ENGLEWOOD—Coaches tell players all the time the best man will get the job.
If Shelby Harris doesn’t get a job on the Denver Broncos’ 53-man roster as their sixth defensive lineman, then the motivational sports adage is a fib.
“It’s not always true, but most of the time I feel like it is,’’ Harris said in a sit-down interview with 9News. “This is definitely my best preseason so far in terms of production. In this preseason, I feel like I’m comfortable with the defensive scheme.’’
In preseason game 2 against the San Francisco 49ers, Harris on one play blew up a guard, swatted the football out of the running back’s hands as he getting the handoff exchange from the quarterback and fell on the fumble in what was as dominating a play a defensive tackle can possibly make. He also recovered another fumble.
In preseason game 3 Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers, Harris went off with 3 sacks and a stuff on a short yardage play.
Harris is not an undrafted rookie, Broncos fans. He’s been around a bit. He was a seventh-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2014. He played in one game as a rookie, seven in 2015, but otherwise spent most of his professional life on practice teams with the Raiders, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys.
So why is he having so much success now?
“I’m playing inside now,’’ he said. “When I came into the league I was an end. Part of it is it’s the scheme and getting older and wiser when it comes to football. Also, the guys in the room, the D-linemen help out a lot, too. We look for little things that maybe other teams don’t necessarily look for to help us key in for the games.’’
Injuries to Billy Winn for the season, Kyle Peko for training camp and the preseason, and Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick for the preseason helped provide Harris with an opportunity to shine.
He has displayed the rare ability to disrupt the offensive backfield while taking off from an inside position, whether as a defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end.
The key to penetrating the backfield from the inside?
“Getting off,’’ he said. “From the minute the ball is snapped just getting off. That can determine everything to having success to inside pass rushing. Just getting off and forcing the guards or the center to make a decision.’’
In his three NFL seasons, Harris has been cut six times.
“It’s not a good feeling,’’ he said. “It’s very humbling. Especially in times when you’re cut and you don’t feel like you should’ve been cut, but it makes you work that much more.’’
How? What keeps him going? The most elemental of manhood reasons.
“I have a family,’’ he said. “I have wife, daughter and son. They keep me going. Keep me positive, keep me motivated and … I hate failing. When you get cut it’s kind of like you failed. So, that drives me more and more every time. Three or four of those cuts were with the Raiders. It was cut, and brought back, cut and brought back. It’s not a good feeling. So you do everything to not have to deal with that feeling.’’
The NFL has had its share of players who take two or three years to blossom. Harris could become another. Anything besides finding the right system that explains why some players come on late?
“Well, really it is the system if you really think about it,’’ he said. “Sometimes it takes the perfect player to go to the perfect system and blossom from there. Other than that, it can be as simple as one of the vets teach you one move. And that ends up being your move.’’
Wolfe, Crick and nose tackle Domata Peko have all been helping him with techniques.
“Those little things make a big deal when it comes to game day,’’ Harris said.
Harris has one more preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at eventually-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Thursday night (kickoff 7 p.m., Channel 20) to stake one more claim to the Broncos’ 53-man roster.
Two days after his big game against the Packers, Kyle Peko returned from his broken foot. The Broncos are expected to explore adding a defensive end once players become available through roster cuts this weekend. So Harris hasn’t made the team, yet, even if his play says otherwise.