- Cliff Harris was back at work Thursday in a familiar setting at the Moshofsky Center. It seemed like old times for the former Oregon cornerback, only it wasn't. Harris and several former Duck teammates worked out for NFL scouts during Oregon's pro day. "It was a good day, being back (at) the university, seeing my teammates," Harris said. A 2011 preseason all-America selection, Harris had a series of off-the-field issues that led to his dismissal from the team, and likely hurt his NFL draft stock as well. The most well-documented incident - driving 118 miles per hour on I-5 last summer with a suspended license - is something Harris continues to address with NFL teams, along with other missteps. "I feel like with my past, I have a lot to prove just in general," Harris said. "I'm trying to show everybody that history won't repeat itself. I feel like everybody's got something to prove. It's a job interview." That job interview Thursday included weight lifting, a series of drills, and the 40-yard dash. Harris said he wasn't aware of his 40 times, but there was little doubt that he put in a hard days work. After pro day ended, he walked outside in the rain and got sick. "I'm not out of shape. It got pretty hot," Harris said. "Actually, when I went out that door I went out and threw up." Harris had support from former teammates and family members, who wore T-shirts featuring his picture in an Oregon uniform. In 2010, Harris emerged as one of the premier cornerbacks and return specialists in college football. He had six interceptions, returned one for a touchdown, and led the nation with four punt returns for touchdowns, a single-season school record. - Gary Horowitz, The Statesman Journal
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Overshadowed by the prolific scorers on Oregon's offense, Harris played a critical role in the Ducks' run to the 2011 BCS Championship game, emerging as the most dangerous cornerback and kick returner in the Pac-10 -- and perhaps in the entire country.
Though a highly touted prep prospect, Harris was initially expected to redshirt as a true freshman in 2009. Injuries forced the Ducks to play Harris early, however, and he responded with several big plays in the second half of the season, including an interception in the end zone against Washington, a 42-yard kick-return against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and leading the team with eight passes broken up despite only starting two games on the year. Still, no one could have predicted what would come in Harris' breakout sophomore season.
Harris led the country with 23 passes defended and led the Pac-10 with six interceptions, including two impressive interceptions against Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal. His second came in the closing minutes in the end zone, essentially sealing Oregon's win and Stanford's only loss of the season. He also returned four punts for touchdowns, leading the country in that category, as well. He was a consensus All-American, joining teammate LaMichael James and former Ducks Mel Renfro and Haloti Ngata as the only Oregon players to have ever been so celebrated.
The 2010 season is essentially all scouts have to evaluate as Harris' on-field exploits are only matched by his poor decisions off of it. Due to a variety of run-ins with the law, Harris was limited to just six games in 2011 (nine tackles, one interception). He was suspended twice and ultimately kicked off the team for good in December.
Harris' talent is undeniable. NFL teams are always in search of cover corners with big play ability. To earn the early round pick that equates to his ball and return skills, however, Harris will have to prove that he has the maturity to handle himself off the field.
Man Coverage: Rarely asked to play at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, though he appears to have the quick feet and loose hips to perform well in this scheme. Very experienced in off-man coverage, demonstrating a low, tight back pedal, fluid turning motion and straight-line speed to stick with any receiver in the country. Possesses a legitimate second gear when the ball is in flight and competes for every pass.
Zone Coverage: Excellent anticipatory skills. Sneaks a peek back at the quarterback when he can and will vacate his assignment to break on underneath routes. Possessing an explosive burst downhill to close on the ball. Isn't a physical hitter who is going to intimidate anyone but has very good lateral agility to break down in space and is a reliable open field tackler.
Ball Skills: Possesses very good hands and body control for the position. Times his leaps well, has a very good vertical jump and high-points passes, showing the hand-eye-coordination normally associated with wideouts. Very good vision, agility and straight line speed for the return. To nitpick, Harris carries the ball too loosely when he has it. Muffs the occasional punt and has had the ball ripped out of his hands on returns, as well (Stanford). This would appear to be mainly a concentration issue, however, while he focusing more on making a big play rather than ball security.
Run Support: A bit inconsistent in supporting the run. More than willing to take on the back in space - including bigger ball-carriers - but is okay with his teammates doing the dirty work, as well. Good quickness, agility and aggression in slipping past receiver blocks, but can get tied up by bigger, stronger wideouts. Inconsistent effort in pursuit, though he picks it up a notch when he sees the ball-carrier has a chance for a big play. Takes good angles in pursuit when necessary.
Tackling: A surprisingly effective tackler considering that he often relies on taking the knees out from the ball-carrier. Very good body control and accuracy to strike at the legs of the ball-carrier and does a nice job of wrapping his arms to stop the bigger man. Willing to lower his shoulder and play with physicality, but isn't going to scare anyone with his hitting ability.
Intangibles: Of his eight career interceptions, four have come against Andrew Luck (two), Matt Barkley (one) and Jake Locker (one). Legitimate character red-flags. Has reportedly racked up more than $5,000 in traffic fines over the past three years stemming from various arrests for speeding, driving with a suspended license, driving without insurance, failing to stop at a stop sign and minor in possession of alcohol, among other things. Fresno County court records indicate that Harris has not held a valid driver's license for more than two years. Famously, he and a teammate (quarterback Darron Thomas) were stopped in the early morning hours of July 12 driving 118 miles per hour along Interstate 5 in a car rented by a University of Oregon employee. Found himself in more legal hot water a few months later (Oct. 24) after again being pulled over and ticketed for driving with a suspended license, no proof of insurance and for driving without wearing his seat belt. Was suspended by the team and ultimately kicked off the team for good when he arrested on November 25 for possession of marijuana.