Atlanta Falcons: Jerrell Harris turning some heads at camp

Coaches have been impressed with undrafted rookie linebacker Jerrell Harris, from Alabama, taking the field for practice in Flowery Branch on Sunday, July 29, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Coaches have been impressed with undrafted rookie linebacker Jerrell Harris, from Alabama, taking the field for practice in Flowery Branch on Sunday, July 29, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

FLOWERY BRANCH – The importance of making a good first impression in most job environments is vital.

Strangely enough, that general employment rule applies to players seeking long-term work in the National Football League.

Through the first six practices of training camp, Falcons rookie linebacker Jerrell Harris has successfully made a good first impression and has caught the eye of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

“He stands out because he’s got long hair like everybody else,” Nolan quipped.

Then he flipped on the serious switch. “I think he stands out because of his size, everybody is impressed with his size,” Nolan said. “He moves well for a big man.”

Harris stands 6-feet-3 and weighs 242 pounds. He made a strong impression on the first full-squad training camp practice in pads on Sunday.

He was gliding around with the third-team defense and making solid hits on running backs.

“It kind of helped today to have the pads on,” linebacker coach Glenn Pires said. “In the run game, he came up and made some nice hits. He was playing on the tight end, too. Those are strengths for a man his size.”

Harris described his style of play thusly, “The thing that I like to hear is that I’m an old-school versatile linebacker. I don’t do everything great, but I do everything well.”

After helping Alabama win two national championships, Harris went undrafted while he watched six other members from their vaunted defense get selected.

He was considered one of the top undrafted players available. He received the second-highest signing bonus ($4,000) of the Falcons’ undrafted class. Only defensive end Louis Nzegwu received a higher ($5,000) signing bonus.

But it’s not just Harris’ stature that’s been impressive.

“He hasn’t dropped off much since the OTAs, which is kind of pleasing,” Nolan said. “Sometimes rooks come back and they’ve forgotten the whole thing. But he’s done a good job. I’m watching him myself because he’s definitely a big guy that can run.”

Harris was a Parade All-American coming out of Gadsden (Ala.) City High and considered the No. 3 prospect in the state on The Birmingham News’ Super Seniors List and was the 22nd rated prospect in the nation according to SuperPrep Magazine.

He flirted with attending Southern California, but eventually decided to roll with the Crimson Tide.

He played in 10 games as a true freshman, but went on to have a patchy career for Nick Saban. He played both weak and strong outside linebacker positions, but couldn’t crack the starting line up his senior year.

Harris missed part of his sophomore year after getting suspended for six-games by the NCAA after not being forthright when questioned about accepting a laptop computer from a businessman.

“It was hard spending so much time away from the team and not be able to get in rhythm with everybody else,” Harris said.

Before the suspension, Saban had said that Harris was set to start and admitted that he kind of got lost in the shuffle after his return.

Harris watched as Alabama players flew off draft boards in April.

The Alabama defensive players selected included: safety Mark Barron (first round, 7th overall by Tampa Bay), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (first, 17, Cincinnati), linebackers Dont’a Hightower (first, 25, New England) and Courtney Upshaw (second, 35, Baltimore), defensive tackle Josh Chapman (fifth, 136, Indianapolis) and cornerback DeQuan Menzie (fifth, 146, Kansas City).

“Not getting drafted wasn’t even a big deal for me,” Harris said. “Being at Alabama and doing what we did, I knew I was going to get a shot and that’s all I really needed. I knew it would be up to me after that.”

He had several options after the draft before deciding to sign with the Falcons.

“They were the most truthful about their linebacker situation,” Harris said.

Alabama plays a pros-style 3-4 defense with some 4-3 principles.  The Falcons’ base alignment is a 4-3, so there is some carryover for Harris.

“I knew that would give me a chance for a smooth transition and a shot to make the team,” Harris said.

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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71 comments Add your comment

bear bryant

July 29th, 2012
8:33 pm

Primero…creo

Barticus

July 29th, 2012
8:37 pm

Chi Town

July 29th, 2012
8:38 pm

Barticus

July 29th, 2012
8:38 pm

well crap…anyway we need some depth at LB

The Grinch

July 29th, 2012
8:52 pm

Glad to hear it…hope he keeps it up.

Bubba J.

July 29th, 2012
9:21 pm

Good deal, good luck to this guy. You always hear about some unknown coming in and getting noticed. Too bad he can’t play left tackle though. But, it’s still going to be a great year! Go Falcons!

THE FAN

July 29th, 2012
9:30 pm

Was at Flowery Branch today and this kid is a beast…….. Matter of fact the team looked pretty darn good overall.

tjhook

July 29th, 2012
9:30 pm

I like his possibilities . . . he will at least be hungry enough to hustle to get the professional check. And he knows how to be a role player. Let’s hope he can make an impact on special teams. Apparently knows how to find the ball.

Delbert D.

July 29th, 2012
9:32 pm

Sounds like the guy might be a special teams find, and eventually work his way into the rotation.

fanATicaL

July 29th, 2012
9:34 pm

If the loss of Tatupu were going to make the decision of the final roster easy.This kind of play is what makes this sooo cool.On eof the things I noticed about this camp.Is the level of athleticism and type player .Due to fit of scheme or familiarization with players.Chemistry so important to play on the field.As we release players I can see them showing up on other rosters.Another great indications as to the level of play of this team.

SeenThis B4

July 29th, 2012
9:38 pm

Bring on those rookie linebackers! Cannon fodder!

Ken

July 29th, 2012
9:38 pm

Sounds good!! Hoping he can continue to catch on to things and help fill the needs we were hoping Tatupu would handle.

kingdaddy

July 29th, 2012
9:54 pm

Great read DLed. Gotta love a fast big LB that hits and will work hard for this team. Hope he sticks…

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 29th, 2012
9:57 pm

kingdaddy — Thank you sir!

BIRDSFLYHIGH

July 29th, 2012
10:13 pm

BIRDSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Virginia Jim

July 29th, 2012
10:18 pm

It definitely helped that Jerrell Harris played under Nick Saban’s system. Harris gets it. If he can survive and succeed under Saban, he will do well for the Falcons.

UPGRAYEDD

July 29th, 2012
10:19 pm

Wondering how Schiller, Gruder, and Council are looking out there at LB. Or is this Harris cat head and shoulders above them?

Keith

July 29th, 2012
10:38 pm

With our needs at LB, this could be huge.

GO BIRDS! :)

Keith

July 29th, 2012
10:38 pm

Excellent work, Led!

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 29th, 2012
10:48 pm

UPGRAYEDD – We’ve got an eye on those guys, too. Gruder is interesting. Friday Night Lights will be live action and we’ll get to see something from them all.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 29th, 2012
10:49 pm

Keith – Thank you!

Zeus

July 29th, 2012
10:52 pm

Spoke with Council today, he states he has been getting positive remarks thus far. Says that the language and schemes are a carryover from his past 4 years too.

This Gets Old

July 29th, 2012
10:52 pm

Nice article, thanks.

Big Crimson 75

July 29th, 2012
11:09 pm

Lofa’s injury opened the door for Harris.
Falcon fans will like Harris, he’s solid.
A few corrections are in order, Bama plays a base 3 – 4 defense, and Harris started every game as a Sr.
He’a capable of playing all LB positions in any D.
Good luck Jerrell!!

Aaron

July 29th, 2012
11:27 pm

BTW, that “businessman” who gave Harris a laptop computer is Auburn booster, Curtis Anderson, who is head of Eagle Wholesale Supply. Yet another infraction that Auburn got away with.

Brian F.

July 30th, 2012
12:07 am

There always seems to be an undrafted free agent who shines the first week of camp. That guy usually end up tailing off and eventually gets cut. Hope that is not the case here, because we are overdue to find the next Jessie Tuggle who is without a doubt the best undrafted free agent in franchise history.

Lewis Grizzard

July 30th, 2012
12:26 am

Must take quite a bit to turn Orlando’s head.

J-MAN

July 30th, 2012
12:40 am

Who else would you list as being impressive so far?

Gritsfalcon

July 30th, 2012
2:07 am

Promising future for this young man! He comes from a school with tremendous tradition and an atmosphere of winning! That would be a plus for any team!!! Hope it works out for him and the Falcons.

[...] The rest of the article can be found here: Atlanta Falcons [...]

The Burner Turner

July 30th, 2012
6:33 am

When Dleds head turns does his stomach follow ?

TommyP

July 30th, 2012
7:16 am

Enjoyable read, D-Led. I think Harris sticks, at least on the practice squad.

tiger7_88

July 30th, 2012
7:52 am

I’m pretty sure Bama’s primary defensive alignment is a 3-4 defense and not a 4-3 as this article states. Saban’s football daddy is Bill Belicik and I do believe Belicik’s base defense is a 3-4 as well. Not that Harris wasn’t an outstanding college linebacker… he was. Just that the point of him sleeping easily from a 4-3 defense to another 4-3 defense is invalid.

Esquire

July 30th, 2012
8:28 am

Bring it kid!!

Steamer Lane Bulldog

July 30th, 2012
8:30 am

D Led good work. How are the O and D lines, and RB’s looking?

DP

July 30th, 2012
8:35 am

As others have noted, Alabama’s base defense is a 3-4, but they’re in it on much less than half of the snaps. They primarily play 4-2-5 in passing situations with one of the outside linebackers (usually Courtney Upshaw last year) becoming a defensive end and rushing the passer. Harris was a starter in the base defense but typically wasn’t part of the nickel defense. The 2 linebackers normally in the 4-2-5 were Dont’a Hightower, a first round draft pick who was effective both in coverage and blitzing, and C.J. Mosley, who is very mobile and outstanding against the pass, so the fact that Harris didn’t usually play on passing downs doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not capable of doing so.

caion2

July 30th, 2012
8:46 am

its about time to Falcons giving a real player his chance, not a lame horse

Mikey

July 30th, 2012
8:48 am

Thanks for update on rookie progress DLed! We’ve got a pretty stacked team so it will be tough for these guys to make it but it is great to hear how they are doing. We picked up Mike Peterson for depth at Line Backer but it would be nice to see someone even better emerge from the rookies working out. There is a good chance that one or more of these will make the practice squad and build depth for the future. Sounds like a good find on Harris.

Esquire

July 30th, 2012
8:54 am

SeenThis B4

July 29th, 2012
9:38 pm
Bring on those rookie linebackers! Cannon fodder!
______________________________________________

Remember this post when this is the kid who puts Wheeze on his backside.

Here we go

July 30th, 2012
9:08 am

Good job, DLED.

SeenThis B4

July 30th, 2012
9:08 am

It’s tough to put anybody on their backside when your surname shows up on the practice squad roster.

D man

July 30th, 2012
9:22 am

Sounds like the rookie has already played 4 years on a pro team so far. I love a good undrafted rookie story. Good luck Jarrell, I will be routing for you.

DR. FALCON

July 30th, 2012
9:33 am

HE WAS COACHED BY NICK SABAN! PRACTICED AGAINST 5-STAR ATHLETES, EVERYDAY IN THE S.E.C.! WHAT DO WE EXPECT? GOOD LUCK MR. HURRELL! YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A HIGH DRAFT CHOICE TO MAKE IT! ANYBODY, REMEMBER JESSIE TUGGLE? BY THE WAY, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO KERRY MEIER?

North FLA Falcon

July 30th, 2012
10:06 am

Saw where Ovie signed a 1 yr deal with the Rams. So they got Harvey Dahl last year and now Ovie. Bummer.

Falconfever

July 30th, 2012
10:10 am

Keeps these coming D Led… Helps to make the preseason games more interesting when I have favorites that I enjoy looking for….

Samuel

July 30th, 2012
10:11 am

Football stars come from no where…..

thouhtful

July 30th, 2012
10:16 am

This may not be a surprise Ala. was DEEP. This is the kind of guy who may have a long career in the NFL.I think if given a chance this guy and TE from UGA Aron White will surprise and make and help this team. TD did a better job with undrafted rookies then he did in the draft.

get facebook likes

July 30th, 2012
11:25 am

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D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 30th, 2012
12:40 pm

J-Man — CB Peyton Thompson is breaking on the ball well. He’s another one to keep an eye on. Most of them are swimming upstream right now.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 30th, 2012
12:41 pm

The Burner Turner — Not all of the time.