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Posts tagged with Chris Harris

Former KU cornerback Aqib Talib gives Jayhawks some love during Sunday Night Football intro

Denver cornerbacks Aqib Talib, left, and Chris Harris at Wednesday's introduction of Talib to the Denver media.

Denver cornerbacks Aqib Talib, left, and Chris Harris at Wednesday's introduction of Talib to the Denver media. by Matt Tait

By now, it's a well-known fact around KU Nation that the Denver Broncos have two former Jayhawks starting in their secondary.

When Denver added free agent Aqib Talib to its roster in the offseason, the signing reunited the former KU cornerback and star of the Jayhawks' victory over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl with his running mate from that game, Denver cornerback Chris Harris.

For many KU fans, having a couple of their favorite former Jayhawks on the Broncos' roster is a nightmare since so many of them are also fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. But Sunday night, during the Broncos home game with San Francisco on Sunday Night Football, Talib gave KU fans a reason to smile whether they dislike the Broncos or not.

For the first time in years (if not ever) Talib gave a shout-out to KU during his introduction that plays along the bottom on the screen on all Sunday night games.

In recent years, Talib often represented his hometown or his high school or said North Dallas after introducing himself. Not Sunday. This time, he simply said, "Aqib Talib, Kansas."

There was some speculation that Talib started leaving KU out of his intro because of his displeasure with the way KU coach Mark Mangino was treated during the end of his time with the Jayhawks. I've never heard that confirmed, but do know it's a popular opinion.

As for why it changed, I don't know the exact details but I know that Talib's snub of the Jayhawks during his intros always rubbed KU fans and several people within the football program the wrong way and I heard that someone at KU reached out to Talib and talked to him about giving KU some love. I even heard one account that Talib spoke to the team before this year's spring game and former KU coach Charlie Weis asked him to start saying KU during the intros. Who knows? But whatever it was, it obviously worked.

During Denver's only other primetime game on NBC this season, they mysteriously did not introduce the Broncos' defense, so this was the first time we were able to see Talib make the change.

As for Harris, he's always been proud to rep KU. He typically says "Chris Harris, Kansas University," but on Sunday he said, "Chris Harris, Kansas Jayhawks."

Regardless of what they say during the intros, it's still so wild to see two former Jayhawks starting for one of the best teams in pro football.

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KU football’s Aqib Talib, Chris Harris reunited in Denver

Former Jayhawks Chris Harris (16) and Aqib Talib (3) will be reunited in Denver in 2014 after the Broncos signed Talib on the opening day of free agency Tuesday.

Former Jayhawks Chris Harris (16) and Aqib Talib (3) will be reunited in Denver in 2014 after the Broncos signed Talib on the opening day of free agency Tuesday. by Matt Tait

There's a heck of a reunion taking place in the Mile High City and, believe it or not, at the center of it are a couple of former Kansas University football players.

When news broke Tuesday night that the Denver Broncos had reached an agreement with free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib on a six-year, $57-million deal, my mind immediately shifted to the 2008 Orange Bowl, where Talib lined up at one corner position and true freshman Chris Harris lined up at the other.

Together, Harris and Talib helped lead the Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl championship that capped off a magical 12-1 season. Harris recorded an interception and four tackles in that game and Talib, never one to be outdone, made the most memorable play of the game, a pick-six interception in the first quarter that, after the game, led to these four famous words: “I felt like Deion!”

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With Talib joining Harris in the Broncos secondary, the move qualifies as an instant upgrade at one of the biggest areas of weakness for the team that represented the AFC in last year's Super Bowl.

According to a report from the Denver Post's Mike Klis, in the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Talib, the Broncos have secured the kind of big, physical cornerback that Broncos general manager John Elway has coveted since he took control of the team's football operations three years ago.

Talib, 28, snagged four interceptions and 14 pass break-ups during the 2013 season with the New England Patriots, who often lined him up on the opponent's best wide receiver.

While all of that — the age, the talent, the size, the swagger — is great news for the Broncos' defense, I can't help but think about how pumped Harris must be about reuniting with his old KU teammate. Because of the timing of Harris' one season with Talib in Lawrence — Talib was a junior and Harris just a freshman — the relationship between the two always felt like one of big brother, little brother. Harris had great admiration for Talib's skills and always appreciated how he helped him along as a true freshman playing big-time college football for the first time.

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Now that both are starters in the NFL, it doesn't to figure to be that way in Denver, but, in Harris, Talib will have a friendly face who can help him break into the Broncos' culture and show him the ropes of how to play for head coach John Fox, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and, perhaps most importantly, a team led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.

The early days of Talib's career were marred by off-the-field incidents and immaturity but his talent and ability were never questioned. After leaving Tampa Bay midway through the 2012 season, Talib latched on in New England, where Patriots coach Bill Belichick helped him clean up his image and focus on making plays and helping the team win. Although Belichick and Manning will never be mistaken for one another, being under Manning's eye figures to help keep Talib on the straight and narrow the way playing for Belichick did during the past season and a half.

Of course, being around an old running mate like Harris, who is wildly respected in the Denver community and arguably was the Broncos' most important player on defense last season, won't hurt either.

And, of course, having a pair of starters in the secondary of one of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, is nothing but good news for Kansas football.

Denver cornerbacks Aqib Talib, left, and Chris Harris at Wednesday's introduction of Talib to the Denver media.

Denver cornerbacks Aqib Talib, left, and Chris Harris at Wednesday's introduction of Talib to the Denver media. by Matt Tait

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Former Jayhawks, teammates and roommates to face off Sunday in NFL playoffs

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When the San Diego Chargers visit the Denver Broncos at 3:40 p.m. Sunday, the game will pit three former Kansas University football players vying for a spot in the AFC championship game.

The meeting between San Diego's Darrell Stuckey (25 above) and Denver's Chris Harris (16 above) and Steven Johnson represents arguably the biggest NFL game in quite some time that features former Jayhawks on both sides.

And the reunion is made even cooler by the fact that the trio of KU alums played on the same Jayhawk teams for two seasons and even lived together for a short time during their college careers.

Although Sunday's meeting brings the three former teammates together at the same key point in time, their paths to get there were significantly different.

Stuckey was the first of the three to reach the NFL, drafted by San Diego in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

During his first four seasons in the league, the Kansas City, Kan., native has made a name for himself as a special teams standout. His 12 special teams tackles in 2012 were tops on the team and his total of nearly 40 special teams tackles during the past three seasons rank in the Top 10 in the NFL despite Stuckey having played in fewer games than most players on the list above him.

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Of late, Stuckey has begun to make a greater impact on defense, as well, finishing last week's playoff victory over Cincinnati with a career-high five tackles and two passes defended. His 26 tackles this season came through both defense and special teams, where he has garnered mention for a spot in the pro bowl during the past couple of seasons.

"Stuck might be the best I've seen in my 11 years," San Diego punter Mike Scifres said in a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Some of the things he can do, the way he can change games, it's almost second to none right now."

Added Chargers place kicker Nick Novak: "He's virtually unstoppable because his technique is that good. He's such a student of the game. He just has, it seems, a counter move for every move they're bringing at him. Of course, he's human, but sometimes you think he's made for special teams."

Harris followed Stuckey into the league in 2011 but went the route of joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent following the NFL lockout. Like Stuckey, the Bixby, Okla., native first made his mark on special teams, but when the Broncos' secondary endured key injuries, Harris was tossed into the lineup on defense and quickly became one of the team's top utility men, thanks largely to the many roles he played while at Kansas.

He has been referred to by some as the NFL's best coverage guy on slot receivers and his intelligence, physicality and tackling ability have made him one of the most valuable defensive players on the AFC's top seeded team that finished 13-3 during back-to-back seasons.

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Harris' contributions to the Mile High City have reached far beyond the field. He's one of the team's most active members in the community and, recently, was given the Darrent Williams Good Guy award by the Denver media.

"He’s a stand-up guy even when times aren’t going real well," Denver coach John Fox said of Harris. "He’s, I think, mature beyond his years. I think he’s done a tremendous job just where he came from and what he’s accomplished in a short time here with the Broncos. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Johnson, who, like Stuckey, was invited to the NFL combine, went undrafted but quickly agreed to a free-agent deal with Denver following the completion of the 2012 draft.

The former Jayhawk, who led Kansas in tackles during his junior and senior seasons, said Harris' trailblazing paved the way for him to land in Denver.

“It actually meant a lot,” Johnson told the Journal-World at the time. “He was the one who called me and told me they were trying to draft me. He called me and told me all about Denver and told me they were a team on the rise, and I wanted to go to a team that could contend and win Super Bowls and stuff like that.”

Johnson spent his early days at Kansas as a walk-on desperate for an opportunity. He spent a chunk of time living on teammates couches and had to overcome a couple of major injuries prior to college that slowed his development. Despite all the adversity, Johnson stuck it out and wound up becoming one of the top tacklers in the Big 12 before leaving college.

That relentless style and attitude seems to be serving him well in the NFL, too.

"He's the guy that if anything happens, he's so into the game he's like, 'Now, Coach? I'm ready,' " Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told the Denver Post.

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Sunday is not the first NFL meeting between these three former Jayhawks. The Broncos and Chargers played twice during the regular season in 2012 and twice this season, as well. Denver won three of the four meetings, but San Diego emerged victorious during the most recent match-up, which has added significant intrigue to the showdown between the AFC's top-seeded and bottom-seeded teams this weekend.

Because of each team's Jayhawk ties, that showdown figures to be even more interesting for Kansas football fans.

As an appetizer, former KU All-American Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots will face the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in the weekend's other AFC playoff game. If Talib and the Patriots prevail, they'll play the winner of the San Diego-Denver game on Jan. 19 for the right to go to the Super Bowl, and the book of biggest pro football games between former Jayhawks will include another chapter.

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Sunday, Monday night football intros of Jayhawk alums not necessarily a snub toward KU football

I didn't catch it, but more than a few people brought to my attention the fact that former Kansas University offensive lineman Anthony Collins, now a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, introduced himself with his high school (Central High in Beaumont, Texas) instead of his college during the Bengals' loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night.

This has become a bit of a trend for former KU players lately and one that has been met by disappointment from KU fans.

Understandably so.

In a world in which every other player on these introductions is from USC, Alabama or “The Ohio State University,” hearing Kansas represented surely would be not only a nice treat for Jayhawk fans but also a huge lift for KU's recruiting.

One of the biggest culprits is New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who, for years, has been saying “North Dallas, Texas,” in place of the school he became an All-American. But evidently Collins has joined in on the fun now, too.

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It should be noted that, until recently, not many former Jayhawks were in the position of announcing anything during Sunday or Monday night football intros because very few had become starters, so it's not like the list of guys snubbing KU is all that long. In a sense, though, that may be why it stings the fan base in the first place.

Denver defensive back Chris Harris is one former Jayhawk who has been a fixture in these pre-game introductions during the past couple of years and he has continued to say “Kansas University” each time.

I caught up with Harris quickly the other night for a little insight into why the other guys might be choosing to leave out KU and his answer was nothing short of hilarious. “You never know with those cats,” he said of Talib and Collins, his former Orange Bowl teammates.

Short of asking Talib or Collins themselves, I can't really pick out a good answer. But there are a few options.

  1. They truly might just love their high schools. Many guys, especially athletes, are proud of where they come from and enjoy the opportunity to give the school that got them started a little shout-out. Nothing wrong with that.

  2. It's possible they're just trying to be funny. I can't remember who started it, but a few years ago, guys started repping their preschools or their kindergarten teachers. Nothing wrong with that either.

  3. The last thing I can think of may very well be the reason here and it's something that current KU coach Charlie Weis has talked a lot about since he arrived in town a couple of years ago. When reaching out to former KU football players, Weis found that many guys identified themselves with the coaches for whom they played. They were Glen Mason guys, Mark Mangino guys or Terry Allen guys instead of being Jayhawks. Weis has taken steps to eliminate the division and has hopes of getting all former Jayhawks to view themselves as exactly that. It'll take time, though. And maybe, since they don't know Weis or any of the coaches who came after Mark Mangino, those two are doing it as a way of showing their support for the man who was forced out after one of the most successful stints in KU football history. I know there were a lot of guys who played for Mangino who were upset about how his whole departure went down, so that could very easily be a factor, too.

Regardless of the reason, it's definitely nothing to get worked up about, but it is worth pointing out that them changing their tune certainly would not hurt KU in recruiting and would give KU football fans a reason to smile.

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Former Jayhawk Chris Harris’ huge performance on Monday Night Football

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, right, runs for a touchdown after intercepting San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Diego. The Broncos won 35-24. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, right, runs for a touchdown after intercepting San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Diego. The Broncos won 35-24. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy) by Matt Tait

Making his second start of the 2012 season, former Kansas University cornerback and current Denver Bronco, Chris Harris, made quite a name for himself on Monday Night Football during Denver’s 35-24, come-from-behind victory over San Diego.

Harris, a 2011 KU grad, known by all of those who ever covered him as one of the nicest dudes around, finished with two interceptions, four tackles and the game-clinching pick-six touchdown during Denver’s historic comeback. The Broncos' victory, after digging out of a 24-0 halftime hole, was the biggest comeback in Monday Night Football history.

Harris’ success in the NFL has caught many by surprise, and it’s a classic example of one of those situations where raw talent and a ton of hard work can pay off for these players in the end.

It happens all the time in the NBA. How many random point guards have you come across where you have to look up where he went to college or wonder why you’ve never heard of him?

Harris, no doubt, is one of those guys for NFL fans everywhere but, to the Broncos, he’s an absolute steal.

Not only has he produced on the field, he already has become a fan-favorite around the Denver area for his signature smile and never-ending kindness. He's done a ton of charity work in the city and also is a regular weekly guest on a local talk radio show.

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) reacts after making an interception as free safety Rahim Moore (26) and strong safety Mike Adams, left, watch during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Diego. The Broncos won 35-24. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) reacts after making an interception as free safety Rahim Moore (26) and strong safety Mike Adams, left, watch during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Diego. The Broncos won 35-24. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy) by Matt Tait

For those who watched him in college, Harris’ rise to NFL starter came as quite a surprise. After starting opposite future first-rounder Aqib Talib for the Jayhawks in the Orange Bowl, Harris’ next few seasons were a little quieter. He always seemed solid, but rarely stood out as a guy who had an NFL future. Part of the reason for that was coaching, as Harris was moved around to a lot of different positions and was not always used in a way that showcased his strengths. He never complained. Instead, he soaked up everything he could from each position and each coach, and it was that versatility and depth of knowledge that caught NFL eyes.

Another thing Harris did during all this time was work — hard. I’ve never seen a player get so much bigger and so much better in the few months between the end of his senior season and that April’s Draft as I did with Harris. The leap he made was immediately noticeable and very impressive.

I love the guy, and he was a favorite of mine from his freshman year on. But, love him or not, he definitely was a guy that you had to feel good for when everything worked out the way it did.

Harris joined Denver as an undrafted free agent following the 2011 NFL Draft. He had interest and offers from other teams but chose Denver because he believed he had a chance to play. He was right.

While playing in all 16 games as a rookie in 2011, including making four starts, Harris finished among the top five rookies in total tackles and was one of the true bright spots on a Denver defense that helped quarterback Tim Tebow lead the Broncos to the second round of the playoffs.

He finished the season with 72 tackles and one interception. He had two picks tonight while giving new Denver QB Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense a chance at the crazy comeback. Heck, Harris was so good that former NFL coach and current MNF broadcaster Jon Gruden named him one of his two "Gruden Grinders" for the night. This, just a week after former NFL QB and current CBS broadcaster Phil Simms called Harris "one of the best slot defenders in the NFL."

There were a dozen big plays Monday night by some names far bigger than Harris. But when the game was on the line, it was the former Jayhawk who sealed the deal. And, for those in Jayhawkland who were watching, Harris’ name was the biggest of them all.

What a night.

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