ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Davontae Harris’ adjustment to a starting role has been anything but boring.
The Broncos’ new cornerback, who joined the team after Denver claimed him off waivers ahead of Week 1, assumed the starting role in Week 6 and has stayed busy in the weeks that followed.
The former fifth-round pick, who had never made a start before joining the Broncos, has played defensive snaps in seven games this season — and opposing quarterbacks have frequently looked his way.
According to Pro Football Focus, Harris has been targeted 44 times this season and allowed 31 catches. Compare that to Chris Harris Jr., who starts on the other side of Denver’s defense and has been targeted just 40 times (and allowed just 25 catches) in four more games.
The previous few weeks have been particularly tough for the first-time starter. In back-to-back games against the Browns and Vikings, Harris allowed seven catches on 10 targets and then nine catches on 12 targets, respectively. Harris also appeared to be beat for a touchdown in the Broncos’ recent loss to Buffalo.
Harris Jr., though, said he has seen Harris respond the correct way to adversity.
“Usually a lot of young kids just break and [it] just breaks their confidence,” Harris Jr. said Tuesday. “He still has confidence. He’s still ready to go out there and challenge people and try to improve as much as possible. The kid’s hungry. He asks 1,000 questions and he’s been coming over to my house a couple times a week, so we’re just trying to get better together.”
Harris Jr. knows what it’s like to cut his teeth as a new piece of the defense. In 2011, when Harris Jr. saw extensive time as a rookie, he was targeted 70 times and allowed 51 catches in 14 games, including the postseason. In those playoff games, Harris Jr. allowed four catches on five targets vs. Pittsburgh and six catches on eight targets vs. New England.
As he explained to Harris recently, you’ve just got to make a few plays in order for those targets to drop significantly.
“Every week it’s tough, and he just has to continue to grow,” Harris Jr. said. “Once he does that and kind of just makes a statement to the quarterbacks and lets them know, ‘You can’t throw on me no more,’ they’ll stop. You’ve got to make them pay a couple times, and then they’ll kind of slow down on the targets. That’s just how it is when you’re fresh out there, you’re new out there on the field. You’re going to get a lot of action.”
Harris Jr. has reminded him that the Broncos have five games left this season for him to continue to improve. He thinks he’ll see that, as long as Harris maintains that confidence.
“Once you keep making those plays, they’ll kind of slow down from [targeting] you and you start to gain that reputation and that confidence,” Harris Jr. said. “I just try to tell him, ‘Just stay in the game, keep working and those plays will come.’ … I think we’re in the top five in pass defense. We’ve got five games to move up.”
In the Broncos’ 60-year history, five men have made such an impact at the safety position that they’ve had their names enshrined in Denver’s Ring of Fame.
Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin was inducted in the Ring of Fame’s inaugural class in 1984, Dennis Smith was added in 2001, Steve Atwater joined in 2005 and John Lynch was selected in 2016.
Billy Thompson, who played both cornerback and safety for the team, was inducted into the Ring of Fame in 1987.
Current safety Justin Simmons knew about the tradition when he was drafted by the Broncos in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. And in the years since, he’s tried to uphold the standard and the legacy.
“Obviously it’s been a high standard,” Simmons said Tuesday. “Denver’s always been known for great safeties in general, going all the way back to the Orange Crush [with Thompson]. It’s definitely something that I’ve been aware of. … It’s important to try to uphold that standard.”
Both Atwater and Lynch took the next step Tuesday toward being the first Broncos safety to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The pair of Ring of Famers were among the 25 Modern-Era semifinalists. Both men were finalists in 2019 and could make the cut again for the Class of 2020.
Simmons said he’s learned a great deal from Atwater, who works for the team and is at UCHealth Training Center on a near daily basis.
“He’s given me a lot of advice ever since I’ve been here, and to whatever safety that is willing to listen,” Simmons said. “Obviously I’ve been around here now, this being my fourth season, but every time he’s around, he’ll always have something to say. It’s never negative, but it’s just like, ‘Hey, man, I see that this is happening. These are some tips that helped me in my career. Take it with a grain of salt. Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t.’ Obviously, he’s being humble because all of his tips go above and beyond to help.”
‘HE SEEMS LIKE HE’S READY’
The Broncos have yet to name a starting quarterback for their Week 13 game against the Chargers, and Head Coach Vic Fangio said Monday that "all options are on the table" for second-round pick Drew Lock.
The rookie could remain on injured reserve, serve as the team’s backup quarterback or make his first NFL start.
Fangio said Monday that the team would make the decision “in the next few days” as they try to determine if Lock is prepared “physically and emotionally to go out there and play.”
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who has faced off against Lock in training camp and in practice this season, said he thinks Lock is ready to play.
“I like Drew,” Harris said Tuesday. “I’m excited to see him play whenever he gets the opportunity. I know everybody in Broncos Country is calling for him to play, but it’s up to Coach [Fangio] and [John] Elway and when everybody thinks he’s ready. I’ve talked to Drew, and Drew thinks he’s ready. That’s good right there coming from the player. You want him to feel confident and know that he’s ready to go. From just talking to him, he seems like he’s ready.”