Harris drives fast, but he still hasn't arrived

This is about Cliff Harris and his bright idea to drive 118 mph at 4:30 a.m. last Sunday. But first, two stories.

Went to my annual doctor's checkup a couple of weeks back. The nurse and I were looking at a cool new Mustang through the window while she took my blood pressure. She casually told me a friend of hers had driven his Mustang at 150 mph on the 101 in the wee hours of the morning, just to see what would happen. She said the car handled the speed well. And my blood pressure was good.

In other words, driving fast on an empty stretch of highway is not the worst thing anyone has ever done, though Harris' doing so with a suspended license, well, we'll get back to that in a second.

Second story: When I used to write about baseball, I remember having an interesting conversation with a personnel guy who talked about durability as a critical, measurable skill. Lots of guys had skills, but would they show up every day and play? It wasn't only about staying healthy. It was about being ready to play every day with an optimum level of fitness and focus. This is not a revolutionary notion, but it's worth noting that showing up and doing what you are supposed to do is perhaps even more important than being a spectacular talent who regularly does spectacular things.

Let's also bracket off for a moment whether Harris' use of the rental car in question with two other football players might raise some eyebrows with the NCAA and that pesky extra benefits rule (Rob Moseley does a nice job here of suggesting that the Ducks might be OK.)

Harris lacks durability. His team can't count on him to play. He's now suspended for the LSU game, a marquee season-opener that is expected to be a statement game for the winner. It could have been a statement game for Harris. It still will be, only in a bad way.

I wasn't in the car with Harris, nor were you. But it's easy to imagine a range of reasons Harris might have chosen to drive 118.

  • He was in a hurry.

  • He did it to impress -- or perhaps scare -- his passengers.

  • Someone double-dog dared him to do it.

There is no space in any these possible scenarios, however, for Harris' behavior to be judged anything other than forehead-slappingly stupid.

More than a few Oregon fans were unhappy when the Pac-12 blog ranked Harris only No. 22 on our ranking of the best players in the Pac-10 in February, and some of the irritation was augmented by our then rating Ducks cornerback Talmadge Jackson No. 20.

Many Oregon fans love Harris big-play ability both as a corner and as a punt returner. They didn't care that Pac-10 coaches named Jackson first-team All-Pac-10 and Harris second-team. They didn't care that Oregon coach Chip Kelly said this at the national championship game: "Obviously Talmadge is our best player in the secondary."

They didn't care that defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said this at midseason.

Fans love CB Cliff Harris. He's made so many big plays. Why is he not a starter?

NA: That's a tough question. I'll answer it the best I can. He's not a starter now because he needs to learn to go hard and do the things we ask him to do all the time. I think he'll get there. That comes across as negative and I don't really like that. But he's getting much closer to conforming to what we want. He's a really good kid and he really cares. He's getting closer to having a knowledge of what we want and conforming to what he needs to do.

If we can assume that Aliotti wants to play his best players so the Ducks can play their best defense, why was he reluctant to start Harris? If you watched Harris highlights on YouTube, you would think Aliotti was cracked.

But if you watched cut-ups from the Ducks' film room where Harris was out of position, loafing or getting pushed around, you might understand Aliotti's reservations.

Further, there's maturity. How does Harris carry himself on and off the field? Kelly and Aliotti are supremely chaffed at Harris for gunning a rental car at 118 mph. But they aren't shocked by it. This is notable from Oregon's statement on Harris' indefinite suspension: "... sanctions imposed upon Harris were based upon the information currently available surrounding more than just a single event, and were independent of any legal rulings or potential violation of NCAA rules that have yet to be determined."

More than a "single event."

Harris, despite four punt returns for touchdowns and six interceptions in 2010, has yet to arrive, on and off the field, as a player and as an adult.

Harris has great talent and special instincts. He could enter the NFL draft early after the 2011 season and get picked in the first round.

And he just as easily could blow it. Plenty of examples of that, by the way.

Harris might want to think twice the next time Aliotti asks him to play within the Ducks' defensive scheme. Or when a buddy double-dog dares him to do something he knows he shouldn't.

The NFL takes note of both of those situations, Cliff.