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Tuesday, Apr. 06, 2010

Alabama linebacker Harris hungry to live up to hype

Linebacker ‘got lost in the shuffle’ after suspension in ’09

- sports@ledger-enquirer.com
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-- He was a big name with a whole mess of stars beside it two years ago.

Jerrell Harris was primed to join the tradition of quality linebackers at Alabama, but his story didn’t write many successful opening chapters. Most notably, a six-game suspension last season took him out of the loop and left him as a special teams player after the NCAA cleared him to play again.

Now heading into his junior season, Harris is making progress towards living up to the big expectations he carried with him from a big high school career in Gadsden.

“Oh, man, I am very hungry,” he said. “I just realized I haven’t played a full season since I got here, so I am very hungry to go full speed ahead and compete.”

Eligibility issues plagued last fall as he waited for the NCAA to rule on his status after violating its rules. The school did not comment on his situation until the hours before opening the 2009 season in Atlanta when it announced his suspension. The sideline is where he stayed for those first six games following a promising preseason.

Coach Nick Saban said Harris had worked himself into a starting job before issues surfaced involving a laptop he allegedly received from Athens resident Curtis Anderson.

Harris acknowledged “everybody makes mistakes,” but his cost him an opportunity to play a big role in the Tide’s 2009 national championship run. As a special teamer, he made three tackles in six games. Coming back from the suspension, the rest of the linebackers evolved to the point where he didn’t fit into the same role he worked towards in the preseason.

Saban said Harris simply “got lost in the shuffle,” in the games after Dont’a Hightower went down with his season-ending knee injury.

Coming back this spring, Harris is playing with an improved frame.

He added 13 pounds from his playing weight of 225 pounds last season with some extra work in the weight room. Entering college, he was a relative string bean weighting in at 212 pounds.

“I was losing weight because I wasn’t putting enough proteins back into my body after practice,” he said. “I wasn’t eating enough to put back in my body what I lost at practice. But I’m doing a better job of it now.”

The two years spent in the program also added an extra comfort level with which he’s practicing this spring. According to statistics provided from last Friday’s scrimmage, Harris had the fourth most tackles with four, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

Afterward, Saban said Harris was “having a really good spring,” at a linebacker position still to be determined. Everyone is still moving around to the four different slots available in the Tide’s 3-4 base defensive scheme although he’s been groomed for one of the two inside positions.

More than anything, he’s working with the passive defensive playbook so

“Coaches are just working with me, telling me to stay positive,” he said. “We’re just going to try some different things.”

Now healthy and back in the rotation, Hightower has liked what he’s seen from Harris, a player who arrived at the same time with similar hype, but less success on the college level.

“Jerrell’s gotten way better than he was last year,” Hightower said. “We just haven’t found the spot for where he plays best, but he’s using his speed a lot and his strong points way better than he did last year, so we’re looking for him to be a big playmaker this year.”

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