Lions' Will Harris determined to bounce back after back-breaking mistake
A significant portion of being a successful defensive back in the NFL is the ability to forget a mistake and move on to the next play with a clear focus. Detroit Lions safety Will Harris needed to lean on an expanded version of that concept to put a disastrous stretch from last Sunday's loss to Green Bay in the rear-view, so he could shift his focus to the team's upcoming game against the Arizona Cardinals.
With the Lions up three late in the first half, Harris was flagged on back-to-back plays, both 15-yard penalties, which allowed Green Bay to score a touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter.
Then, coming out of the locker room, Harris had one of the most noticeable breakdowns on Aaron Jones' back-breaking, 75-yard touchdown run, taking a bad angle to the ball carrier as he raced through the second level of Detroit's defense.
“It’s definitely not ideal, especially to go out there and have two, back-to-back penalties, but at the same time, it’s a violent game, it’s a fast game when you’re out there," Harris said Friday. "Things happen. Do you intentionally want to go out there and do something that causes a penalty? No, but at the same time, you try to stay away from those things and sometimes they happen, and the goal is to see why and how they happen, and to not let them happen again so that it won’t negatively affect the game.
"I take a lot of pride in not being that person to negatively affect a team," Harris said. "Obviously, I care a lot about that. That’s been addressed with my teammates, with myself. I’ve tried over the past week to address that with myself, as well. And it’s just something to learn from, and that’s nothing that my team has to worry about."
This isn't the first time Harris has had a momentum-altering mistake in his young career. In his debut as a rookie last year — against the same Cardinals squad the Lions will play this week — Harris blew a block on punt protection. That allowed the rusher to get a hand on the boot, giving the Cardinals a short field that facilitated their fourth-quarter rally.
Harris took that one hard, watching the play over and over the next week, dissecting what went wrong and how to correct it. It's one thing to make a mistake, and another to be accountable and driven to correct it. Harris falls firmly into that second category.
Regardless, Harris' blunders brightened the spotlight already on the team's safety rotation.
Through two games, Duron Harmon has played every defensive snap, while Harris and Tracy Walker are in rotation that sometimes has them sharing the field. Given Walker's early-career success, his diminished role in favor of Harris has raised questions the coaching staff isn't inclined to directly answer.
"Every year is a little bit different," Lions coach Matt Patricia said this week. "I think the back end, the DB room has changed completely, from that aspect of it, and guys work during the course of the offseason to improve on certain things. It’s just about competition. But certainly without an offseason program and shorter training camp, we have a limited snapshot of what that competition looks like. We continually evaluate it as we go through the course of the season and things can change as we go through.
"For us, and I would say particularly the safety position, I generally like to play a lot of safeties and those guys will be out there in different roles in different capacities," Patricia continued. "I think, from that standpoint, they’re all kind of starters based on whatever package we’re in that particular game or that particular week."
Harris has played 101 snaps to Walker's 93. In 2019, Walker played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in five games and was on the field better than 90 percent of the time he wasn't injured. This season, he's been on the field a touch more than 67 percent of the plays, while seeing an increased role on special teams.