That’s because a rain-soaked practice at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Wednesday was the first time Harris had worn a pair of shoulder pads since suffering a partially torn left ACL in the Broncos’ Jan. 12 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC divisional playoffs.
And the perpetually-smiling Harris couldn’t have been any happier to be caught out in the rain.
“I know everyone always talks about Adrian Peterson’s comeback, but you all need to talk about my comeback because I came back a lot faster than Adrian Peterson did," Harris said with a laugh. Harris Jr. called it “an emotional day for me."
The fourth-year cornerback has been one of the most significant finds for the current Broncos regime. Harris was one of the last undrafted rookies the team signed following the 2011 draft. He quickly turned heads in his first training camp with his competitiveness and ability to play all over the formation -- none other than Champ Bailey said then Harris was going to stick “for a long time." Harris has grown into one of the defense’s most versatile and most important players.
His absence in both the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XLVIII forced the Broncos to mix and match in the secondary and deprived the defense of not only one of the starters at cornerback, but their best slot cornerback as well. Since his injury, Harris has plowed through his rehab and consistently said he would be cleared to practice shortly after training camp began, would be cleared for full contact by the third preseason game and ready for the Broncos’ Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
“I’ve put in a lot of work these past couple of months," Harris said. “I'm just thankful and blessed to be back out here."
Said Broncos coach John Fox: “It was good to have him back out there; I know he was excited."
Harris had his knee repaired Feb. 6, three days after the Broncos’ 45-8 loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. So in just under six months, Harris has worked his way back onto the practice field. The cornerback visited Dr. James Andrews on Monday and was cleared to practice.
The Broncos only let him do limited work Wednesday in slippery conditions -- “they had to slow me down a couple of times, even in walk-through," Harris said -- and he will likely do individual drills and 7-on-7 work in the near future.
Harris is not expected to play in the first two preseason games – against the Seahawks and 49ers – and says he still hopes to play in the third preseason game on Aug. 23 against the Houston Texans. Harris has spent much of the offseason working alongside linebacker Von Miller, who tore his ACL in the Dec. 22 game against the Houston Texans.
“Just competing with him and him being ahead of me helped push me to get where he was faster," Harris Jr. said. “Actually I came back faster because he came back at seven months and I came back at six months. It’s not even six months yet for me, so for me to be back out here this quick is really incredible. Dr. Andrews was ecstatic about my recovery and I am just going to keep taking it slow so I will be ready to go."
Kayvon Webster has lined up at right cornerback in Harris' absence and Aqib Talib has played in the left cornerback spot. Rookie Bradley Roby has come in for the team’s nickel packages, with Webster often moving into the slot.
Harris' return will eventually adjust that rotation with Harris and Talib as the starters, with the hope Roby will be ready to play on the outside in the nickel by the start of the season, when Harris would move into the slot in the specialty packages.
“Just the first step, but it was huge for me," Harris said. “I’ll be back; I’ll be ready for the season, no doubt about it. Just write my name in there."