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Don’t forget about Charles Harris

Detroit Lions EDGE Charles Harris has had a quiet offseason and missed most of 2022. But Lions coaches know he’s an integral part of their defense in 2023.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

When analyzing the Detroit Lions roster, it may be easy to overlook Charles Harris. Recently, the Lions have added a bunch of new players on defense, including five draft picks picked in the first two rounds over the last three years. Meanwhile, Harris is coming off an injury-shortened season in which he only logged six games, four starts, and 14 tackles.

But all offseason, Harris has been repping as the team’s starting SAM linebacker, a role critical to the defense’s success.

“A healthy Charles Harris is going to make us a much better defense,” outside linebackers coach David Corrao said back in June.

Harris’ NFL career has been a long, arduous path. A former first-round pick, Harris lasted just three years with the Miami Dolphins—the team who drafted him—and only sacked the quarterback 3.5 times. After another underwhelming season with the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions took a chance on him with a prove-it deal in 2021, and Harris more than proved it. In 14 starts, Harris tallied 7.5 sacks and 65 tackles. He finished the season sixth in ESPN’s run stop win rate, and from Week 10 and beyond he produced the sixth most pressures in the NFL.

“Looking forward to him getting back to his ’21 form and I expect him to do that,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said on Saturday. “And he’s expected to do that himself.”

Harris, though, isn’t looking back at that 2021 season as some sort of lightning in a bottle he needs to recapture. Rather, he’s still trying to grow and improve as a player.

“It ain’t nothing made up or ‘Oh, you gotta get back to that,’” Harris told Pride of Detroit. “I’m trying to see how I could be better. Because I think a lot of the time we get caught up in things that we’ve done successfully, and that kind of stagnates us or makes it so we stall out in our progression. So I’m just looking at my practice film, and what did I do wrong, and trying to make sure I correct those imperfections.”

Harris’ value to the team goes beyond his play on the field, too. As one of the more seasoned players on the defense—only one defender (Romeo Okwara) has been in the league longer—Harris is a trusted voice to his defensive coordinator.

“He’s a guy that I talk to quite a bit as far as ‘how does he like the plan, and is there anything that he wants to change,’” Glenn said. “Because I respect his opinion about how we go about things.”

Harris has gone through many defensive coordinators in his career and knows that Glenn’s collaborative approach is rare in this league.

“To have that much humility in his own gameplan and say, ‘Look, I’ma make this totally adjustable and custom to my players and what their unique abilities are,’ I think it just speaks highly of his character and who he is as a leader,” Harris said.

Harris didn’t play at all this preseason, which speaks to how much the team values him and his health. But it’s also led some fans and analysts to overlook him. Out of sight, out of mind. And Harris hasn’t been a force on the field for a couple of years. But it’s safe to say that within the walls of Allen Park, Harris is not being slept on.

“He’s never been forgotten about by us,” Glenn said. “We know how special he is as a player, and more than that, just as a person and what he brings to our team. He’s quiet, but when he speaks, people listen.”

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