Justin Rogers and John Niyo discuss the Lions' decision to keep Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn for another season. The Detroit News
Allen Park — Penn State has long been known as "Linebacker U" for the school's knack for churning out great players at the position, while several schools, including Miami, Ohio State and LSU, have laid claim to the "DBU" moniker for similar success producing top NFL defensive backs.
If Will Harris develops the way the Detroit Lions hope, Boston College might merit a little more attention for the school's recent crop of safeties.
Harris is one of three NFL starting safeties drafted out of the school in the past four years, joining John Johnson and Justin Simmons. The three played together briefly during Harris' freshman year in 2015, and he'll share the field with Simmons again on Sunday when the Lions travel to Denver to play the Broncos.
Both Johnson and Simmons have developed into excellent players. Johnson, with the Rams, has missed much of this season with an injury, but he recorded 119 tackles and four interceptions during the team's Super Bowl run last year.
Arguably a Pro Bowl snub, Simmons continues to be a leader on and off the field for the Broncos, earning the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year nomination this season. That supplemented an 84-tackle, four-interception campaign. It marks his fourth straight year to start his career with multiple interceptions.
Simmons, in particular, served as a mentor to Harris as a young college player learning a new position.
"He was that for everybody," Harris said. "He was the ultimate role model, really. He was a captain, someone everyone looked up to, leading by example on and off the field."
As a sophomore, Harris watched his former teammate on television making plays and realized he too could one day play in the NFL.
"That's when I first though, I could do it, too," Harris said. "I can really do this if I really want to do it."
At Boston College, the safeties played sides, requiring them to have the skill set to play both strong and free safety responsibilities. Simmons has continued in that role with the Broncos, primarily lining up on the left side of their formations, whether it's in the box or patrolling the deep part of the field.
"Outstanding player," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "This guy is smart. He’s a really aggressive, instinctual player. I think he’s really developed a lot through the course of the last year or so. I just think he’s kind of been their stronghold in the back end. He’s been able to communicate and get all of that stuff on the same page."
Ideally, Harris will follow the blueprint of his former teammate, developing into a bona fide piece of Detroit's foundation in the coming seasons. Simmons is a little bit taller and the more explosive of the two, but at 6-foot-1, 207 pounds the Lions rookie is well-built for the position and is certainly faster, running his 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.41 second, compared to Simmons' 4.61.
And, even though it hasn't paid dividends yet, Harris is getting more playing time than Simmons did as a rookie, which should accelerate the development heading into 2020.
In 14 games, five starts and 597 defensive snaps, Harris has recorded 38 tackles and two pass breakups. He's still looking for his first interception.
Lions at Broncos
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Sunday, Empower Field, Denver
TV/radio: CBS/760 AM
Records: Lions 3-10-1, Broncos 5-9
Line: Broncos by 6