The National Football Post reported on Tuesday that Al Harris is close to returning to practice – perhaps as soon as Monday. And since Harris’ agent, Jack Bechta, is one of the web site’s founders, it’s safe to assume that the information is credible. Of course, returning to practice and being able to play at a high level are two entirely different things, and the odds are still stacked against the former Pro Bowl cornerback. But just the possibility of Harris starting opposite Charles Woodson at some point this season has to make the entire coaching staff – not to mention every single fan – feel a whole lot better.
Harris underwent major knee surgery last November and then turned 35 a few weeks later. That’s a lethal combination for any football player. But the Florida native has beaten the odds for years. After all, this is a guy who went undrafted out of Texas A&M-Kingsville and then was unceremoniously dumped by the Buccaneers in 1998. In the ensuing 11 years, all he’s done is start 123 games, intercept 21 passes and go to a pair of Pro Bowls.
There are a number of reasons why it’s so important for Harris to play well this season. First, the Packers aren’t going to have a great pass rush. That was a given the moment GM Ted Thompson decided not to sign a free agent or use a high draft choice to bolster the outside linebacker position. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers may be creative, but there’s only so much he can do with just two legitimate pass rushers. Secondly, the more you watch Tramon Williams, the more you’re convinced that he’s better suited to be a nickel back than a starter. And finally, a healthy and productive Harris would give Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee another year to develop – something both youngsters could really use.
In a summer lacking in much drama – unless you consider the Bryan Bulaga/Daryn Colledge battle at left guard to be riveting – the progress of Harris figures to be THE story of the next few weeks. The league should name him Comeback Player of the Year award for just getting back on the practice field; the award should be given to him and then retired if he returns to anything close to his previous form. That’s how incredible this particular comeback would be. We all watched via video as Harris began his long journey last February. How cool would it be to watch it end at Cowboys Stadium a year later?