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Lions' Will Harris ready to make big leap after suffering hard knocks as rookie

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Will Harris wasn't ready, but a midseason trade and injuries ahead of him on the depth chart thrust the Detroit Lions safety into a bigger role than anticipated during his rookie season. And if we're being honest, it went about as well as expected. 

Despite the third-round pick's immense physical gifts, the mental processing required to play the position hadn't caught up, resulting in too many missed plays in the secondary. 

Will Harris

To be fair, not much went right for the Lions down the stretch last season, so Harris' struggles just faded into the background. 

But with those struggles, there's a silver lining. While taking his lumps in an otherwise lost season for the franchise, Harris got invaluable experience. And entering his second season, there's a personal belief he'll be more prepared to answer the bell the next time opportunity knocks. 

"In comparison to last year, it's always good when you got your feet under you," Harris said during a video conference call on Thursday. "Got some games under your belt, some real live action under your belt. Nothing is really taking you by surprise anymore, as far as practice goes and learning the system. Having a whole year of scheme under my belt, that definitely helps. At this point, I'm just trying to perfect my craft as much as possible."

More: Lions camp observations: Too many drops; Jeff Okudah struggles in red-zone work (subscription required) 

Harris probably isn't a starter heading into this season. The Lions are deep at safety, with Duron Harmon and Tracy Walker projected at the top of the depth chart. But the team has an extensive amount of packages in the secondary, and coach Matt Patricia loves to mix and match based on the opponent. And given how much run the coaching staff is giving Harris with the first-team defense through the first two weeks of training camp, it's clear they envision a role for the second-year man out of Boston College. 

As a rookie, Harris had solid mentorship in the locker room. There was Quandre Diggs, at least before he was dealt to Seattle, as well as Walker and Tavon Wilson, with six years in the scheme. 

This year, Wilson has been replaced by Harmon and Harris is doing everything he can to soak up knowledge from another veteran raised up in this defensive scheme. 

"I tell him every day, man, I'm just bitin' stuff off you," Harris said. "Whatever I can learn from that guy, man. He's had such a successful career. He's been a playmaker in so many big games. He's been doing it consistently over a long period of time, and so anything I can learn from him, I'm all ears.

I've been in his left pocket every day, everywhere he goes," Harris said. "I've asked him countless questions up 'til now, and it'll be countless more moving forward. If I could look back 7-8 years from now and I have a career like his, that would be a blessing."

Right now, Harris' confidence with his assignments is as high as it's ever been. That's allowed him to shift focus to growing mentally, or as he puts it, trusting himself. 

"It was a learning process, and as we got deeper and deeper into the season, I was able to see the game more quickly, see plays more quickly, and see things more clearly," Harris said. "And most importantly, see things before they happen. 

"I've got to trust myself more, and I just got to play more freely," Harris said. "At the end of the season, you start playing more freely. You have those games under your belt, you have that experience, you have those experiences, but it was just kind of a — I wish I would have been playing like that the whole time, the whole year, you know what I mean? I pretty much took that, took all my goods from last year and I'm going to try to extend on those. Took all my lows from last year, and get those wiped out of my game."