Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris was asked this week how he has dealt with the ups and downs of his first NFL training camp and preseason.
The amiable, polite first-round pick suddenly grew defensive.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harris said. “I ain’t got no downs.”
Harris’ stats through three preseason games are modest, to be generous: two tackles, including just one unassisted, with no sacks, no quarterback hits, no tackles for loss and nothing else that can be quantified with a statistic.
But he insisted this week that he’s not discouraged.
“No frustration,” he said of not getting a sack yet. “It’s on the way. It’s definitely due. I know plays are going to come. I know when sacks come, they come in bunches. Right now, I feel I'm at the bottom, hungry for a sack, hungry to make plays, do better every game.”
Harris was effective with his spin move in team drills and pass-rush drills in the team’s offseason program, but much less so when pads have come on in August.
Asked if his spin move has been less effective in games, he admitted: “Yes. It's a matter of me getting a feel for the NFL level, getting a feel for where the tackle is set. From a collegiate level, it's a lot easier, because guys can get fooled real easy. In the NFL, it’s about not telegraphing my spin, not telegraphing what I'm about to do. Make everything fastball, fastball, fastball. And then throw in a curve.”
Harris, who had seven sacks as a sophomore at Missouri and nine as a junior last season, said he has two pass moves with which he’s comfortable: “one go-to and one counter.”
Does he need to eventually add moves? “For sure, but in reality, you don't need that many moves,” he said. “You just need a couple perfect ones.”
Coach Adam Gase insisted this week that he’s happy with what Harris has put on tape, noting that he’s getting pressure on the quarterback in practice and games.
“There were a lot of pressures – close quite a few times,” Gase said. “I don’t look at the sacks. He’s been very disruptive. Everybody wants to look at one stat – as long as you’re forcing the quarterback to get ball out quick, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Harris, who the Dolphins envision playing 25 to 30 snaps a game off the bench this season, said there’s one thing he knows now that he wishes he knew when training camp started in late July: Don’t over-think.
“I wish someone had told me don’t think – just go,” he said.
Defensive line coach Terrell Williams conveyed that message in recent weeks.
Harris said when a team has a blocker try to chip him, he originally started wondering – during a play – “what moves should I do. Every day, [Williams] says, ‘Don’t think. Don’t think.’ This week, it really sunk in. Coach [Williams] has been keeping me grounded, reminding me that you've got to have that motor, you have to keep going even if it's not going your way.”
ESPN’s Jon Gruden said during the draft that Harris was a liability against the run at Missouri, and Pro Football Focus rated him 163rd among edge defenders against the run last season. But his run defense hasn’t been an issue, Gase said.
“He’s doing a good job of doing what we’re asking him to do,” Gase said of that aspect of his game.
Harris said Williams told him he has done “very well” against the run in preseason and “it’s a matter of me correcting small things such as keeping my hands inside, keeping my feet moving, so I can get better against the run. This past week in practice, I did a great job against the run.”
One quality that nobody questions is Harris’ work ethic. He reached out to Dolphins legend Jason Taylor during the summer and met with him six times for on-field work. They haven’t seen each other since training camp started but Taylor has texted him.
And Harris said he’s soaking up everything that the team’s veteran defensive linemen teach him. He revealed that Ndamukong Suh told the team earlier this offseason that “he would do a better job of taking us under his wing” and mentoring them.
And he said Suh, Cameron Wake, Andre Branch and William Hayes “each and every week tell me what I did wrong” in the previous preseason game.
For now, the waiting game continues for his first NFL sack.
“Mentally has been the greatest challenge, not getting frustrated,” he said. “I’ve got the drive for sacks for the rest of the season because I don’t have any. It’s all going to pay off.”