Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
What a novel concept.
The problem with patience is that many NFL fans struggle with it. Whether it’s a rookie QB not being immediately successful, a Cornerback that takes some time to adjust to the game, or a coach not delivering wins. The NFL is a results-driven league and failure to provide results, whether it’s from a player or a coach, will usually end with someone losing their job. When a coach and GM become established in an organization, they are given more leeway. They have time to create a culture which allows teams to develop prospects, and grow talent from within. This is when patience can pay off.
Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman have created a culture that allows them an opportunity to be patient and develop talent. That is exactly what we are seeing with Anthony Harris. An Undrafted Free Agent out of Virginia, Harris has burst onto the scene this year filling the void for Andrew Sendejo who is out with a groin injury.
But let’s rewind back a little bit, where did Harris come from? Why has it taken so long to get where he is today? Going back to his days at Virginia, Harris was a stud. As a true freshman he played in all 13 of Virginia’s games as a special team’s guy. In his sophomore season he had earned the right to start, and played well, racking up 87 tackles on the year with 1 Interception and 1 Forced Fumble. From there he continued to get better, in his junior year, he earned first team All ACC honors after snagging 8 INT on the year. He finished his senior year with 108 tackles and 2 INT’s while be named to the 3rd-All Team All ACC.
After receiving a invite to play in the Senior Bowl, Harris discovered a torn labrum that prevented him from playing in that game, as well as participating in the combine. Then draft came and went and no one called, but in May of 2015 he was offered a contract with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, and hasn’t looked back. Coming in as an UDFA Harris had the odds stacked against him. Each year he continued to improve and beat out the likes of Antone Exum, Robert Blanton, and Michael Griffin. He was called up from the practice squad to start in his first game against the Cardinals in 2015, and showed flashes of his potential. That game wasn’t enough for Zimmer to hand him the starting role.
With each start over the next two seasons, Harris continued to show flashes when he was called upon and you could see from afar that he was starting to understand the game more. He was playing smarter and faster than he had before. His most notable play came last year versus the Rams at home, where Harris made a great play that saved a TD with an awesome forced fumble while he filled in for Sendejo.
Fast forward to 2018, Harris has been asked to fill in again for the injured Sendejo. This time feels different, hell, something looks different. Harris doesn’t seem like he is a stop gap player any more. He has taken this opportunity and doesn’t appear to be letting go any time soon, leaving fans wondering, have we seen the last of Andrew Sendejo? In his 3 starts so far this season Harris has 3 INT, 5 pass breakups and 15 tackles. Not too shabby, but it goes deeper than just the stats. Harris is playing good, disciplined football, which is exactly what Mike Zimmer wants out of his guys. Harris is an instinctive safety and you’ll rarely see him out of position.
Below is one of the most recent highlight plays from Harris. Harris will remain disciplined, and stays where he is supposed to be as he baits Trubisky to throw. He closes in, and makes an incredible INT by snatching the ball away. Typically the Vikings haven’t had this type of play from that safety position, as Sendejo would just go for the hit on a play like this.
Here is another clip from earlier this season. Harris just sits back and lets the whole play come to him. He is very good an anticipating routes and here you’ll see him watch the QB and jump the route for another great INT in front of future HOF’er Larry Fitzgerald
It’s not easy as fans to sit here and wait for these guys to progress, but the pressure of starting a new job and having the expectation of immediately being the best is difficult. There will be rare cases where it happens but in most situations it takes time to learn, and football is a complex sport. Luckily for Harris, he never had the pressure from fans to be great from day one, but he is an example that with a little patience, and proper coaching, you can find a diamond in the rough.