'Bottom of the barrel' Charles Harris is clawing his way out in Detroit


Charles Harris doesn't want the credit, even if he deserves it. Five games into his tenure with the Lions, the former first-round pick is playing the best football of his career.

"I can’t really place it on any individual, not even myself," Harris said Wednesday.

"First and foremost," said Harris' position coach, Kelvin Sheppard, "it's primarily 99% him."

The Lions took a flier on Harris in the offseason, because that's what rebuilding teams do. But also because Brad Holmes, Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn may have seen something in Harris that others were missing. Sheppard saw it when he reviewed Harris' tape from three seasons with the Dolphins and one with the Falcons: the pass rusher wasn't getting enough chances to ... rush the passer.

"I think we all know his story about the NFL, came in as a first-round pick," said Sheppard. "We had a very open conversation about him (being) viewed as kind of an underachiever. I never did. In certain situations, schematically there were things he was being asked to do, when I went back and watched his tape, that didn't fit his play style."

In Sheppard's eyes, Harris is "a true outside linebacker, edge player." The tape showed Harris being deployed as a traditional defensive lineman, sometimes deep within the trenches -- "and that's not what he's built to do," said Sheppard.

"He's built, in my opinion, to play on the edge. A very physical, quick-twitchy player, so he gets on and off blocks well. You have to have a motor to do a lot of things that Charles Harris does on tape, and it's nonstop from the first whistle to the last," said Sheppard.

Harris' career was on the edge when he got to Detroit. The city has been there, too. He said that's what drew him here, despite "other considerations" in free agency. He's a rebounding talent in a rebounding town, on a team trying to rebound from another bad regime. In 54 games in his first four seasons, Harris totaled 6.5 sacks. He has four sacks in five games this season, already a career high. This is the player who was drafted 22nd overall in 2017.

"This is where I wanted to be," Harris said. "Me and my agent talked about it and this city fits me. It's kind of similar to (my hometown) Kansas City, a rugged city. Not in a negative way, but just a city that's been through a lot, a team that's been through a lot, an organization that's trying to build something from the ground up. That kind of fits my own identity, being somebody at the bottom of the barrel trying to scratch your way back out.

"That tenacity, that grit that (Campbell) always talks about, that fits me and fits my motor very well."

Harris, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal, has sacks in four straight games. He'll break the franchise record if he makes it five straight Sunday against the Bengals. The loss of Romeo Okwara might have been the worst thing this season for the Lions' rebuild. The best thing might be the discovery of another 26-year-old pass rusher who's coming into his own.

Among edge defenders, Pro Football Focus grades Harris as the sixth best pass rusher in the NFL -- one spot behind All-Pro T.J. Watt. He's third in pass-rush win rate (25 percent), one spot behind All-Pro Myles Garrett, and he's first in pass-rush win rate (40.5 percent) in true passing sets. And while Harris has yet to become the focal point for opposing offenses, like Garrett or Watt, he did produce a sack and four pressures against the Vikings without Okwara on the opposite flank. The things he's doing are the things he does well.

"My vision zeroes in and I think that’s the biggest thing, I’m locked in," Harris said. "I'm in a routine. We’re practicing every day the same drills, same technique and that heightens your attention to detail to get production going, if not surpass it. And that’s where I’m looking to go, higher and better, versus being stagnant or falling off."

Harris has taken on a bigger role in Okwara's absence. But he was trending in that direction on his own. He doesn't view himself as strictly a pass-rusher, and he credits the Lions' coaching staff for giving him opportunities to prove it in training camp. Now he's playing the most defensive snaps of his career.

"The coaches probably viewed me as a situational player coming in, but I proved myself throughout camp that I can do more than that," Harris said. "And I’m looking forward to doing that throughout the rest of this season and the rest of my career."

So who gets the credit for Charles Harris as we know him? Depends who you ask. Harris points to the coaching staff, and it's easy to see why. Sheppard and the coaching staff point right back to Harris.

"But the No. 1 thing is, since Day 1 of training camp when Charles Harris walked in these doors, he's been a man on a mission. It was clear to this entire staff that he was out to prove something, to not only us, but to the entire league. And from Day 1, he's done everything asked of him. Now you're seeing the fruit of his own labor -- not anyone else's."

Featured Image Photo Credit: © Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC