Harris benefiting from position swap

Senior Oklahoma defensive back is switching to strong safety for 2012

Updated: April 9, 2012, 10:30 AM ET
By Brandon Chatmon | SoonerNation

Javon HarrisAP Photo/LM OteroJavon Harris had 47 tackles and three interceptions for the Sooners in 2011, starting eight games.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Javon Harris' words reveal the burden he has carried for the past few months.

"I have a lot of doubt on me," the Oklahoma safety said.

Harris lost his starting spot after the Sooners gave up 485 passing yards and four touchdowns to Baylor last November. Visions of Bears receivers cruising by Harris and the rest of the OU secondary have become the lasting images of the Sooners' pass defense struggles in 2011.

But with the Red-White spring game on Saturday, Harris sits atop the depth chart at strong safety and has been consistently called one of the top performers of the spring.

"This spring I've been more focused," he said. "I have a chip on my shoulder. I feel real confident, I feel like I need to be the player to step up out of us [defensive backs] back there."

When Harris went to the game film to review his junior season, he wasn't happy with what he saw. He had great moments -- two interceptions against Florida State that resulted in national player of the week honors -- that were overshadowed by his poor performances.

"Last year was a little bit of complacency, this year is about consistency," Harris said. "I think this year I'm going to play a little bit more safe. At the safety position, you can't allow big plays and that's something I did last year."

Some saw Harris' play as a liability in the Oklahoma secondary, but Mike Stoops saw it as an opportunity.

OU's new defensive coordinator saw Harris' big-play ability and felt it just wasn't being utilized correctly. So Stoops has moved Harris from free safety to strong safety this spring, getting Harris closer to the line of scrimmage and allowing him to make plays in the middle of the field while reducing his deep coverage responsibilities.

"That seems to suit him a little better," Stoops said. "I think we have him in a better position, I think it's [about] what we ask him to do. We have to know what [our players'] strengths and weaknesses are and not ask them to do certain things they can't do."

Stoops' arrival has been a jump start for Harris' career heading into his final season in Norman.

"Getting a new coach, we start with a blank sheet of paper and it's all about starting strong," Harris said.

Making sure his players are in the best position to maximize their abilities has become Stoops' top priority this spring.

"We are just trying to get our players in the right positions and be more efficient," said Stoops, who arrived in January. "We need to be as efficient as we can be with our players. I think we weren't as efficient as we needed to be last year."

Stoops, who coaches the Sooners' defensive backs, told Harris of his plans for the safety shortly after his arrival.

[+] EnlargeJavon Harris
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerJavon Harris thinks the move to strong safety will help him make more plays for Oklahoma.
"When he first got here he told me, 'I'm not going to put you in those positions. If I know you can't do something, I'm not going to make you do that,'" Harris said of his conversation with Stoops. "That's one thing I appreciated from him."

Harris is a prime example of Stoops' mission to get the best 11 players on the field at all times. He excels with more freedom to make plays and less responsibilities in pass coverage, making strong safety a natural fit. And Stoops has worked to limit any confusion regarding responsibilities along the defense.

"He wants to get the players to know their position and be out there loose, not having to think as much," Harris said. "It's not really simplifying [the defense] but going out there knowing what I need to do and what everybody else needs to do.

"He's getting everyone to know what they're doing and not have to think out there. That way you can play."

Six months ago, Harris' hopes of a memorable senior season were in jeopardy with doubts about his consistency overriding his playmaking potential. Now, with Stoops' arrival, Harris appears poised to be a key contributor this fall.

"This whole spring I have been coming in and showing the coaches I do have that chip on my shoulder," Harris said. "I'm not going to stop, and [I'm] going to finish strong. This is my last [year] and I'm going to go into the season, do what I've been doing and step up my game."

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