- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

Walt Harris turned 31 Wednesday and spent the birthday not at his “full and busy” house that includes wife Trina and children aged 5, 4 and 2 but at Redskin Park for a two-hour evening practice.

That was perfectly fine with the Washington Redskins cornerback.

“I don’t take birthdays too seriously,” Harris said. “But I’m sure my wife will have something put together when we’re not so busy. Without her, it would be tough to be here playing and have made it through the whole process.”

For Harris, busy has been bliss this training camp, considering his long road back to standing as a starter.

After undergoing a complicated knee surgery in February 2004, Harris spent last season as a reserve. The offseason departure of Fred Smoot to Minnesota and first-round draft pick Carlos Rogers’ leg injury have made Harris a starter.

Harris, who missed most of last year’s training camp recovering from surgery, was out for several days last week with a slight quadriceps injury. He returned to the field Monday and is expected to play in tomorrow’s preseason opener at Carolina.

“I’m getting better daily,” he said. “I’m really getting into a groove. I’ll start out slow some days, but I’m making it through, so I can’t complain about that.”

The past has prepared Harris for almost everything NFL life has to offer.

For eight years, Harris was a durable, consistent performer, starting 113 of 123 games. But the wear and tear began to affect him in 2003, and the RCA Dome turf in Indianapolis compounded his knee problems. The acute tendinitis was so severe Harris needed numbing shots before every game.

Without a contract for the 2004 season, Harris underwent surgery.

“I really thought about [life after football] because I was so frustrated with the injury and going through the whole process,” he said. “But once I had the surgery, I tried to stay focused on coming back.”

Three months after the operation, Harris signed with the Redskins.

“As soon as that happened, I knew I would be able to come back,” he said.

Brought along slowly during training camp — athletic trainer Bubba Tyer nicknamed Harris “50-50” because of his uncertain status — Harris played in all 16 games for the Redskins, starting the last two in place of the injured Smoot and Shawn Springs.

Reflecting on the rehabilitation experience, Harris said, “If I knew what I know now, I definitely would not have had the surgery because there are a lot of alternative things I could have done. But at the time, I felt my options were exhausted. I felt it was the last thing I could do.”

When Smoot left in March, the Redskins opted to go with Harris as the starter and rookie Carlos Rogers as the long-term replacement instead of potentially overpaying for a free agent.

“He’s always been one of those guys that has the speed to play the position,” assistant head coach Gregg Williams said of Harris. “He understands from our standpoint that when corners go out there, they’ve got face masks and shoulder pads on, too. We expect you to hit.

“He plays the style we like for our corners to play. He’ll rock you.”

Redskins assistant Greg Blache was Chicago’s defensive coordinator during Harris’ final three seasons with the Bears (1999-2001). In 2001, the Bears won the NFC North.

“There was no doubt he was going to do everything he could to get well,” Blache said. “He was very consistent for us in Chicago, a guy we really wanted to keep, but we had salary cap issues.”

In six seasons with the Bears, Harris started 83 games, making 70-plus tackles five times and recording 15 interceptions. He defended against the likes of quarterback Brett Favre and receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter.

“In 2001, which was probably our best year there, we could hang our corners out and pressure people because those corners were taking receivers away,” Blache said.

Harris will be expected to do the same with the Redskins, who used their safeties to blitz often last year.

“Walt’s smooth in everything he does,” reserve cornerback Ade Jimoh said. “He’s adaptable to a lot of situations. He has what you’re looking for in a corner — size, speed, technique.”

Springs, who figures to be matched up against opponents’ No.1 receivers, has no worries about Harris on the other side of the field.

“Walt’s going to be fine,” he said. “He hasn’t been in the league for 10 years for no reason.”

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