Five months ago, Mike Harris didn’t hear his name called at the NFL draft. On “Monday Night Football” in Week One, there he was protecting Philip Rivers’ blind side.
The Chargers’ undrafted rookie left tackle has been thrust into the spotlight and received valuable reps, but his time as a starter might be ending soon, as veteran OLT Jared Gaither returned to practice this week for the first time since early in training camp.
Harris has done more than simply hold Gaither’s spot. He allowed only one sack and was whistled for two holding penalties in three games, knowing full well that pass rushers would be gunning for him.
“I know they’re preparing for me. They’re veterans, they know my tendencies so I have to throw them something they haven’t seen before,” Harris told PFW in a phone interview on Thursday. “Guys like to set me up with bull rushes and they’re all good with their hands. As long as I go up there with confidence and my technique is good and my kickset is right and my hands are right, then I’ll be fine.”
In the Chargers’ first two games, the offense moved the ball with ease and protected Rivers well, but the Falcons gave them problems. During the game, Gaither was seen chatting with Harris on the sideline, and the veteran who signed a four-year, $24.6 million contract in March, has been a big help to Harris.
“He talks to me about my technique and the tricks of the trade of playing tackle,” Harris said. “Jared’s been helping me have a plan every time I go up to the line of scrimmage. He’s been there to help me and I’m happy that he’s here. Once he gets back, he’s going to be very valuable to this team.”
In addition to getting pointers from Gaither, Harris said ORT Jeromey Clary also has helped, and the two veterans have worked with Harris specifically on his initial punch. Offensive coordinator/O-line coach Hal Hunter also has drilled Harris about his technique.
“From hand placement to footwork — it’s very beneficial because he doesn’t teach sloppy technique,” Harris said. “In the long run, it’s going to be good for me. I’m going to be able to develop my technique at a young age.”
Harris speaks with a sense of humility and appreciation for his early opportunities, and he knows how rare it is for an undrafted rookie to get the nod at an important position like left tackle. However, the UCLA product also understands the looming situation as Gaither returns to full health.
“There’s nothing better than going out there on Sundays. I love being able to go out there and play and let the whole world see who Mike Harris is. I’m happy I’ve had these live reps to see how it goes, how fast the game is,” he said. “We need Jared. I’m happy he’s here and I'm happy he's healthy, because it’s all about the team. And if we can go to a Super Bowl, I know Jared will help us.”