Some of you might not know who Erik Harris is. If that‘s the case, then you would certainly be surprised to learn that he led the Raiders in special teams tackles last season (5) or that he was the Raiders special teams representative on the Pro Bowl ballot.
Special teams is what the 6-3, 225-pounder has been known for in his two seasons in the league out of California PA, originally signing as an undrafted free agent with the Saints in 2016 and then joining the Raiders just prior to the start of last season.
Lately, Harris has been showing a side to his game he hadn’t shown much of before. He’s showing Jon Gruden he may be more than a special teamer. That he can contribute on defense as well, if given the chance.
“The guy that’s really been stunning for us is Erik Harris,” Gruden said Tuesday, unprompted. “I ’m doing my research on this guy. Who is this cat? This guy has played really good football for us. I don’t care what round they are coming from. This kid is really rising to the top right now.”
Gruden does a lot of mixing and matching, so it can be tough sometimes to tell which unit is on the field. But you can tell Harris is getting a good amount of time between first and second team reps. The first team reps began in minicamp with Marcus Gilchrist not practicing.
“[Marcus] Gilchrist had a slight calf strain so we held him out,” said Gruden, adding some superlatives on Gilchrist as well. ”He’s been, arguably, our best safety in camp. He’s extremely versatile, can play nickel, can play free, can play strong.”
We can only take Gruden’s word on how Gilchrist has performed due to only three of the ten OTA practices being open to the media.
In the second OTA, Harris made a big play, going up high to snatch a high arching Connor Cook pass out of the air from the deep safety spot.
In Wednesday’s practice, he did it again. It was Connor Cook again, this time throwing for Jalen Richard up the left sideline. Harris sniffed it out early and made a break on it. Cook’s pass sailed long for Richard, with Harris saying “That’s mine” before catching the pass above his head. He had the presence of mind to then look down and tap his toes along the sideline to complete the catch.
When he initially swung over to cover Richard, he was in position to either break up the pass or lay a big hit on Richard had he caught it. But the overthrow turned that into an interception.
There’s certainly room to debate the merits of either interception considering they didn’t come against Derek Carr. Especially considering Cook has thrown a few interceptions just in our view, including another interception in practice Wednesday to Dallin Leavitt. But all Harris can do is perform at a high level with the personnel on the field with him in the hopes of earning more trust in facing Carr and the first team offense.
With Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph again looking like the favorites to start and Gilchrist impressing as a potential nickel DB, the next two spots are currently being occupied by Harris at free safety and Shalom Luani at strong safety — both of whom also excel on special teams and therefore raising their value and chances of making the roster.