To be motivated by a ‘chip’ on one’s shoulder is common territory for a number of NFL players.
It can personify rejection or external scepticism, challenging those in question to prevail in retaliation. For Chris Harris Jr, the chip has never faded since going undrafted in 2011, and as he enters his 10th season in the NFL it is possibly as big as it has ever been.
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Familiar scrutiny beckons for the cornerback as he begins a new chapter with the Los Angeles Chargers after an outstanding, draft-defying career with the Denver Broncos.
At the age of 31, being overlooked in seven rounds continues to push him even to this day.
“That’s always been who I am, having that chip on my shoulder, being the underdog and really nobody probably expects me to have a great year this year,” he told Sky Sports. “I’ll always kind of feed off that energy and that’s what helps me attack the challenge everyday.”
A Super Bowl ring, four Pro Bowl selections and a place on the NFL 2010s All-Decade team would equate to fulfilment for some. Team glory, individual accolades and recognition for sustained influence.
While grateful for what he has achieved so far, success at Mile High has triggered a renewed impetus for Harris Jr heading into LA. The job is far from over.
“I feel like I accomplished everything I could there, being able to be a Pro Bowler, win a Super Bowl, I feel like I checked every box there so I feel good moving to be able to start a new challenge,” he said.
“That’s what’s driving me now, just a new challenge. Sometimes you’ll be somewhere nine years and you need a new challenge and that’s what I’m excited for.
“It’s exciting getting a new start, being on a new team, new stadium, new jerseys. I’m definitely hyped up to join the LA Chargers and their coaches have been great this whole summer. It’s definitely unfinished business for me.
“I want to help those guys win a Super Bowl and that’s the main goal.”
Harris Jr became a free agent at the end of last season before signing a two-year, $20m deal with the Chargers as yet another addition to an already star-studded defense.
He’ll accompany safety Derwin James and cornerback Casey Hayward as part of a Pro Bowl secondary behind an equally-potent pass rush including Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
The veteran will meanwhile reunite with defensive backs coach Ron Milus, who was enjoying his second stint with the Broncos at the time of Harris Jr’s arrival in the league.
“I’m definitely excited just because of all the players they’ve got on the defense,” he said.
“A lot of All-Pro guys and I felt like with me joining them I can help raise their level and also give them knowledge within the division so I was very excited about that fit.
“They had my first coach in the league that I had for my first three years who was very instrumental in helping me get to where I’m at now so being able to join back up with him is going to be huge.”
In Gus Bradley he will be working with a defensive coordinator eager to explore the range and versatility of his multiple chess pieces.
The planning for Harris Jr is seemingly well underway.
He added: “I’m excited, he’s already asked me ‘do you like starting the game blitzing, do you like coming out man, what do you like to do to get in the game?’
“That’s huge for me as a player for a coach that really wants to get involved, get activated early so I’m excited about playing for him. He’s definitely helped make the uncomfortable a little more comfortable.”
Bradley’s approach is likely to see the Super Bowl 50 champion move back to his favoured slot position after he played outside for the first time in his career last season, resulting in 56 tackles, one interception and seven passes defended.
“It was different, it was still fun,” he said. “Football is just fun to me. That’s my game, to be able to roam all over the field.
“Blitz, play the run, I feel like I’m one of the best to do it in that slot so I’m glad to be back home to where they’re going to use me all over the field and where I can make plays.”
The Kansas product has established himself as one of the leading slot cornerbacks in the league over the past nine years.
From the 644 times he has been thrown at in 132 games, only 10 receivers have ever caught a touchdown pass against him, and on only eight occasions has a player ever registered more than 50 yards against him in a game.
He proved a key component to the Broncos’ ‘No Fly Zone’ defensive backfield on the road to winning Super Bowl 50, an experience he is preparing to carry with him as a Charger.
“I can tell these young guys how we did it, how we built up our chemistry and how we played on the field and communication,” he explained.
“That’s always going to be the standard for me wherever I go. I feel like I can improve a defense to try and raise them up to that level.”
Memories of that special night against the California Panthers must be shelved in 2020 when Harris Jr comes up against old friends and team-mates in the AFC West.
Having spent years trying to contain Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, Harris Jr will now be rooting for him to run riot on their division rivals.
“It’s definitely going to be weird,” he admitted. “Just going up against Keenan Allen every day is going to be weird just because we’ve had great battles all the time.
“Facing the Broncos is definitely going to be different, especially walking into Mile High. It probably hasn’t hit me yet but it will hit me when the game starts, that’s where I started, we won a Super Bowl there and I’ve got a lot of great memories there but I’m definitely excited to go out there and ball for sure.”
A strange new reality has opened the door for some light-hearted trash talk with former Broncos colleagues, particularly eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller.
“Von, that’s my boy,” he said. “Talking to Von, we’ll probably be talking a lot of mess.
“I can’t say what I want to say but that’s my guy and he definitely thinks it’s going to be weird playing against each other.”
Having been part of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history in Denver, he is now joining potentially one of the most gifted units in the league heading into 2020.
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