Don’t underestimate the Commanders’ loss of Chris Harris

Don’t underestimate the Commanders’ loss of their DBs coach originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington


The Commanders remain in search of their next offensive coordinator, but due to some recent news, it appears that the club will soon have another role to fill on its staff on top of finding a new play caller.

Chris Harris, who has overseen Washington’s defensive backs since 2020, is likely to depart from that gig to either join Tennessee in a pass game coordinator/cornerbacks coach capacity or perhaps take over Chicago’s defensive coordinator job, a source explained to NBC Sports Washington.

The NFL Network was first to report on Harris’ future over the weekend.

While nothing as of Wednesday had been finalized, Ron Rivera is probably preparing to replace Harris with a different assistant — and that assistant better be ready to continue the standard that Harris has set.

The former safety, who produced 16 interceptions in his seven-year NFL career, helped developed multiple Commanders contributors in the secondary during his time with the franchise, and the results of his tutelage really came to fruition in 2022.

Under Harris’ watch, Darrick Forrest emerged as Washington’s biggest breakout player this past season. In addition to Forrest’s ascension, Benjamin St-Juste took a promising step (particularly when asked to line up on the outside following the trade of William Jackson III). Those two failed to generate much excitement as rookies yet both seriously progressed in their second campaigns with Harris.

Then there’s Kam Curl, who joined the organization in the same offseason that Harris did and has blossomed into a do-it-all defender after his initial selection in the draft’s seventh and final round. Curl is in line for a major pay raise should the team opt to negotiate one in the coming months.

Even established veterans, such as Kendall Fuller and Bobby McCain, have seemed to vibe quite well with Harris. That pair won’t compete for Pro Bowls but it has seen a ton of action and been effective for the Commanders.

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Though it’s impossible to pin down precisely where or with whom Harris has created the largest impact, it’s safe to assume that he’s doing something (or, to be honest, many things) right because of how his charges have performed.

It’s not just about individual growth, either. No, the unit hasn’t completely and consistently shut down opponents all three years — it doesn’t require much effort to remember a handful of awful breakdowns on the back end — but overall, Harris’ collection of guys finished second in passing yards allowed in 2020, 29th in 2021 (OK, that was a very poor effort) and fourth in 2022.

Whoever ultimately secures Harris’ services will be welcoming in a successful leader. Rivera, meanwhile, will be forced to try and avoid a drop-off with whomever he tabs as the leader’s successor.

Fortunately, that choice — keep in mind that Richard Rodgers and Brent Vieselmeyer are two in-house candidates who spent time alongside Harris — will have the benefit of picking up where Harris left off. Forrest, St-Juste and Curl, for example, are each heading in a wonderful direction and ought to make their next boss look capable.

But can Harris’ replacement aid the backups — 2022 draftees Percy Butler and Christian Holmes fit that category — and future smaller acquisitions as they aim to follow those who have thrived ahead of them? That represents one primary area in which Rivera’s hire will be evaluated, as position coaches can be so key in determining the fate of fringe members of the roster.

Harris’ voice was often the loudest at Washington’s training camp practices. He had more energy than a puppy at the dog park whose water bowl was accidentally filled with espresso. It’s almost inevitable that the summer will be quieter without him. Hopefully the secondary’s output won’t trend the same way.

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