Hurricanes’ Jaden Harris looking to fill big shoes left by Kam Kinchens, James Williams at safety

CORAL GABLES — Jaden Harris got a chance to show what he can do at safety last year.

When Kam Kinchens suffered a concussion against Texas A&M, Harris subbed in, and he performed admirably. Although he arrived at UM as a nickel cornerback in 2022, Harris moved to safety last year and is taking the position change in stride. Now, he is competing for a starting role at his new position.

“It’s a great adjustment. Just trust the coaches, and they said they see me better (at) safety, so I just tried to learn as much as I can from the safeties in the room,” Harris said. “I was lucky enough to learn from Kam and James (Williams), so that’s a dream come true. I was cool with it. Whatever they want me to do. If they want me to carry the waters, clean the cars, I’m OK with it.”

Harris recorded seven tackles last season, playing 130 defensive snaps — most of which came at free safety and slot corner. Pro Football Focus gave Harris a 54.4 defensive grade for the season, but he earned his best marks in one of the two starts he made at safety while Kinchens was out.

Harris had the chance to learn from Kinchens and Williams the last two seasons, especially when he moved to safety last year. He said they impressed on him the necessity of off-the-field work.

“Probably the biggest thing that they taught to me was just trying to focus on the mental part of the game and not so much the physical,” Harris said. “Knowing the game is a lot of mental (work): a lot of film, a lot of film study, a lot of knowing your opponent vs. just trying to get out here and just do drills all the time and get better with technique. You have to really know the opponent. That’s going to make you play faster.”

Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who works primarily with the safeties, said he thinks Harris might be the most improved player on the defense from last year.

“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Guidry said.

Kinchens said at Pro Day on Monday that Harris is “super athletic” and just needs to get one big play under his belt in a game, similar to how Kinchens picking off a pass against Bethune-Cookman in the 2022 season opener helped him gain confidence.

“Him just being with me for two years, learning how to watch film, learning how to be a good football player. That’s all he needed. He needed the confidence,” Kinchens said. “He’s as professional as everybody else, but he kind of gets down on himself when he knows he’s not doing the things he’s capable of. So with him, it’s just understanding it’s not OK to mess up, but it’s OK not to be perfect and just stacking those good plays.

“I don’t expect him to jump out the gate, first game, and just catch five picks. But I know throughout the season he’s going to get better and better as he starts getting that game play. That’s all he needs; he just needs a little experience. All he needs is that one play just to show you he can do it. Me, all I needed was that Bethune pick. No matter who the competition was, it was me vs. me. I made that one play, I thought to myself, ‘I can actually catch a pick in a game,’ and it was on from there. He just needs that one play just to show I can hang with everybody, and he’s got what it takes.”