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John DeShazier: De'Vante Harris putting together strong training camp with Saints

Second-year cornerback had two picks Monday

It can be a fool's errand, lining up opposite Ted Ginn Jr. in a one-on-one drill, a cornerback isolated in coverage against one of the fastest receivers in the league and, perhaps, the fastest member of the New Orleans Saints.

But it's work that cornerback De'Vante Harris asks for, and when he doesn't volunteer, his attendance is requested by his adversary. Harris, who once played receiver in high school and idolized Ginn, now is seeing up close and personal the things that he admired.

"He's a great receiver," Harris said Monday. "He was my screensaver at one time growing up. If you've got an opportunity to go against a guy like that – and he'll come up to me as well, like, 'Man, come on, let's get this work' – you've got a guy who shares that same mentality as you, and you grew up watching this guy, that's surreal to be able to do that every single day. So why would I go a rep without going against him?"

The lesson Ginn has taught?

"I learned I need to get hands on speedy guys," Harris said. "You've got a guy that can run like that, you've got to get your hands on him. I have confidence in my speed, but you've got a guy like that who's 4.3 (seconds in the 40), 4.2 out of the gate, you've got to be able to move your feet. I feel that if I can guard him, I can guard pretty much every receiver in this league. That's my mentality."

Harris, who made the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie last season, appears to be on his way.

A two-interception practice Monday at the Saints' indoor facility at the Oschner Sports Performance Center added to the burgeoning resume that he has compiled this training camp.

He looks, and sounds, like a different player than last year – more confident, more instinctive, more ready to take on the challenges that must've seemed gargantuan at times in 2016.

"I'm a lot more comfortable in everything that I do," he said. "I've put in a lot of work in the offseason individually, and we kind of gelled as a defensive back group. We're bringing the best out of each other."

Their best has resulted in more pass breakups, more interceptions, more cleanly aggressive play that they hope will result in more takeaways for a defense that has produced 30 interceptions in the last 48 regular-season games – nine last season, nine in '15 and 12 in '14.

"We flew around today," Harris said. "It wasn't just me, though, it was all our guys. It was that rush that really had the ball coming out of the quarterback's hand fast and allowed us not to cover for like five or six seconds.

"It's a group effort. It's not just us. Yeah, you've got guys batting balls and catching picks, but we need that quarterback to be letting go of the ball faster. And our D-line, they're doing an outstanding job of doing that."

Harris played in 10 games as a rookie and finished with 11 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass defended. He was thrust into action partly due to injuries in the secondary, and injuries this year again have given him a chance to shine in camp.

With Delvin Breaux and first-round pick Marshon Lattimore sidelined, "Aggie" – Harris' nickname; he played at Texas A&M, the Aggies, which also is the alma mater of secondary coach Aaron Glenn – has been one of the cornerbacks who has benefited from the increased reps and has shown well with the No. 1 defense.

"It's all of those guys, not just De'Vante (playing well)," secondary coach Aaron Glenn said. "It just so happened that he had a good day today. But when you go to Ken Crawley, (undrafted rookie Arthur) Maulet, those guys are doing a really good job.

"But just in particular, with Aggie, he's trusting everything he's been taught. When you get to that point and you allow yourself to be coached – not saying he didn't last year, I think he just understands more – you start seeing the things that you're coached to do start to work on the field. I think he's been doing a really, really good job at that."

And Harris said he has an appreciation of Glenn.

"When you've got a guy like that who has the passion for the game, got the experience – it's not just lip service with him," Harris said. "He means what he says and he knows what he's talking about. We automatically have the utmost respect for Coach Glenn."

And he has an appreciation for his teammates in the secondary, with whom he has forged a bond.

"We spent more time with each other in the offseason," Harris said. "It's one thing when you have to come to work and just play with a group of guys, but when you spend your off time with that same group of guys and you're willing to go out there and fight and sweat and shed blood for those guys, it's like a different feeling.

"We do a lot of things away from the cameras, away from the facility together. It just goes into the ultimate goal, just to be that group of guys that this team and this defense can lean on."

Lining up against Ginn has helped Harris enhance his dependability. It's an assignment he happily accepts, one that Ginn would assure he accepted even if Harris didn't want to.

Photos from 2017 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon at Ochsner Sports Performance Center on August 7, 2017.

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