, another seven games playing with them is going to turn me from a decent player to a good player. And then, eventually, I’ll be able to turn into a great player.”