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Deonte Harris has become play-making receiver for New Orleans Saints

'He's got rare, rare speed just in terms of everything'

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The New Orleans Saints take on the Tennessee Titans on the road in Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season.

What appears to be natural is the result of hours of meticulous work by Deonte Harris.

Three hours a day, five days a week, several weeks and months this offseason, his workouts began with route running because the New Orleans Saints receiver came to the position late in life, and there was and remains catching up to do.

But he's gaining on it.

Entering Sunday's game against the Eagles (4-6) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Harris leads the Saints (5-4) with 407 receiving yards, including touchdown catches of 55 and 72 yards, on 24 catches.

The speedster remains the team's best deep threat (his 17-yard average leads the team, too), but it's his work on developing the skills to run the entire route tree that has made Harris stand out this season.

"Fifteen hours a week just learning how to run routes, learning how to get my feet better, understanding what I'm trying to do on certain routes," he said.

"I think as you change levels – I didn't play receiver in high school, so then when I got to college (at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.) it was like, yeah, I played receiver but, and this is no disrespect to my receiver coach, but they weren't really, like, teaching us what it was to be a receiver. It was just, this is the route, run this route.

"So then when I got here, it was like starting from scratch and at that point I just had to be a sponge and just learn everything I could. It was a lot for me, not because of my athleticism, but simply because I never really was taught how to play receiver."

Harris said his "receiver whisperer" was former teammate Ted Ginn Jr., a Saint from 2017-19. Harris made the roster as an undrafted rookie in '19 as a returner, and was All-Pro and a Pro Bowler after returning 36 punts for 338 yards and a touchdown, and 24 kickoffs for 644 yards.

Harris, who's listed at 5 feet 6, 170 pounds, caught six passes for 24 yards that season.

"Just talking to him, picking his brain and just listening to him tell me everything that I could do and stuff like that," he said of Ginn. "Toward the back end of my rookie year, Ted was really the one that was really helping me understand that the sky's the limit. Just watching smaller guys on the field like (Chiefs receiver) Tyreek Hill, trying to pick up on certain things they do and trying to imitate the things that they do."

The thing that Harris can do, that many others can't, is flat-out run fast.

He can start fast, stop fast, change directions fast and make routes appear to be something they're not.

"They try to say it's because I'm short," he said, smiling. "But (Saints Coach) Sean (Payton) talks about it all the time: You've got to be able to run fast and stop fast. So that was just something that I always had an emphasis on, being able to get in and out of my breaks."

"He's got rare, rare speed just in terms of everything – straight line, change of direction," quarterback Trevor Siemian said. "There's nothing he can't do.

"And throwing to him, he's certainly playing at a different speed than everybody else on the field. Took a little adjustment for your eyes getting used to and seeing his body language, but I mean, there's not a route that he runs vs. match coverage where I'm like, he's not going to (win). I mean, he's going to win."

Safety Malcolm Jenkins said Harris' explosiveness is the main reason he's on the team.

"Every time he touches the ball he's got an opportunity to break something open," Jenkins said. "His ability to change direction and his speed, get him out in open space and he's hard to get down.

"I think of, like, (former Saints, Chargers and Eagles running back) Darren Sproles. Somebody who had that build and that ability to stop and accelerate, to change direction, and who's a smaller body so actually makes it harder to get a piece of him."

Harris said some of his workout partners specifically have told him that.

"I know just working out in the offseason and talking to (defensive backs), they kind of hate those shorter, faster guys," he said. "They're just used to people that are 5-foot-11 or plus and big bodies that they can get hands on. I think it's a hard adjustment for them to have to cover somebody that's fast and short."

Fast, short, and thirsty.

Harris said he welcomes the chance to have more touches as a receiver. He remains the Saints' primary returner (eight punts for 113 yards and 18 kickoffs for 469 yards this season), but his learning curve at receiver boosts his play-maker status.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," he said. "I love this game. For me when I'm at practice, every practice rep is a game rep for me. I picked up on that when I got here.

"In college I was kind of – I'm not going to say lazy, but I didn't really have anybody to, like, we were pushing each other because we were good, but it wasn't like what it is here. The culture here is just different.

"So I want the ball as many times as possible. I just believe in me and believe in my talent. I just want to help this team in every way possible."

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