Yesterday, the St. Louis Dispatch reported--and Scout.com expounded upon (in a brilliant article authored by a true gentleman)--a trade between the Rams and Lions. The Lions sent recently-signed WR Ronald Curry to the Rams--which, according to my last count, makes for eighteen wideouts on the Rams' camp roster. In return, the Lions got DT prospect Orien Harris, a two-year vet who's seen five different NFL rosters.
Harris, unfortunately, is not the answer to the Lions’ prayers at defensive tackle. According to a beautifully in-depth scouting report done by the Sports Xchange on FOXsports.com, Harris possesses the wingspan, hands, and frame to be a two-gap nose tackle, but lacks the bulk needed to truly anchor the point of attack. He also doesn’t play with great technique, not using his long arms and big hands to their full potential. It notes that while he’s not a firebreather, he’s a “competitive type” who was the “heart and soul” of the Hurricanes’ defensive line his senior year.
Why, then, can’t he keep a job? He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 draft by the Steelers, a 3-4 team who’ll eventually need a nose guard to replace Casey Hampton. Unable to make the stacked Steelers roster, he was signed before the season by Cleveland, and he saw action in a couple of games there. Brought in by first the Bills, then the Saints in 2007, he made a huge impression in the 2007 preseason. Saints head coach Sean Payton:
”He's been one of those guys that's been durable. He's been steady. He's a try-hard guy that gives a lot of effort on each play. Even today, he made some plays in practice. So he's caught the attention of a lot of us, the guys on defense and myself included. He comes to work every day, and he showed that last week in the game."
In the first two preseason games, Harris had 11 solo tackles and a sack . . . and yet, on a team where there ought to be an opportunity on the defensive line, Harris wasn’t retained. He ended up with the Bengals, and he saw 14 games’ worth of action, starting twice and garnering 14 tackles. Earlier in the offseason, the Rams—in a similar depth-for-depth move—dealt RB Brian Leonard to the Bengals for Harris’ rights. Before Harris ever donned pads as a Ram, however, he’s become a Lion.
All of this is more evidence of the Lions’ 365-day strategy of improving the roster. Every single chance they get, they’re going to make a move to get the best 80 in camp, and the best 53 on the roster. They’re scouring other teams rosters, anticipating possible cuts, and—just like in the days leading up to free agency—negotiating player-for-player trades. These trades nullify the Lions’ chief offseason handicap: a player who has a choice of signing anywhere is unlikely to choose a team coming off an 0-16 season whose stadium is north of Canada. Moreover, they wring blood from a stone. With the arrival of Dennis Northcutt—a veteran slot WR who could also return kicks—Ronald Curry was likely to be cut. Rather than simply let him walk away, the Lions brought in a player who’ll have a chance to contribute.
Harris is a young DT with the raw physical tools—short wide frame, big wingspan, big hands, lower body strength—to develop into the player the Lions so desperately need right now. Maybe the Lions’ coaching staff is the catalyst he needs to reach his sizable potential, and he starts the season as a starter. Maybe he flashes enough production in preseason to hold a rotational spot while the Lions wait for the return of Grady Jackson from suspension. Or, maybe, he simply makes the team over a Marinelli holdover who didn’t fit the plan, and an Ikaika Alama-Francis or Landon Cohen gets shipped off to another team, to improve the roster yet again.