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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Anthony Harris’ audition at safety may continue for Vikings

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Before safety Anthony Harris impressed his teammates in his first career start last week in Arizona, he was thrilling them in the film room.

As a practice-squad player, Harris would correctly counter questions lobbed his way from defensive backs coach Jerry Gray regarding plays he wasn’t even involved. Biding his time, Harris said he tried to know every corner of the playbook for when his opportunity came. Another chance may come Sunday for Harris as the Vikings ruled out safety Harrison Smith against the Chicago Bears.

“You could just tell in the meetings, he’s got a high football IQ and he kind of knows what offenses like to do, what certain things mean,” Smith said. “I think you saw that in the last game, I think he played great and I expect a lot out of him.”

Harris, 24, was a priority target by the Vikings after they made 10 selections in the NFL Draft this spring, handing out their most lucrative undrafted free agent bonuses to Harris and quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who made the roster as the third-string QB.

The path wasn’t as smooth for Harris, who played through a torn labrum in his shoulder during his senior season at Virginia. The Cavaliers’ team captain still managed 10 pass deflections with one healthy shoulder, but went undrafted because he put off surgery until the 2014 college football season was over. He was forced to miss the entire NFL Draft evaluation process: Harris could not take part in the NFL Combine, he did not participate in his school’s pro day and he wasn’t able to display his talent for teams in private workouts — as most of his counterparts did.

But he was still one of the first calls placed by the Vikings when scouring the country for their undrafted free agent crop. Harris (6-1, 183) was held out of many of the Vikings’ team exercises in May and June, not able to fully test his recovered shoulder until training camp started in late July.

Even when he took the field, Harris fell on the wrong side of the roster ‘bubble’ when decisions were made. He was released in the Vikings’ final cuts in September and immediately added to the practice squad, where he spent his first 12 weeks in the NFL.

Until midseason injuries ravaged the secondary, and coach Mike Zimmer needed replacements for three of his four safeties. He turned to veteran corner Terence Newman to move to safety, and promoted Harris from the practice squad to make his first career start last week in Arizona.

“Anthony Harris, man, I was amazed out there,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “I was like ‘Woah, this guy flying around, making plays and making checks, doing well.’ He was just on our practice squad for the whole 12 weeks and he got a chance to go out there and play, and played pretty good.”

The Vikings have long searched for a strong safety to play opposite Smith, the 29th-overall pick in 2012. They’ve cycled through options years before hiring Zimmer as head coach, and the search has continued under the second-year regime. Zimmer switched between Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton last season, before naming Sendejo the starter for this year.

When Smith was held out of the Vikings’ Nov. 29 win in Atlanta, the Vikings turned to Antone Exum Jr. The hits kept coming as Exum Jr. suffered a fractured rib and sprained AC joint in his shoulder the next week against Seattle. Injuries to Smith, Exum Jr. and Sendejo led to Harris getting his promotion, and he took full advantage in Arizona.

The play before Harris was flattened by Larry Fitzgerald on a 42-yard touchdown, he nearly intercepted Carson Palmer on a deep ball intended for John Brown.

The Vikings want a strong safety capable of making plays in coverage, as Gray, the position coach, has said. Harris did just that last week. On the near interception, he showed off his tremendous range in coverage. Harris wasn’t even lined up on that side of the field, instead giving over-the-top help to rookie Trae Waynes, who was matched up on Fitzgerald.

As the play unfolded, Harris kept his eyes on both the receiver and quarterback, recognizing Palmer’s release and tracking the soaring ball 40 yards downfield just before it slipped through his grasp near the goal line.

“Just reading the quarterback and trying to make a play on the ball,” Harris said. “Coaches, they’ve been doing a good job of staying on me all year, even though I wasn’t out there being one of the starters or getting active game time. They stayed on me, making sure I was getting better. I stayed on myself, stayed focused and tried to stay involved each week. So I think that just paid off, just me kind of knowing the defense and knowing what guys around me need help.”

Harris also contributed on a goal-line stop of Cardinals running back Stepfan Taylor. With defensive end Everson Griffen and linebacker Chad Greenway closing the gap, Harris fired off left tackle and wrapped up Taylor behind the line. Arizona eventually kicked a field goal.

With Smith already ruled out against Chicago, the Vikings will likely give Harris another audition on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.

“Everybody wants to jump the gun on these one-game things,” Zimmer said. “After the first week, Exum Jr. was the savior and now this guy. You know, it’s about over the course of time. Let’s finish out these games and figure out how [Harris] does, and we’ll evaluate more.”

The post Anthony Harris’ audition at safety may continue for Vikings appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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