Ravens' Harris stays on move 5 teams, 5 positions for new starting safety

September 19, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mike Preston contributed to this article.

Corey Harris takes no offense at being called a journeyman. Instead, he jokes about his resume, which includes five NFL stops and several position changes.

"I've played seven years on five teams, wearing five different numbers, having played five different positions," he said. "I've caught a pass, intercepted a pass, returned punts, kicks, done everything you can do. To a certain degree, it's great. To a certain degree, it's frustrating.

"You just keep going. If you want to be in the NFL, you do your best, whether it's with the Alaska Eskimos or whomever. I love the game."

The Ravens are glad they signed Harris, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound free safety who suddenly has become quite prominent in their secondary. Harris, waived by the Miami Dolphins on Aug. 3, passed up offers from the Oakland Raiders, Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers and the Dolphins to sign a one-year deal with the Ravens a month ago.

The Ravens were looking for an experienced backup safety to add depth. The dislocated shoulder suffered by second-year safety Kim Herring in Sunday's 24-10 victory over the New York Jets has elevated Harris to the starting spot for the next few weeks.

"I respect his game. He's going to help our team get better," veteran strong safety Stevon Moore said of Harris. "He fits in perfectly. He's strong enough to play the safety position and quick enough to play the cornerback position. He's a prime example of a guy who has the tools to move around."

Oh, Harris, 28, has been on the move, all right -- starting with life on both sides of the ball. As a four-year starter at Vanderbilt, he figured he had a future at running back. Harris rushed for 1,103 yards, added 283 yards receiving on 23 receptions and earned first-team, All-Southeastern Conference honors.

The Houston Oilers had other ideas when they made him a third-round draft choice in 1992. Originally, the Oilers figured he would replace Drew Hill as a slot receiver in their run-and-shoot offense. Then, they signed Webster Slaughter for that role, and the bad blood between Harris and then-coach Jack Pardee began.

"It was a bitter situation," recalled Harris, who was waived five games into the season, then claimed by the Green Bay Packers, who used him to return kickoffs and play on special teams.

The Packers used Harris at wide receiver and cornerback in 1993, then made him their nickel back in 1994. In both seasons, he got a taste of the playoffs. Then, he got the playing time break of his career after the Seattle Seahawks signed him to a two-year contract as a restricted free agent and installed him as their right cornerback.

Harris started every game over the 1995 and 1996 seasons. In 32 games, he had 159 tackles, 23 pass deflections and four interceptions. That was enough to impress the Dolphins, who signed Harris to a two-year deal before the 1997 season, saw him play well in seven starts, then passed on him in favor of free agent Brock Marion and salary-cap considerations.

"This business really is a business much of the time, and if the [salary] cap number doesn't make sense to a team, the player doesn't make sense," Harris said, referring to his Dolphins experience. "It's part of football in the '90s."

"Corey came in late, but he understands the defense," Moore said. "He's a veteran. I have a lot of confidence in him."

Harris played sparingly in the season opener, but in the wake of Herring's first-half injury against the Jets, he was in on nearly 50 plays last week, contributing four tackles. Except for committing a pass interference call that led to a New York field goal, Harris teamed with Moore to help the Ravens address some pass coverage breakdowns that hindered them in the first half.

Originally from Indianapolis, Harris resides in Nashville, where he pursues his off-the-field passions -- jazz and rhythm and blues.

Harris owns a small club there, where such renowned artists as Larry Carlton and Stanley Clarke have performed. He also owns a record label known as SYBE (Strong Young Black Entrepreneur) Records.

"I love music probably as much as I love football," said Harris, who has a daughter, Lauren, 10, and is engaged to be married. "Right now football is what takes care of me, my family, my fiancee, and it's going to put my daughter through college. In the off-season, all I do is work out and deal with music."

And as the seventh season continues, Harris wonders if his persistence and versatility have landed him in a permanent place.

"I used to think there was a cloud hanging over me. Could I have played running back at this level?" he said. "[Versatility] is a big asset in today's game, with so many guys getting hurt and changing teams. My transition has been consistent, from running back to wide receiver to nickel back to starting corner to starting free safety.

"I looked at all of the young talent here and the free-agent decisions [that the Ravens] made and I felt like it was a good decision to come here. If we win three, four, five games in a row, the young guys will see we can make the playoffs. I want to be part of that."

NOTES: Coach Ted Marchibroda said that second-year player Jay Graham will start at running back tomorrow over Errict Rhett, who missed most of practice this week with a thigh injury. Tight end Eric Green did not practice yesterday but is expected to start tomorrow. Green has had knee problems the past two days.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Tomorrow, 4: 15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Jaguars by 6 1/2

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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