<span style="">Each year, and in each NFL training camp, a young player or two steps up and begins to get noticed.
At first the "flashes" are usually demonstrated against players on the third-string. From there coaches traditionally move the players up a spot and see what they can do against the second-teammers. More often than not the move up the ladder often results in an obvious illustration of a maximization of talent and the player either washes out or nestles into a role-playing niche.
But on rare occasions, a player seizes an opportunity and keeps growing and assuming more and more responsibility, and in the end, more playing time and a roster spot.
An analogy could be made that young player NFL players that make up the last few roster spots are like a boxing champ at his local gym. Those that get in the ring with him end up getting pounded. At some point, the accomplished boxer has to leave the gym and head to an arena where more accomplished boxers lie in wait. It is what they call "going where the lights are on." A clear reference to the bigger stage and the increase in competition that the neighborhood champ must contend with in an effort to prove he belongs.
The gym champ either sinks or swims, so to speak.
In the case of Saints defensive lineman Orien Harris, the move from the gym to the arena has gone rather smoothly, in large part because of his versatility. But not something he is willing to rest his laurels on, not after the long path his has traveled in the NFL the past three seasons.
"It's going pretty well," Harris said after practice today of his first training camp with the Saints. "We're working very hard and we have a position coach (Ed Orgeron) who is getting after us and is very demanding. He demands 100% effort and accountability and that's the goal each day in practice and into the games. He never is satisfied."
The 6-3, 300-pound product of the University of Miami has taken a rather circuitous route to his current spot on the Saints' roster, but nonetheless, he appears to be making the most of his opportunity.
"I think he's played pretty well so far," said head Coach Sean Payton. "We've (the coaching staff) hcertainly noticed him and he's getting more and more work and will continue to get it here in the final two pre-season games."
Which, according to Harris, is music to his ears. "I want to be on the field and show that what I can do and help this team win. That's my sole focus right now," Harris said.
With injuries to Hollis Thomas (triceps), DT James Reed (Achilles) and DT Brian Young (foot), Harris is getting handfuls of repetitions in practice and is showing up on the game films, as well. Through the team's first two pre-season games, Harris leads all Saints defensive linemen in tackles (10 solo), which trails only OLB Scott Shanle (12 tackles) among the team leaders. He also registered a sack of QB Brian St. Pierre in the second quarter of the Saints' 24-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals in pre-season game one and has been active in his pursuit of the ball throughout the two games.
Harris was a fourth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006 and spent a large portion of his rookie season on the Steelers' practice squad before being signed off of the practice squad by the Cleveland Browns, where he appeared in their final two games of the '06 season. He then went to camp with the Browns last season but was waived at the conclusion of training camp and ended up on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad before he was signed off the practice squad by the Saints on December 19, 2007.
Harris, the younger brother of current Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Kwame Harris (a former first round pick of the San Francisco 49ers), was inactive for the Saints' final two pre-season games last season, but clearly took advantage of his opportunity to participate in the off-season strength-and-conditioning program, mini-camp and OTA's.
The native of Newark, Delaware is highly unusual in the sense that he a tremendously athletic man for his size and has opened eyes with his ability to effectively contribute as a blocker on kickoff teams, as well as be used in kickoff coverage teams, which are usually task custom made for players such as linebackers, running backs and defensive backs.
Yet, there is Harris barreling down the field on the special teams drills and making the sudden cuts and change of directions needed to be effective on the various special teams units.
"Here's the difference," said LB Jonathan Vilma, who along with TE Jeremy Shockey and TE Buck Ortega where teammates together at The "U." "He doesn't look at special teams as drudgery or extra running. He looks at it as another opportunity to showcase his athleticism. He's a very hard worker. He's been that way since he was a freshman in college."
Harris, a starter in 34-of-48 games during his collegiate days for the Hurricanes, also brings added value to the team in that he can play defensive end, though he appears most comfortable lining up at defensive tackle. "I don't care where I play," he said. "I just want to get onto the field."
Yet when battling for a coveted roster spot as the rosters are about to be trimmed, first to 75 and then to 53, the more versatility a player has and the more things he can effectively do simply adds to the value a player brings to the team.
"You can see he is playing with confidence right now and getting off quickly on the snap and making things happen," Vilma said. "He's quick enough and athletic enough to be pretty disruptive."
Cleary his play has been disruptive enough to be getting noticed.