December 20, 2007

Harris continuing to emerge at safety

Throughout the course of the 2007 season Texas Tech's safety position was one of the most stable and steady on the entire team. That situation, however, has changed.

Owing, at least partially, to injuries sustained by safeties Daniel Charbonnet and Anthony Hines in the season-ender against Oklahoma, and perhaps to the decommittment of JUCO recruit Jocques Crawford as well, safety is now seeing some turbulence and rethinking. And that may actually be a good thing.

L.A. Reed's transfer from X receiver to safety has been well chronicled. Somewhat more obscure has been the emergence of backup safety and special teams savage, Steven Harris.

Harris got practically no reps at safety during the season, in large part, because he was still learning the defense. The redshirt freshman from Lewisville, you may recall, missed summer workouts for reasons that remain undisclosed. Stuck behind the eight-ball and behind several good players as well, Harris' contributions were confined largely to special teams work.

But with the injuries and Harris' rapid development as of late, his role will likely expand.

According to Harris, he has already become busier in workouts leading up to the Gator Bowl.

"Yeah, they [reps] have been increasing a lot lately being on special teams every day and doing that. Then they have me on scout team and now I'm coming back and being with the starters as well."

Harris' work with the starting defensive unit is a new innovation, even if it certainly does not portend a starting assignment against the Virginia Cavaliers. What it does suggest, however, is that he could see some meaningful snaps in the Gator Bowl, particularly in nickel and dime packages. And that would be a step up for Harris.

Harris' sterling play on special teams has piqued the interest of Tech observers throughout the 2007 season. His explosiveness, heavy-hitting, sure tackling and penchant for the big play have suggested an athlete merely awaiting an opportunity to make a big impact on defense. That impression, apparently, is now catching on with his teammates and coaches.

Starting strong safety Joe Garcia, one of the more intelligent players on the Tech roster, certainly likes what he sees in his young apprentice.

"I see a player with great ability," states Garcia. "He's got a really great knack for the football. He is very intelligent out there. On special teams, he's always making about five tackles a game just because he knows where the ball's going to be. That's something you can't really train. That's just an ability that you're given when you're born. He's really good."

"He works hard and he tries to stay on track. Coaches really get onto him and he keeps his grades. You can only think of the best for him. As long as he gets this system down then he's going to be good."

Garcia's praise of Harris' knack for finding the ball is particularly noteworthy; it's a trait that will serve him wonderfully as a wide-ranging safety, both against the pass and the run.

Count interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill as another Red Raider who is high on Harris.

"Steven will be a big part of our plans. He makes plays and is a very physical player. He's won in high school and has progressed ahead of schedule. He's got some great instincts and a nose for the ball. He needs to be more consistent with our defense and the coverages, but he's getting there."

Darcel McBath will return as a starter at free safety in 2008, but strong safety could be a battle royal between Harris, L.A. Reed and Anthony Hines. And if McNeill's comments about Harris being a big part of the picture are any indication, don't be surprised if he steps into the starting lineup.

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