Harris, whom the Cowboys selected in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of East Carolina, could contribute on offense in Saturday night’s game at Tampa Bay. More likely, head coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday, Harris could factor in on special teams, returning punts and/or kickoffs.
As a team, the Cowboys have returned 30 punts this season (11 by Harris) for an average of 8.1 yards per return. The team has returned 24 kickoffs this year (three by Harris) for an average of 22.2 yards per return. No Cowboy has returned a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown this season.
“We have never been really dynamic at the return position this year,” Garrett said. “We’re hoping he can help us there.”
After his first stint on the active roster, Harris spent the last couple of weeks on the team’s practice squad. Garrett said that the work Harris got has helped him improve.
“I feel I am a lot different player than I was a couple of weeks ago,” Harris said. “Me and (backup quarterback) Stephen McGee work together a lot after practice, and I think it has helped. I feel a lot more comfortable.”
The Dallas roster includes an unusually high number of wide receivers: seven. With Miles Austin back from a nagging hamstring injury, he, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson clearly are the team’s top three receivers. The roster also includes Kevin Ogletree and another recent call-up from the practice squad, Andre Holmes. So Harris might well make his presence known most quickly on special teams.
Harris said Wednesday he has not yet been told whether he will return kickoffs, punts or both against the Buccaneers, but he said he is eager to do both.
“I’ll do whatever they need me to do, whatever they want me to do,” he said. “If they want me to return punts, return kickoffs, I’m ready. I’ll go down and bust the wedge if that’s what they need.”
Harris reiterated several times that he will do whatever is asked of him in order to get on the field, but when pressed for a preference between punt returns and kickoff returns, he acknowledged that punt returns are his preference.
“I love punt returns,” he said. “For me, it’s like a big adrenaline rush. Every time you go out there, you have a chance to make a play, to make a big play that can change field position and get your team in a position to score.”
That’s true — returns can be game-altering plays. But for players like Harris, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds, there is a certain health risk involved, too. Harris admitted that looking up in the air at an oncoming punt, while knowing there is a coverage team heading his way with the intent of tackling him or — whenever possible, separating him from the ball — gives him “an edge.” But he said he never feels afraid for his physical well-being.
“There’s never any fear,” he said. “When you’re afraid, that’s when you can misjudge the ball and make a mistake.
“Returning punts is one of the toughest jobs in football, because there’s always a chance you get hit … hit hard. But I took a lot of big hits in my college career, and that helped. Once you take a couple of big hits, they all feel the same, so you might as well make the catch and make big plays.”