Vicksburg native Harris determined to make Colts’ opening day roster

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2022

For the past two years, DeMichael Harris has been in something akin to NFL purgatory.

He’s been good enough that the Indianapolis Colts have kept him around, yet hasn’t been able to maintain a place on the active roster. His unique skillset gives him the ability to play several roles in the team’s offense, but not climb the depth chart at any of them.

He’s taken the ups and downs in stride, but he was also ready to change his status when the Colts reported to training camp Tuesday.

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“It’s roster spot or bust for me. That’s how I’m feeling going into camp,” said Harris, a Vicksburg native. “Year three, I feel like this is my year. I’m prepared, and when preparation meets opportunity we’ll see what happens.”

Harris is a seasoned NFL veteran at this point, although his journey through the league has been a bit unusual.

The St. Aloysius, Hinds Community College and Southern Miss alum signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2020. He was among the last cuts at the end of training camp, then signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster in Week 6 and wound up playing in seven games as a rookie.

Year two was the same story. He was cut again at the end of training camp, signed to the practice squad the next day, and was activated for three of the team’s first four games before returning to the practice squad for the rest of the 2021 season.

The starts and stops have been frustrating, he admitted, but he’s kept a positive attitude. Although he wasn’t playing on Sunday most of the time, he worked with the scout team during the week and has regularly held his own in practice against NFL starters.

“It was a little tough, but I feel like it was good for me to sit back and watch, and continue to develop in practice with the scout team,” Harris said. “I always went against the ones every week. I feel like that helped me to continue to develop as well. Keep developing and keep developing, and eventually I’m going to bust through that door.”

Having time to develop has been important for Harris, since he’s had to adjust to a new and somewhat unusual position on the fly at the highest level of football.

In high school, Harris was an all-state running back who rushed for 3,689 yards and 47 career touchdowns at St. Aloysius. He switched to receiver at Hinds Community College and Southern Miss, and has combined the two roles with the Colts.

In his limited action in 2020, Harris caught 10 passes for 79 yards and had 46 rushing yards on six attempts.

“It’s been good. I’ve been learning as I’m going,” he said. “I had to catch up on that learning curve after being a running back all through high school and then transitioning in college but not really. I feel like I’m catching up and it’s an even game. It’s not too easy but I’m approaching the challenge.”

Last season he added special teams to his job description and saw all of his playing time in that phase of the game. It was another evolution in his role, as well as a way to make himself more valuable to the franchise. He said showing he’s willing to do whatever is asked, and do it well, is his key to success.

“Just consistency. Being willing to play special teams. Some guys aren’t willing to do that. They feel like it’s beneath them. But when you’re in my position I’m just trying to get on the field however I can and it doesn’t matter,” Harris said.

As year three approaches, Harris is facing a make-or-break season. He changed up his training regimen during the offseason to trade a bit of muscle for more speed — a frightening prospect considering he ran the 100-meter dash in 10.5 seconds in high school.

“I cut down a little bit and got a lot of that body fat off me and not too much muscle. Only the muscle that I need. I’m just trying to be an efficient machine,” he said.

The efficiency extends to the mental side of football. After two years in the same offensive system, he said he knows the Colts’ playbook “like the back of my hand.” A player who is as smart as he is physically gifted, he’s learned, can always find a job in the league.

Most importantly, he’s still got an opportunity. When his one-year contract expired after the end of the 2021 season, the Colts quickly signed him to a futures contract — a sort of retainer deal that ensured he’d be back with them for training camp in 2022.

Harris has learned that nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. He’s among 12 wide receivers that the Colts invited to training camp. He’ll battle four undrafted free agents and returning veterans Dezmon Patmon and Michael Strachan for what figures to be two or three roster spots.

Even though it won’t be an easy task, Harris said he’s grateful for the opportunity in front of him and the one he’s been given so far.

“It’s kind of hard, but all you can ask for is an opportunity. Next man up. I just have to be better than the next man,” he said. “They wouldn’t have kept me around going into year three now if they didn’t see anything in me. So it’s just building on that and continuing to take that next step in my career. That’s the goal.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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