When the seventh round of the 2011 draft had already drawn to a close, when the Denver Broncos had already tossed around some offers for some of the undrafted rookies they wanted, so much so they had spent all but $2,000 of their budget for signing bonuses for the undrafted players they liked, scout Dave Ziegler had the names of three cornerbacks to review.
One had sprinter’s speed, one had some size and one was Chris Harris, a savvy player who had started four seasons at Kansas, including splitting time at cornerback and safety as a senior.
And that has turned out to be the best $2,000 the Broncos, or anyone else, could have spent. Because with Champ Bailey now battling a left foot injury he suffered in Seattle Saturday night, Harris is again the Denver secondary’s version of the Coast Guard. The Broncos make the call and Harris dives in.
“I feel like I can play anywhere they need me to, inside, outside, maybe a little safety if they needed that,’’ Harris said. “I feel confident in what I do and want to be a guy they look to.’’
Bailey’s X-rays showed no fracture in his foot and an MRI exam Sunday showed no major tears. But the 12-time Pro Bowl selection was plenty sore when he arrived to the Broncos’ Dove Valley complex for treatment. He will not play for the remainder of the preseason and will miss some practice time.
The Broncos are still hopeful Bailey will be at his left cornerback spot by the time Sept. 5 rolls around, when they open the league’s regular season against the Baltimore Ravens. If he isn’t and the Broncos aren’t in their nickel defense Harris will likely be there. And if Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie couldn’t play at right cornerback and Bailey was in the lineup, Harris would be on the right side. And when they need a guy in the slot, Harris is that guy too.
And that is a full resume for a guy many thought was a tick slow, a few inches too short and who got lost in the draft shuffle when he changed position in a struggling defense at Kansas because the team needed him to.
"That probably did hurt me a little bit with the draft,'' Harris said. "I still thought I would get picked, I mean I thought people could see I moved to safety because they needed me to, not because I couldn't play corner. But I think about it all the time, and I think I don't take anything for granted.''
“The thing that makes Chris so tough is he will fight you on every play,’’ is how Bailey has described it. “You could see it right away even when he was a rookie, in those first workouts, just mentally tough, he just lined up and played every play. He made plays right from the start.’’
With Bailey entering his 15th season, having just turned 35 in June, he has said he knows “no week’s a given, no season’s a given,’’ and that “people are going to come after you.’’ Injuries are always a concern at this point as well, even for a player who has been a durable as Bailey has been over his career.
He has played in 16 games in nine of his seasons, played in at least 13 games in 13 seasons. The only year Bailey has lined up fewer than 13 times in his team’s defense was in 2008 when he missed seven games with a groin injury. In his previous nine seasons with the Broncos, they are 8-6 in games Bailey did not play – 2-0 in 2005, 1-0 in 2007, 4-3 in 2008, 0-1 in 2010 and 1-2 in 2011.
“I always feel like I’m going to look out there and see Champ out there,’’ Harris said. “But if he’s not, I have to make sure I’m ready. We always want to hold up, I want to be somebody they can count on."