Englewood (AP) — Chris Harris never believed he wasn't supposed to be playing a pivotal role in the Denver Broncos secondary.
It didn't matter that it was training camp, Harris was an undrafted free rookie agent out of the University of Kansas and had no offseason to impress a new coaching staff. Harris felt he deserved more than the minimal practice repetitions he'd been getting.
"That dude," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said, "is one of the hungriest guys I've been around in my life."
Harris is starting to get his fill now, notching two key pass-breakups in an overtime victory in Miami last Sunday. That performance has potentially earned him a larger role this weekend when Denver (2-4) hosts the pass-happy Detroit Lions (5-2).
"That's what happens when you do a great job," defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said this week. "You find ways to get yourself on the field."
Harris' emergence comes within a defensive backfield that has been in a state of flux.
Quinton Carter replaced Moore at free safety against the Dolphins, using the bye leading up to the game to get up to speed on the position after playing the strong side all season. Jonathan Wilhite subbed in for Cassius Vaughn as nickel corner in Miami, too, but after getting picked on repeatedly, the staff turned to Harris in crunch time.
Moore remained in the rotation after his benching but in a lesser role, as part of the dime package.
"We're still finding out about our team," coach John Fox said, "We're just trying to find the right combination."
The emergence of Carter wasn't surprising. He was a fourth-round pick in April's draft out of Oklahoma and had been running behind Brian Dawkins on the strong side.
Wilhite's steady involvement also was somewhat anticipated. He was picked up Sept. 4 after his release by the New England Patriots and had 39 NFL appearances and 13 starts on his resume as a fourth-year player when he joined Denver. He cemented a spot almost immediately with the Broncos with some well-executed blitzes and an interception.
But Harris' ascension came as something of a surprise.
"I've always had confidence since I've been here," said Harris. "I've been bugging them, 'Man, throw me in already. Throw me in.'"
Harris gauges whether his daily efforts are sufficient by comparing himself to Dawkins, a renowned workaholic now in his 16th season.
"Every day I go to practice, (it's) 'Got to outwork Dawk.' If I can outwork Dawk, I know I'm working hard. That's the approach I'm taking."
Still, Harris was somewhat run down in August because he wasn't getting many opportunities. It was then that Moore, a second-round selection last April who ran with the starters from Day 1 of camp, gave Harris a pick-me-up that ultimately helped put him on track toward making the 53-man roster.
"I told him, 'You better cover Brandon Lloyd every day, every single day. I don't ever want to see you out there with anybody else,'" Moore said, referring to the now ex-Denver receiver who led the league in receiving yards last season.
"He did it and did good at it," Moore added. "That's why he's out there able to translate it to the field."
Harris and the rest of Denver's secondary will have to excel Sunday if they're going to have a chance to derail the Lions offense, which ranks 11th overall at 242.8 yards per game and features receiver Calvin Johnson.
The Lions like to spread the field with multiple receiver sets, meaning Denver's five- and six-defensive back looks will grace the field liberally and give Harris extra playmaking opportunities.
So far, he's been up to the task.
"You never really know exactly how those guys are going to react," Allen said. "He reacted positively. In the Green Bay game we stuck him in there for a couple of plays and he didn't bat an eye. And he did the same thing last week."
NOTES: Defensive end Elvis Dumervil (ankle sprain) returned to practice Friday after missing two days of prep work. Coach John Fox called Dumervil's availability a game-time decision. The same likely applies to DT Marcus Thomas (knee), who worked out on a limited basis Thursday and Friday. . RB Willis McGahee has officially been ruled out Sunday. He's expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by Knowshon Moreno.
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