At-ease Harris proves force as a fill-in

Sub's eight solo tackles second only to R. Lewis

January 08, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Corey Harris started his first game in two seasons for the Ravens yesterday. If he seemed right at home, it's because he was.

Harris played his college football here. He was a good wide receiver and running back on some bad Vanderbilt teams, and is a local community leader and businessman.

When he visited the nightclub here that he holds a stake in Saturday night, he found a packed house of 250, "all in purple and gold." Yesterday, he gave the Ravens fans who ventured to Adelphia Coliseum plenty to cheer about.

With strong safety Kim Herring out with a bruised ankle, Harris stepped into the secondary and made eight solo tackles, second on the Ravens only to all-universe middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Titans quarterback Steve McNair had 24 completions, but his longest pass play went for only 19 yards as Harris played one steady center field.

"The way our defense is designed, the strong safety is going to get a lot of opportunities," said Harris, a nine-year veteran. "I know I was filling in for Kim, but it was no different for me today.

"The strong safety gets an opportunity, he has to make the plays. That's the position that has been making plays for us all year long. I had to come in and make sure that we didn't miss a beat.

"You either pick up the slack or let your teammates down. I have to go in there and do the things [Herring] would have [done] ..."

Cornerback Chris McAlister was a tad more effusive about a performance that Harris shrugged off.

"Corey played a great game," McAlister said of Harris, who also helped run interference on Anthony Mitchell's and Lewis' touchdown returns in the fourth quarter. "With Corey out there, it seemed we didn't miss a beat.

"Part of our success is that we've got a lot of depth. Anthony Mitchell played some safety and in some of our nickel packages. Somebody gets hurt, and we still have confidence in the scheme we're running."

A native of Indianapolis, Harris could not have planned a better pair of visits to his adopted hometown this season. While he saw action on 14 defensive plays in the Ravens' regular-season win here in November that ended the Adelphia unbeaten streak, he basked in a bigger role yesterday, and said it was his best win in this town since Vanderbilt upset Georgia in 1991.

Harris brought up the item that he began his NFL career with the Titans' franchise, as the Houston Oilers cut him in his rookie season. He started at cornerback for Seattle in 1996, moved on to Miami, then signed with the Ravens in 1998, when he started six games in place of the injured Herring.

Harris owns the Ravens' most resplendent wardrobe. Yesterday, he donned a lace see-through shirt and a crushed-velvet black suit, but there was nothing soft about his play. He hit and jawed just like his more celebrated squad mates.

Yesterday's game was still in doubt early in the fourth quarter when tight end Frank Wycheck dragged Harris for a 13-yard gain.

Before free safety Rod Woodson's late hit tacked on a 15-yard penalty, Harris took several uppercuts at the ball, trying to jar it loose. Wycheck held on, but Harris landed some good punches.

Given that it was Harris' first start of the season, did his swagger come as a surprise?

"I guess you could say that's in his nature," McAlister said. "He has a confidence about him, just like the rest of us do on this defense."

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