Signed as insurance, Harris paying off as premium return man His efforts on kickoffs help set up Ravens for 13 points in victory

November 30, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Near the end of training camp, with their eyes on insurance for free safety Kim Herring, the Ravens signed well-traveled defensive back Corey Harris.

Twelve games into 1998, that acquisition looks smarter by the week. Not only has Harris filled a void for the injured Herring for two stretches this year, but the seventh-year player also has energized the Ravens' special teams.

Harris came up large in yesterday's 38-31 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, with a team-record, 193 kickoff return yards. Three of those returns-- for 55, 49 and 47 yards -- set up 13 points for the Ravens, who used Harris' jump-starting to score two field goals and a touchdown.

Not bad for a guy who was drafted as a wide receiver with Houston in 1992, switched to defensive back with Green Bay in 1993, then played with Seattle (1995-96) and Miami last year, before landing in Baltimore.

Long ago, Harris learned about the value of versatility. As a young player, he also learned how valuable kick-return skills were to a professional football player's career.

"I've been the glue on a lot of teams. I've played wherever they need me to play. It's the story of my life. I like that," Harris said. "It keeps me in the game, keeps me focused. Whatever I have to do to help this team win."

Harris, who assumed full-time kickoff-return duty a month ago, did plenty against the Colts.

After Indianapolis drove down the field on its opening possession to take a 3-0 lead, Harris immediately fired up the crowd with a 55-yard return to the Colts' 30. Four plays later, Matt Stover kicked the first of three field goals, a 43-yarder that tied the score with 8: 25 left in the first quarter.

Harris set up Stover's 48-yard field goal with a 49-yard return at the end of the first half. At the end of the third quarter, his 47-yard return set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jim Harbaugh to Floyd Turner that pulled the Ravens to 31-28 at the start of the fourth quarter.

The way Harris sees it, successful kick returns are all about familiarity with the schemes and the 10 blockers running them. Judging by his showing in recent weeks, Harris -- who has taken over as the Ravens' leading kick-return man -- is getting quite comfortable with his teammates.

"Kickoff returns are all about timing, and football is all about field position," Harris said. "Our job is to get the offense in good field position. We [the return team] have got some chemistry back there in the last two weeks."

The entire special teams unit has enjoyed good chemistry during a two-game winning streak. Stover, who has made 17 of his past 20 field-goal attempts, went 3-for-3 yesterday, all from beyond 40 yards. Only one penalty has been called on the special teams in two weeks. The coverage units kept the Colts bottled up consistently.

Reserve safety Bennie Thompson, the leader in special teams tackles, who also blocks on the kickoff team, said Harris has been the spark plug lately.

"He doesn't have Jermaine's [Lewis] speed, which means you have to hold your blocks a little longer, but Corey is doing a great job, and our guys are doing a good job blocking for him," Thompson said.

Thompson said it takes awhile for a new return man to gel with the unit. "You've got to know where each other is going and how he's going to play," he said. "Kickoff return is probably our strongest point on special teams right now."

Said coach Ted Marchibroda: "Special teams gave us good field position all day, and that's because guys like Corey Harris are doing their jobs."

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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